The Cincinnati Bengals head to Buffalo to play the Bills in the divisional round thanks to the Baltimore Ravens’ odd late-game management during a 24-17 win Sunday night. The Bengals did just enough to win over their longtime division rival, with the game’s key moment coming in a 98-yard fumble return after a touchdown from Bengals defenseman Sam Hubbard.
The name of the game in the playoffs is to survive and advance, so the Bengals don’t need to feel bad about how they won. But in order to get past Buffalo, they’ll need some extra help from the attack.
Joe Burrow and the rest of the Bengals’ forwards had moments on Sunday night when they moved the ball, but generally played below their standards against the Ravens’ tough, physical defense, which improved significantly over the course of the season. Cincinnati averaged a measly 4.3 yards per game that night and survived on conversions from the third loss. Converting 53.8% of your third downs is a great way to offset other attacks on offense, but it’s hard to beat stronger teams while burning first and second downs at the same time. According to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, the Bengals only lost 24% of their first and second loss games—in comparison, the Ravens lost on the first try in 31% of their first and second loss games.
Bengals need something more. This was obvious given that they needed Hubbard to handle an incredible clutch fumble recovery for a touchdown. Burrow was held for only 6.5 yards per try and was sacked four times. Joe Mixon averaged 3.5 yards per try as he struggled to find running lanes behind the Bengals’ beleaguered offensive line.
The difficult part of the playoffs is how fast the turnaround is before playing against an opponent who was even better than the previous one. Bills quarterback Josh Allen is at a much higher level of existence and expectation in the NFL than Tyler Huntley. It will take a bit more juice to get past the Buffalo than the Bengals did against the Ravens, but they can still relax a bit knowing their defense has been able to come into its own in a big way.
Fighting the Bengals offense doesn’t mean they’re doomed as they prepare for the Bills. The Ravens counter them well and the Bengals still have the talent to light up any game they play. Burrow was pinned down for most of the game against the Ravens, but he even had a few conversions in the third and outfield that helped the Bengals retain some drive.
There is too much talent in the Bengals offensive lineup to keep them under control throughout the game. They have a week to figure out how to fix their shortcomings in the offensive line as they head into a seismic game against the Bills. It won’t be easy, but Barrow, Mixon, Ja’Marr Chase, Ty Higgins and Tyler Boyd are good enough to get through it.
This team was able to win the game with poor offensive play, which is good. Repeating this against bills may not produce the same results.