CINCINNATI (AP) — Head coach Zac Taylor says he never doubted the toughness of the Bengals’ offensive line, no matter how many reinforcements had to be brought in to replace injured starters.
“We had confidence the whole time,” Taylor insisted on Monday, a day after Cincinnati dominated Buffalo to advance to the AFC championship game. “I think it’s everyone else who wants to create a narrative of distrust.”
No one would blame Taylor if he was a little uncomfortable with the situation. The Bengals were entering snowy Buffalo with three substitutions on an offensive line that had been such a big part of Cincinnati’s hitting streak in November and December.
Jackson Carman, 23, started an NFL game at tackle for the first time, coming in for Jonah Williams, who was out after dislocating a kneecap last week. Hakeem Adeniji started his third game this season in place of La’el Collins (knee) at right tackle, and Max Scharping started a second at right guard for Alex Cappa (ankle).
The result was a 27-10 victory and one of the most complete games of the season for the Bengals offense.
The line benefited from Joe Burrow’s ability to speed up his progressions and get the ball out fast.
The third-year quarterback shut out the Bills, completing his first nine passes to give the Bengals a 14-0 first quarter lead. Running back Joe Mixon collected yards in pieces, finishing with 105 yards and a touchdown. Burrow was sacked only once and took just three hits.
“They were mauling guys,” Mixon said of the O-line.
Mixon had his first 100-yard game since putting up 153 yards and four touchdowns in a Week 9 win over Carolina that started the Bengals on their current 10-game hitting streak.
Center Ted Karras was credited with keeping the linemen together and making sure they were communicating. Karras hurt himself, had his right knee taped in the second quarter, and was visibly limping, but he made it through.
“We knew we had a big task on our shoulders against a big defensive front with three (new) guys arriving, and the biggest moment in our football has been up to this point, such an incredible performance,” said Karras, seven year old veteran who spent the early part of his career pinning Tom Brady in New England. “I’m so proud of the boys.”
Adeniji, who started nine games last season and sometimes struggled with pass protection, has held up fair tackle since Collins tore an ACL against the Patriots on Christmas Eve.
“You have three new guys who haven’t played much together. It’s a noisy environment, which already makes it difficult with guys who are on the same wavelength,” Adeniji said.
“Obviously there are other things, but that was the most important thing. I feel like we were able to nail it, and we were in unison on a lot of the things we were doing, and that pays dividends.
Hood, who has an ankle injury, and Williams are considered week-to-week, so their status for Sunday’s AFC Championship game in Kansas City is uncertain.
Taylor would only say that both players were “getting better every day, and we’ll see where that goes.”
Regardless of who gets to go, Cincinnati now knows it can adapt and thrive against the Kansas City Chiefs, a team the Bengals beat 27-24 on Dec. 4.
Adeniji said it’s just about keeping the Tana clean. The Bengals need not be reminded that he was sacked 19 times in last year’s postseason.
“Joe is one of the best players in the league,” said Adeniji. “He’s such a leader for our team and he does so much for our team. We want to do our job so we can enable him to perform to the best of his ability, because he’s going to get us where we need to go.”