One week after a frightening injury, things are looking up for both the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills.
After the Bengals' Jan. 8 win over the Baltimore Ravens, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow passed out cigars to celebrate Cincinnati's first back-to-back AFC North title. The Bengals are now the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. Meanwhile, the previous week's foes the Buffalo Bills nabbed the No. 2 seed with an awe-inspiring, emotional win over the New England Patriots, no doubt rallying for safety Damar Hamlin who continues recovering from a cardiac arrest at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center since the Bengals/Bills' Jan. 2 game.
Burrow didn't have his A-game in the 27-16 victory, but he added to his long list of major milestones. The quarterback became the NFL's all-time leader in career completion percentage, taking the spot from the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees. To earn the mark, Burrow needed to reach a minimum of 1,500 career pass attempts. He entered the game with 68.5% completion – already higher than Brees' 67.7% – and needed just 12 more passes to qualify for the record.
During the Bengals' final regular-season game in week 18, Burrow also set the team's record for touchdown passes in a season, standing at 35 for 2022-2023. He broke last year's record of 34 with a long pass to go-to wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.
It all helped the Bengals win its back-to-back division title. The Bengals won the last eight straight games to finish the regular season with a 12-4 record as the team heads into the postseason.
The Bengals technically won the AFC North last week when the NFL canceled the Bengals/Bills game, which initially was paused once the Bills' Hamlin went down at Paycor Stadium on Jan. 2. Hamlin went into cardiac arrest after a routine play during the first quarter after colliding with Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins. The Bills' safety collapsed to the ground and underwent nine minutes of CPR on the field in front of teammates and tens of thousands of hushed fans. Players from both teams looked on in shock, openly weeping and praying while emergency crews worked to restart Hamlin's heart. He was transported to UC Medical Center, where he was intubated and listed in critical condition.
Hamlin since has started rebounding, continuing to recuperate at UC Med Center while chatting with teammates. Fans and teams around the NFL shared messages of support throughout the week and sent donations to Hamlin's charity soaring. Fully awake now, Hamlin watched the Bills' game against the Patriots, posting reactions on social media. Hamlin has begun selling "Did we win?" shirts to raise money for first responders and UC Med Center. Doctors said that "Did we win?" was the first question Hamlin had asked upon waking, referring to the Bengals/Bills game.
Before the game against the Ravens, the Bengals celebrated Hamlin as well as the UC medical staff who have provided his care. Higgins sported a Hamlin shirt, as well.
The Bengals needed to win week 18 against the Ravens to avoid a coin toss to determine the site of the first playoff game. The NFL had made the decision in the middle of last week to cancel the Bengals/Bills game, which the Bengals were leading when it was paused in the first quarter.
The Bengals will play the No. 6 seed Ravens again in the Wild Card game at Paycor Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:15 p.m. The game will be broadcast on NBC and streamed on Peacock.
In the meantime, fans can fill their bellies with free Gold Star again on Jan. 9, 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.
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