Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow officially opened the festivities Wednesday in Cincinnati at his press conference with the AFC Championship Game logo behind him instead of the familiar Bengals “B.” But with a second consecutive appearance in the title game, this too is becoming a familiar sight.
So is the Patrick Mahomes Chiefs, the same guys they defeated at Arrowhead Stadium last year in this game, as well as the guys they beat Dec. 4 at Paycor Stadium by the same score of 27-24. The other win over Kansas City last season also came by a field goal.
“We know the team we’re playing with, we’ve played a lot of them. And so I’m sure they’ll have some wrinkles on the things they’ve shown us in the past, whether it was the last game or no playoffs last year,” he said Burrow of everything he learned going back to the same spot, “because they know they will study it with all three of these games just like we do. be ready for anything».
Surely they are preparing for Mahomes. On Wednesday, he went for a full workout with the high ankle sprain he suffered in Saturday’s Divisional win over Jacksonville. This represents the first playoff meeting of its kind in the 21st century between the two best passers in the NFL when it comes to average passing yards per game with Mahomes’ 308.8 and Burrow’s 279.8.
“We’ve been in these spots. We have the experience, we know which team we’re playing with,” said Burrow. “A team that has been to this game for the past five seasons, and they’ve all been in that stadium. So for me, they’re still the team to beat and we’re coming for them for them, but we know it’s going to be tough. We know it’s going to be fought hard and we know what kind of players they have on that side.”
It’s also a game that features two of the five finalists unveiled Wednesday for the NFL MVP. Burrow and Mahomes are joined by Burrow’s old LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson, as well as Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen.
When the Bengals beat Allen’s Bills last Sunday in their Divisional game, Burrow surpassed Allen with his fifth playoff win. With a 5-1 postseason record, Burrow is moving into thin air. He is one of only three quarterbacks all-time to win at least five playoff games in his first three seasons. Like Russell Wilson (six) and Ben Roethlisberger (five). Burrow hopes to win the Super Bowl in his second shot.
“I think he deserves everything that comes his way,” Taylor said. “He’s one of the greatest players in this league. They’re usually the types of guys that should be in that conversation. I’ve said it a million times. We’re lucky to have him. And he continues to lead this thing and it’s great to see him play like this.
MORE STORY: The Bengals may become the fifth team in NFL history to win four straight playoff games on Sunday. No mystery. The Bengals have a plus-4 turnover margin in those three games and Burrow has thrown four touchdown passes to two interceptions.
“That’s imperative in any game, if you want to win, you can’t really turn the ball over, especially in games like this if you want to win the game,” Burrow said. “And as a defense, you’re always trying to cause turnovers, so you try to find the balance between taking your shots and taking risks and pushing the ball down the field. And also taking care of the ball, especially when your defense is playing so well. And so you always have to find a balance as a quarterback. It varies from game to game.”
The Bengals had big first quarters in two of the victories to silence the crowd, going up 6-0 in last year’s Divisional at Tennessee and 14-0 last week.
“That’s always a big help,” right guard Max Scharping said.
But not so to Arrowhead in last year’s title game. They showed they could come from behind, losing 7-3 after one and 21-10 in the first half.
AND EVEN MORE HISTORY: If Sunday’s forecast in Kansas City holds up, the Bengals will play their coldest playoff game since another AFC title game, the iconic Freezer Bowl on January 10, 1982, when Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium was enclosed in nine below and whipped by a minus -59 icy wind. Temperatures should be in the teens, below 21 degrees at kickoff of a 2009 Wild Card Game against the Jets at Paycor Stadium.
And with an expected low of 12 degrees, the 5:30 p.m. local kickoff temperature could beat the coldest game of the Burrow era, a 22-18 Christmas Eve victory over New England that started in 17 degrees. Nothing bothers him, it seems. He threw for three touchdowns and 375 yards at Foxboro and in his first snow game last week he caught his first nine passes, had two touchdowns and finished with triple-digit passing efficiency to bring his record to 7 -0 in games played in less than 40 degrees.
“I marvel at a lot of things it does, but most of all its accuracy in rough, foggy conditions,” said center Ted Karras. “I think he played very well, I was happy with everyone’s handling of the ball. It was probably wetter than I thought but we made it through. It will probably be a little drier at Arrowhead. Last time I’ve been there, I remember it was very cold and dry.”
Karras has previously played in an AFC title game in KC, the 2018 classic in which the Chiefs beat his Patriots, 37-31, in a 19-degree game at kickoff.
On Wednesday, Taylor chose to practice on the Paycor turf during intermittent biting sleet. With Friday already set up for work in the IEL Indoor Facility, Taylor wanted to make sure he had at least one day outdoors.
“I may have been the only one, but I enjoyed it. It’s a little windy, a little bit of a winter mix,” Taylor said when asked if he liked sleet to simulate potential weather. “I think that’s how it’s labeled on the weather app. Not as cold as I think it will be on Sunday, obviously, but I think it’s good to get to work.
“Fridays we’re always indoors. You just have to take what you can take. If you go out on Wednesday, who knows what tomorrow will be like? I haven’t busy myself much, but you could have had a difficult day where you have to be forced in and you don’t have the possibility to hang out all week, so we just wanted to take advantage of it when we knew we could.
SILENT NIGHT: What’s amazing about the work of the Bengals’ revamped offensive line in Orchard Park last Sunday is how they negotiated noise into a silent count with three guys (Scharping, left tackle Jackson Carman, right tackle Hakeem Adeniji) who had never played together before in a game, let alone in one of the noisiest buildings in the league.
There were only two false starts, two bad plays, no catches. Almost flawless. And here’s the thing. All three of those guys played in postseason games at Arrowhead. Carman and Adeniji rotated to right guard last season, and Scharping started the 2019 Divisional there for the Texans. Add Karras and only rookie left guard Cordell Volson didn’t play there.
“In a way, they have to get used to my pace,” Karras said. “I welcome any feedback on how they feel. Especially at the tackle. How they feel. Can they see the gauges and get off on time?”
Scharping starts with a flash of the hand to Karras.
“I think back to Joe if anything changes for me or Teddy or Hakeem need to let me know what happened,” Scharping said. “If Teddy is saying something about Joe or the rear, then I have to be that guy to relay it. It’s a lot of communicating and being on the same page with the count.”
Scharping says it’s not as complicated as it sounds. They “practiced a lot” last week and it started in individuals with Karras working with Scharping and then Volson. Then they would bring the entire line together in positional work before bringing the entire team on board.
Scharping had one all-time in that ’19 Divisional. The Texans jumped out to a 24-0 lead before losing by 20.
“It was very loud, then very quiet, then very loud again,” Scharping said. “(Mahomes) can come back no matter the score, so we have to be on our Ps and Qs.”
INJURY UPDATE: Right guard Alex Cappa (ankle) and left tackle Jonah Williams (knee) did not practice again Wednesday, but Taylor said they are progressing. Karras, who wore a knee brace for most of Sunday’s game, went full-on. Cornerback Tre Flowers, who sat out last week with a hamstring injury, looks ready. It went capped on Wednesday, and Taylor indicated there could be encouraging news on Thursday.