What We Learned

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Bengals defeat Bills, advance to AFC Championship Game to face Chiefs for second consecutive season

Cincinnati Bengals
2022 · 14-4-0
Buffalo Bills
2022 · 14-4-0

FULL BOX SCORE



  1. Bengals dominate, eliminate need for neutral site next week. Cincinnati has a quarter-sized chip on its shoulder thanks to how the league chose to handle postseason-seeding scenarios, so it was no surprise that the Bengals reveled in their victory Sunday, which also included erasing the chances of a neutral-site AFC title game. Cincinnati will happily hit the road for Kansas City, but only after it sent Buffalo to the offseason in emphatic fashion. A little snow didn't hurt Joe Burrow, who completed 23 of 36 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns. He nearly had a third, but his connection with Ja'Marr Chase was overturned upon review. In the end, it didn't matter much, thanks to the Bengals' superiority at the point of attack, putting together scoring drives of nine, 10 and 12 plays. Joe Mixon racked up 105 yards and scored a touchdown on 20 carries, while Burrow was only sacked once, and Cincinnati converted 60% of its third-down attempts. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo added the Bills to his list of high-powered teams on which he's placed vice grips, holding Buffalo to 325 yards of offense and 4 of 12 on third down. Josh Allen rarely looked comfortable when dropping to pass, and Stefon Diggs ended with just four catches for 35 yards. Frustration reigned supreme for the Bills -- frustration manufactured by Anarumo and head coach Zac Taylor.
  2. Buffalo's secondary picks a terrible time to have a bad day. The Bills' defensive backs, when healthy, have long been a strength. It was not the case Sunday, especially for Tre'Davious White, who was twice flagged for significant pass interference penalties that pushed the Bengals onto the front porch of Buffalo's end zone. White wasn't the only Bills defensive back to have a tough time, either. On third-and-7 from Buffalo's 15, safety Jordan Poyer bit a screen fake to Chase, leaving tight end Hayden Hurst wide open down the right sideline for an easy 15-yard touchdown pass and a 14-0 lead. Cincinnati's first touchdown came as a result of Chase finding open space in Buffalo's defense, which sent a corner blitz and failed to cover over the deep middle, leaving Chase to slip behind Tremaine Edmunds just outside of the left hash and catch a perfectly tossed pass from Burrow before Poyer -- playing as the single high safety over the top -- reacted in time to close the gap between them and the end zone. In all, 412 yards surrendered amid constant snowfall simply isn't good enough. Cincinnati was the better team for a number of reasons Sunday, and Buffalo's secondary certainly didn't help its cause.
  3. Snow becomes the great equalizer. Much has been made of the Bengals' weaknesses up front brought on by injuries. Sunday almost made the situation even worse when center Ted Karras suffered a knee injury early, which required a brace to address during the game. If you didn't know they were thin up front, though, you wouldn't have noticed. Cincinnati compiled an excellent approach for this game, relying on quick passes and Burrow's athleticism to extend plays when necessary and reaping the rewards. Burrow averaged 2.5 seconds to throw Sunday, which limited Buffalo's ability to pressure him (the defense finished with a QB pressure rate of 21.6%) and allowed Burrow to post a passer rating over 100. The conditions didn't help Buffalo's pass rush, either, which struggled to mount consistent pressure and neutralized the Bills' supposed advantage in the trenches. It's fair to wonder how this game might have turned out if the Bills had Von Miller, whose absence coincided with a drop-off in effective pass-rushing play down the stretch this season. It's also fair to wonder if the Bills will ever commit to running the football consistently. They gained just 63 yards on the ground as a team, losing the rushing battle by over 100 yards. In the snow, the ground game matters. Buffalo didn't put up much of a fight in that department, and its early deficit undoubtedly hurt it, too.
  4. Another promising Bills season ends in disappointment. Two years ago, the image that defined Buffalo's heartbreaking postseason exit was of Diggs watching Kansas City's conference title celebration. This time around, it might be a still shot of Diggs staring at his quarterback with his arms spread wide with frustration. Buffalo had a rough day offensively, and Diggs didn't factor into the game as much as one might expect. One play -- a fourth-down pass attempted out of desperation -- effectively summarized this finale for the Bills. Allen rolled right and heaved a pass toward Gabe Davis that landed incomplete with Diggs seen coming open in the background. That play didn't lose this game, of course, but it explained how difficult things were for the Bills, who missed out on a conference title game appearance for a second straight year and have now fallen short of the Super Bowl in each of their last three otherwise productive seasons. Because they have a franchise quarterback and organizational stability, they'll likely be back in a similar spot next year. But each wasted opportunity nudges the pressure dial up another tick, and this one was the most frustrating of all.
  5. Cincinnati sends overdue message to NFL. Maybe all the Bengals needed was a win like this to force the football world to wake up to the notion they are a very, very good football team. It shouldn't come as a surprise. Cincinnati hasn't lost since Halloween and proved it can be just as explosive as the best offenses in the NFL. Still, though, the darlings of the AFC until Sunday were Kansas City and Buffalo. The Bengals handled business by eliminating the Bills in convincing fashion, and it's not crazy to think they might enter the AFC title game as underdogs to the Chiefs, despite the fact they've beaten Kansas City in each of their last three meetings, including last year's AFC Championship Game. Such is life as a part of the Bengals, a perpetually overlooked team until there are no other teams to look toward. Perhaps this is the week that all changes, but one thing is certain: Cincinnati is going to present quite a challenge to the Chiefs, not because they're some Cinderella or a team of destiny, but because they're legitimate. That's it.


Next Gen stat of the game: Cincinnati dominated up front Sunday, helping Joe Mixon average 2.6 rushing yards gained before contact, his most in a game since Week 14 of the 2019 season. Buffalo allowed a season-high 85 yards before contact, a shocking number for a defense that allowed the fewest such yards per carry in the regular season (0.8).


NFL Research: Ja'Marr Chase joined Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss as the only players in NFL history to have 3,000-plus receiving yards and 25-plus receiving touchdowns in their first two seasons (including playoffs).

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