Bradley’s Buzz: Burrow’s Bengals leave Atlanta AFC-less

The Falcons had nothing to do with these playoffs. The Falcons’ stadium had much to do with a game played in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Disclaimer: I don’t put much stock in rah-rah – pregame chatter, halftime speeches, et cetera. These are pros. They’re paid to win. The stock line – the game will be won by the team that Wants It More – doesn’t apply. In a playoff game, both teams “want it” as much as is humanly possible. Games come down to execution, or the lack thereof.

That said, the Bengals took the snowy field Sunday with a point to prove. They believed – for good reason – the NFL ladled their opponent the benefit of every doubt. Due to a Bengals-Bills game that couldn’t be completed on Jan. 2, the Bills would have played for the AFC title on a neutral field. The Bengals were made to play an AFC semifinal at the Bills’ place. What was the difference? The NFL hasn’t said, surely because there shouldn’t have been a difference.

Barely 11 minutes in, the Bengals led 14-0. They’d outgained Buffalo 151 yards to six. Maybe that would have happened regardless of slights, real or perceived. This being the NFL, fast starts are overridden on a weekly basis. Not this time. Barely 11 minutes in, the visitors had enough points to win.

The Bengals hit Buffalo so hard so fast that the Bills – a six-point favorite, we remind you – spent the rest of the game looking nothing like themselves. By game’s end, receiver Stefon Diggs was screaming at quarterback Josh Allen.

Patrick Mahomes is the NFL’s best quarterback. Joe Burrow, however, is No. 1A. The Bengals, who began play in 1968, had won five playoff games before Burrow; they’ve doubled that total since his arrival. Three of those five victories have come on the road. Over his 20 years as Patriot, Tom Brady presided over four postseason road wins. Oh, and Burrow is 10 months older than Stetson Bennett.

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Burrow, who’s from Ohio, enrolled at Ohio State. He spent two seasons as a backup. He left because he couldn’t beat out Dwayne Haskins, landing at LSU, where he was good enough to lift the Tigers to the Fiesta Bowl. At SEC Media Days in 2019, he wasn’t among the quarterbacks voted first-, second- or third-team all-conference. The three who were: Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm and Kellen Mond.

Burrow’s 2019 was the greatest season any college quarterback has had. He threw 60 touchdown passes against six interceptions. LSU went undefeated, beating Georgia and Fromm by 27 points in the SEC title game, Oklahoma and Jalen Hurts by in 35 in the CFP semi, Clemson and Trevor Lawrence by 17 in the final. Burrow drew 841 first-place Heisman votes; nobody else got more than 20.

LSU’s best receivers – Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson – are now the NFL’s best receivers. Chase and Burrow remain teammates. Chase scored one touchdown Sunday and had another annulled by the nit-pickiest of replay decisions. Alongside Joe Cool, the much-hyped Allen seemed a nervous wreck. (Maybe he knew Diggs was waiting to take umbrage.)

The Bengals won 27-10. The Bills were generally considered the NFL’s best team, but they haven’t graced a Super Bowl since January 1994. The Bengals made one just last year. In the rush to ensure that Buffalo was treated fairly after Damar Hamlin collapsed, the NFL all but thumbed its nose at Cincinnati, even decreeing that the site of a Round 1 game against Baltimore could be determined by a coin flip.

The Bengals beat the Ravens in the regular-season finale, rendering the coin flip moot, and then again seven days later. Cincy hasn’t lost since Halloween. It has won its past three meetings with the Chiefs and Mahomes, which comes as a shock but shouldn’t. This is a tremendous team, even if those in the NFL offices on Park Avenue haven’t gotten the memo.

The AFC champ figures to win the Super Bowl. I’m hesitant to pick against Mahomes, but he has a high ankle sprain, and I’ve learned never to discount Burrow. He’s got it all – the gaudy numbers, the victory cigar, even the last word. Asked Sunday about those 50,000 folks who’d bought tickets to watch K.C. and Buffalo in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, he said: “Better send those refunds.”

The above is part of a regular exercise, written and curated by yours truly, available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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