Bengals overwhelm Bills to advance to AFC title game rematch against Chiefs

ORCHARD PARK, NY – Chalk up another frustrating finish for the Buffalo Bills.

For the fourth year in a row, the Super Bowl mission was short-circuited with a setback in the AFC playoffs as the Bills were stung by the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals, 27-10, in a divisional playoff at snow-covered Highmark Stadium on Sunday.

The Bengals head to Kansas City for an AFC title game rematch against the Chiefs on Sunday. (They won last year’s matchup on the road 27-24.)

Cincinnati forced the issue from the start, jumping to a 14-0 first-quarter lead that was marked by two Joe Burrow touchdown throws.

Forced to play catch-up all afternoon, the Bills – eliminated from last year’s playoffs in the divisional round after losing in overtime at Kansas City – could never make up the deficit. Buffalo cut the margin to seven points twice, but the Bengals were quick to respond on a day that Burrow passed for 242 yards and star receiver Ja’Marr Chase seemed to be unstoppable – even in the snow – when it was time for a clutch catch . And, oh, Joe Mixon shredded Buffalo’s defense for 105 rushing yards as the Bengals ran for 172 yards.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) passes the ball against the Buffalo Bills during the second quarter of an AFC divisional round game at Highmark Stadium.

So much for the coveted home-field advantage. Buffalo entered the game with a 13-1 record in home playoff games at this site, including a 4-0 mark under coach Sean McDermott and with Josh Allen at quarterback.

Allen completed 25 of 42 passes for 265 yards, with zero TDs and a fourth-quarter pick. His overthrown incompletion on a deep throw to Stefon Diggs on the first drive (a three-and-out) set the tone for an unimpressive performance. He finished with a 68.1 passer rating.

But Allen was hardly the lone underachiever. Buffalo rushed for just 63 yards on 19 carries, with Allen’s 26 yards outgaining running backs Devin Singletary and James Cook.

Meanwhile, the Bills defense did not exploit an injury-thinned Cincinnati offensive line and was pounded on the ground.

That’s not a recipe for success. No, it’s a recipe for going home. Again.

Three things we learned:

Damar Hamlin’s inspiration was not enough

The second-year Bills safety made his first public appearance since suffering cardiac arrest nearly three weeks ago. Watching from a private box, Hamlin opened the window and flashed the “heart” sign as his image was displayed on Jumbotron screens and the crowd roared during the two-minute warning before halftime. But whatever boost the Bills received from Hamlin – backed inside the red zone, they held the Bengals to a field goal – was short-lived. Hamlin is still receiving oxygen as his recovery continues.

Atlanta loses

You can’t pin this one on the Falcons, but with Cincinnati’s upset, the AFC championship game won’t be coming to Mercedes-Benz Stadium after all. The NFL chose Atlanta as a neutral site for a Buffalo-Kansas City matchup because the Bills played one fewer game during the regular season due to the Jan. 2 cancellation of Bengals vs. Bills. It had already sold 50,000 tickets to season ticket holders from both teams. Now top-seeded Kansas City gets to host the AFC title tilt at Arrowhead Stadium for the fifth consecutive year.

Joe Burrow’s O-line wasn’t doomed after all

The Bengals entered the game without three starting offensive linemen who were injured within the past two weeks – left tackle Jonah Williams, right guard Alex Cappa and right tackle La’el Collins – and it was supposed to tilt the matchup against Buffalo’s defensive front grossly out of whack. Surprise! The makeshift line, featuring fill-in starters Jackson Carman, Max Scharping and Hakeem Adeniji, not only protected Burrow well (he was sacked once, for a 2-yard loss) but even more impressively blasted open the holes that allowed Cincinnati to rush for 172 yards and a staggering 5.1 yards per carry.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bengals overwhelm Bills to set up AFC title game rematch with Chiefs

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