Cincinnati Bengals Head to AFC Championship Again Despite Overturned Touchdown

The Bengals held the Buffalo Bills to just 10 points – a season low for the Bills

click to enlarge The Cincinnati Bengals celebrate an AFC divisional-round win over the Buffalo Bills by making snow angels in the end zone at Highmark Stadium on Jan. 22, 2023. - Photo: Cincinnati Bengals media assets
Photo: Cincinnati Bengals media assets
The Cincinnati Bengals celebrate an AFC divisional-round win over the Buffalo Bills by making snow angels in the end zone at Highmark Stadium on Jan. 22, 2023.

Cincinnati is heading back to the AFC conference championship again – and there's a little déjà vu happening with it.

The Cincinnati Bengals beat the Buffalo Bills 27-10 in the AFC divisional round on Jan. 22, and the game – and, to an extent, this playoff series – had some extra poignancy thanks to the Bengals' offensive line, Bills safety Damar Hamlin's continued recovery from cardiac arrest, a looming AFC rematch with Kansas City and some magical snow.

Love for Damar Hamlin

But before any of the on-field heroics happened, fans already were in a frenzy as Hamlin entered Highmark Stadium in Buffalo to attend his first game in person since a serious injury earlier this month. Escorted by security, Hamlin rode a golf cart into the stadium, followed by his mother Nina and little brother Damir.

Later, Bills and Bengals supporters alike cheered for the safety as Hamlin appeared on the big screen toward the end of the first half, forming a heart with his hands followed by the number three – his Bills jersey number – from the suite where he was watching the game.
The Bengals and Bills last met in Cincy on Jan. 2. The Bengals were up 7-3 in the first quarter when Hamlin collapsed from cardiac arrest. Hamlin was given CPR for nine minutes before being taken away in an ambulance and intubated at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The NFL first suspended and then postponed that game after a meeting among officials and both teams' coaches. Hamlin continued recovering at UC Medical Center and recently returned to Buffalo, where he's been chatting with teammates and visiting the Bills' facilities. He has not yet been cleared to play.

Bengals hold the Bills

The Bengals are heading back to the AFC championship round due in part to another round of leadership from the Joe Burrow/Ja'Marr Chase/Joe Mixon triumvirate. Quarterback Burrow threw 23 of 36 attempts for 242 yards and two touchdowns, while running back Mixon had 105 yards on 20 carries, letting him join Cedric Benson and Ickey Woods in the small franchise club for 100+ yards in a postseason game. In the process, Mixon also notched his personal highest total yardage in any of the Bengals' postseason games.

Meanwhile, wide receiver Chase had his own memorable turn with 61 receiving yards and a touchdown that suddenly wasn't a touchdown. Toward the end of the second quarter, Chase caught Burrow's 10-yard pass at the Bengals' end zone, planting his feet at the snow-covered boundary. But upon review, officials said that Chase hadn't maintained control of the ball while completing the catch and did not award the touchdown. In game footage, Bills linebacker Matt Milano knocked at the ball in Chase's hands as Chase went down over the line, which officials said constituted the Bengals wide receiver not controlling the ball.  After the call, Evan McPherson, who was instrumental in the team's fourth-quarter and overtime wins during last season's Super Bowl run, kicked in a 28-yard field goal. And regardless of the refs' call, Chase is now tied for the most touchdown catches in the club's postseason history.

But the big names weren't the only heroes on the snowy field. Burrow gelled with an offensive line full of understudies as the Bengals continued to produce wins without some injured starters. Left tackle Jackson Carman, right guard Max Scharping, right tackle Hakeem Adeniji and center Ted Karras pierced the Bills' lauded defensive line as La’el Collins, Alex Cappa and Jonah Williams continued to rehab. Journeyman Karras even pushed through a knee injury in the first half to help propel the Bengals to a win.

The Bengals ultimately held the Bills to just 10 points – a season low for the Bills. Burrow and company now have a streak of 10 straight wins since Nov. 6, not including the previous postponed/canceled Bills game and a week 10 bye.

Fans can celebrate with free Gold Star again on Jan. 23, thanks to Sunday's excitement. As the regional chili chain has done in the past, Gold Star is giving fans one free regular 3-, 4- or 5-Way with the purchase of another one of equal or greater value the day after the Bengals win. The Who Dey Way promotion is good all season long no matter if the win occurs on home turf or elsewhere. The promo is available at all Gold Star locations for drive-in, carry-out, dine-in and online; mention the Who Dey Way special when ordering.

Preparing for the Kansas City Chiefs

The Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs will duke it out in a back-to-back AFC championship bout. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. The game will be broadcast on CBS and Paramount+.

Last season, the Bengals knocked off the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in overtime after overcoming an 18-point deficit in a tense AFC championship round. Cincinnati had trailed 21-10 at the half but later rallied to tie it up and then take the lead. The Chiefs tied things up again at the end of the fourth quarter, sending the game into overtime.

And then came McPherson did what he's now known for – a last-minute, game-winning, 31-yard field goal that glided right through the posts and made the entire Queen City erupt with glee. The win sent the Bengals to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1989. Since the start of the 2021 season, Cincinnati has beaten Kansas City three straight times, with Burrow becoming the first quarterback to do so. During the teams' most recent battle on Dec. 4, the Bengals beat the Chiefs 27-24 at Paycor Stadium and Burrow became the quarterback with the most passing scores in the fourth quarter. Chase also had finally returned to action after being sidelined with injuries for four games, roaring back by catching seven passes for 97 yards.

But safety Jessie Bates may have had the most memorable, suspiciously timed play of the game as Kansas City closed in on the line in the second quarter. With the Bengals’ defensive subs hitting the field late – which could have resulted in a penalty – Bates suddenly collapsed while clutching his leg, seemingly in pain. He previously had been standing casually, so the timing was convenient.

The CBS broadcasters had noted Bates' theatrics.

“Now, look at this, watch. They're substituting and they're late. Bates, go down! Go down! Go down! There! [laughing] Ow, I got a, uh, cramp! Oh, that one really hurts, ow. Let me get off, okay,” CBS color analyst and former Dallas Cowboys star Tony Romo narrated sarcastically. “That wasn't fake at all."

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