Bengals rout Bills, now one win from AFC title repeat

AP photo by Joshua Bessex / Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) and running back Joe Mixon motion for a touchdown during the third quarter of Sunday's playoff victory against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Bengals rolled to a 27-10 win and will travel again next weekend to face the Kansas City Chiefs in a rematch of last year's AFC title game won by Cincinnati.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Cincinnati Bengals threw a big wrench into the highly anticipated travel plans of the Buffalo Bills, their fans and perhaps even the NFL offices.

Joe Burrow threw two touchdown passes and Cincinnati's defense swarmed Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen on a snow-slicked field in a 27-10 win Sunday to send the Bengals to the AFC championship game for the second straight year.

And it will be at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium again — instead of at Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the neutral site where the game would have been played if Buffalo had beaten Cincinnati.

"Better send those refunds," Burrow said, referring to the 50,000 or so tickets already sold for a game that will never be played.

"See y'all in Atlanta," one Bengals player was heard yelling sarcastically while the team made its way to the locker room, where cornerback Eli Apple and a couple of teammates conducted interviews smoking cigars.

The Bengals entered the game already feeling disrespected when the NFL began selling tickets for a would-be game at Atlanta, which was dependent on the Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs both winning in the divisional round. The Chiefs did, beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-20 on Saturday and reaching the AFC title game for the fifth straight year.

The league had decided on the unique neutral setting for a potential conference title game because the Bills, at 13-3, finished the regular season a half-game behind the Chiefs (14-3) after Buffalo's Jan. 2 game at Cincinnati was halted — and ultimately canceled — when Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated on the field.

Hamlin's inspirational presence while watching the game from an end-zone suite Sunday was not enough to spark the Bills. Instead, it was "Joe Cool" showing poise while playing in a persistent snowfall.

Burrow completed his first nine passes for 105 yards as Cincinnati raced to a 14-0 lead after its first two possessions. Ja'Marr Chase opened the scoring with a 28-yard touchdown catch 3:20 into the game, followed by Burrow's 15-yard touchdown throw to Hayden Hurst eight minutes later. Joe Mixon scored on a 1-yard run, and Evan McPherson made field goals from 20 and 28 yards for the Bengals, who never trailed.

"The bigger the moment gets, the calmer he gets," Bengals coach Zac Taylor said of Burrow, the No. 1 pick of the 2020 draft whose playoff record is now 5-1. "Our guys believe. They walk on the field ready to attack."

Cincinnati advanced to consecutive AFC championship games for the first time in franchise history and will prepare for next Sunday's rematch of last year's title game. The Bengals defeated the Chiefs 27-24 to advance to last year's Super Bowl, which they lost to the Los Angeles Rams.

"It's going to be a fun one," said Burrow, who was 23-of-36 for 242 yards against the Bills. "Two of the top guys in the league, two of the top teams in the league, great defenses, great overall teams, great coaches."

Cincinnati has won the past three meetings against Kansas City, including a 27-24 victory last month.

The Bills' playoff run ended in the divisional round for a second straight season, including a 42-36 overtime loss to the Chiefs last year.

Bills receiver Stefon Diggs was so upset Sunday evening, he was spotted leaving the locker room with much of his gear on shortly after the game ended before being coaxed by a teammate to return.

"He's a competitive guy. What makes him good is what you saw," coach Sean McDermott said. "It hurts. I wouldn't want a guy that doesn't hurt. We put it all on the line out there, and tonight it wasn't good enough."

It was a dud of an outing for the Bills, who opened the season with Super Bowl aspirations but eventually ran out of emotional and physical gas. Aside from the stunning sight of Hamlin's collapse, the Bills had their schedule twice disrupted by severe winter storms.

Injuries also played a part. The Bills' pass rush, missing Von Miller since he sustained a season-ending knee injury in November, generated very little pressure against a Bengals offensive line missing three starters due to injuries.

"We were expecting their best punch, and they came out and punched us," said Allen, who was 25-of-42 passing for 265 yards and scored on a 1-yard run. "We just didn't have it today."

The Bengals mixed in their ground attack to keep the Bills off balance during a first half in which Cincinnati outgained Buffalo in total yards by a margin of 274-135; by game's end, Cincinnati's edge was 412-325. Mixon's 105 rushing yards alone were 1 short of how many the Bengals combined for in their past two games, both against Baltimore.

"Domination from start to finish," Burrow said. "That's what we expected. Job's not finished."

The Bengals held one of the NFL's top offenses to a season-low 10 points, and the defense got a chance to celebrate by making snow angels in the end zone after Cam Taylor-Britt intercepted Allen's attempt at the goal line to essentially end the game with 62 seconds remaining.

It was a quiet ending to what might have been a huge celebration for the home team.

Earlier, Hamlin was whisked into the stadium in a security vehicle and led directly into the home locker room about an hour before kickoff. He was later joined by his mother, Nina, and younger brother, Damir. He watched the game from a suite in one end zone and was pictured on the videoboard at the 2-minute warning in the first half with Cincinnati facing second-and-goal at Buffalo's 5.

Hamlin raised his arms in his suite to a roar of cheers before making a heart sign with his hands. Buffalo's defense limited the Bengals to a field goal and trailed 17-7 at halftime.

Allen described the safety's presence as "a warm feeling.

"Obviously, we wanted to play for him ...," the quarterback said after the loss. "We just ran into a team that played better than us tonight."