Bengals topple Bills to head to AFC Championship: How Cincinnati’s defense stifled Josh Allen

Bengals topple Bills to head to AFC Championship: How Cincinnati’s defense stifled Josh Allen

By Paul Dehner Jr., Jay Morrison, Joe Buscaglia and Tim Graham

The Bengals are heading back to their second straight AFC Championship Game as they knocked off the Bills 27-10 Sunday in Buffalo. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The Bengals will face the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game in Kansas City next Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET. Kansas City, the AFC’s top seed, knocked off the Jacksonville Jaguars in the other AFC divisional round game Saturday.
  • Joe Burrow started hot and remained steady through the snowy conditions going 23-of-36 passing for 242 yards with two touchdown passes (Ja’Marr Chase, Hayden Hurst) resulting in a 101.9 passer rating. Joe Mixon also produced with 105 rushing yards on 20 carries and a TD.
  • The Bengals defense held up strong against the Bills offense. Josh Allen completed 25 of his 42 passes for 264 passing yards with no TD throws and one interception for a 68.0 passer rating. He added a first-half TD to go along with his 26 rushing yards.
  • Bills safety Damar Hamlin attended Sunday’s AFC divisional round with his family. It’s the first time he’s made it back to a game since collapsing on the field with cardiac arrest during the Bills’ Week 17 game at Cincinnati.

The Athletic’s instant analysis:

Pick your Bengals’ poison

The Bengals just have so many ways to win. They are basically telling opponents to pick their destroyer. Come to Buffalo, in a relentless snowfall and take on an elite Bills team? Sure. Do it featuring a running game that had gone dormant for a month but the Bills dared to beat them? Sure. Do it without even needing an Allen turnover, but just moving the ball surgically and holding the potent Bills attack to just 10 points, seven less than the previous season low? Absolutely. The Bengals are better than last year’s Super Bowl team. Sunday confirmed it. Now they just have to go to Kansas City and re-create the 2021 team’s crowning achievement. — Dehner Jr.

Complete Bengals effort

The most competitive aspect of this game was which unit was more impressive, the Bengals offense or defense. Burrow and the offense drove for a touchdown on the opening possession and never looked back, scoring a pair of red zone touchdowns against the NFL’s No. 2 red zone defense while racking up more than 400 yards of offense. They made it look easy at times, and even when it wasn’t, they made it work, twice converting on third and 10 to extend a pair of touchdown drives. Maybe the most impressive aspect was how well an offensive line that was missing starters performed. Burrow saw little pressure, and a run game that had struggled over the last month topped 100 yards and averaged nearly 6.0 per carry. — Morrison

Cincinnati’s defense a force again

Lou Anarumo and the Bengals defense turned out another gem. The coordinator who made a name for himself last postseason with game plans that turned Ryan Tannehill over three times and befuddled Patrick Mahomes, had Allen forced to play hero ball on repeat. The defensive line kept winning up front to force Allen on the run and Mike Hilton and the corners made play after play on balls forced into tight spaces. Anarumo hasn’t drawn a head coach interview yet this cycle, but you almost wonder after watching this masterpiece if an owner will have a message on his voicemail when he gets back to the locker room. — Dehner Jr.

Bills outmatched from start

It seemed right from the opening kickoff, the Bills were playing from behind. Every time the Bengals touched the ball, they were a threat to secure a first down and push it down the field for a score. Every time the Bills held the ball, it looked disjointed and they never seemed in a flow offensively. The Bills appeared a bit lethargic on the sideline after the Bengals raced to a 14-0 lead. Whether the Bills were out of gas after a tumultuous season, or they just came into the game flat, they were nowhere near the level they needed to advance to the AFC championship game. Instead, they fall short in the divisional round for a second straight season. — Buscaglia

Bills defense no match for Burrow, Bengals

The Bills defense had no answers for Burrow and the Bengals offense early in the game. They couldn’t register consistent pressure on him, they tackled poorly in the open field, and they had no answer to the Bengals’ run game right up the middle of their defensive line. The Bills had to be able to do one of those things to force enough stops to win, but with none of them working, it was the beginning of the end right at the beginning of the game. — Buscaglia

Buffalo’s campaign ended with a whimper

Buffalo’s day was summed up in a span of three minutes early in the fourth quarter. Top cornerback Tre’Davious White was penalized for pass interference in the end zone, where he also collided with top safety Jordan Poyer. Both were sent out of the game with head injuries. The other starting safety, Dean Marlowe, already was out with a groin injury. Cincinnati kicked a field goal to take a three-score lead.

On the next series, Allen was sent to the blue tent while a strip-sack fumble was reviewed. That call was overturned, and Allen went back into the game, but there was no mistake: The Bengals were simply ragdolling the preseason Super Bowl betting favorites.

Buffalo’s offense was unable to generate much despite zero giveaways. The defense couldn’t disrupt Burrow’s precision pass attack and missed a load of tackles in open space. Buffalo sacked Burrow just once and hit him three times (compared to Cincinnati getting Allen once and hitting him eight times) behind a patchwork offensive line missing three starters.

And now Bills Mafia won’t get to see a revenge game next Sunday against an injured Patrick Mahomes at a neutral site, two juicy factors in their favor. – Graham

Highlight of the game

Stat of the game

This is the Bengals’ fifth playoff win with Burrow as quarterback. The Bengals had five postseason wins in their entire franchise history before drafting Burrow.

Required reading

(Photo: Kareem Elgazzar / USA Today)

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