The Cincinnati Bengals punched their ticket to a second consecutive AFC Championship Game by defeating the Buffalo Bills, 27-10, at Highmark Stadium on Sunday. Like 2021, the Bengals will play the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead in the conference title game.
The Bengals are the third AFC North team to reach back-to-back AFC Championship Games, joining the 2004-05 Pittsburgh Steelers and 2011-12 Baltimore Ravens. After coming up short in the title game, the Steelers and Ravens both bounced back the following year and won the Super Bowl. The Bengals took down the Chiefs last year in the AFC Championship Game, but lost to the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI. If history is on the Bengals side, they could be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 12 in Arizona.
Getting through the Chiefs at Arrowhead is no east task, but the Bengals do have the Chiefs number. Joe Burrow is 3-0 in his career against Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City. Burrow is the only quarterback drafted since 2017 with a .500 or better record against Mahomes, among 17 quarterbacks to face him fitting that criteria. He’s also the first quarterback to beat Mahomes three straight times.
Coming up short of the ultimate goal can provide immense motivation, and it appears that the Bengals are on a mission to get back to the Super Bowl and win it this time. The Steelers and Ravens were both motivated by sending longtime cornerstones of the franchise out with a Super Bowl title — Jerome Bettis and Ray Lewis, respectively.
Bettis nearly retired after the Steelers got destroyed by the New England Patriots in the 2004 AFC Championship Game. Hines Ward even cried because he thought Bettis was going out without a ring. Pittsburgh went 15-1 in the 2004 regular season and had a young superstar quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, so they were right on the cusp of winning “One for the Thumb.”
Bettis’ body was worn down, but he came back for one last ride in pursuit of a championship.
“My body didn’t feel good after the season,” Bettis said. “I felt pretty rough. It was difficult for me. As the days went by, my body started to recover, and I felt better. My love for the game hadn’t wavered. It was a situation where I’d be doing myself a disservice if I retired, because I wanted to try to win a championship.”
A young 23-year-old Roethlisberger delivered his promise and sent Bettis off as a champion in his hometown of Detroit, as the Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10, in Super Bowl XL. After starting the season 7-5, the Steelers won eight consecutive games and became the first sixth seed in NFL history to win a Super Bowl.
The Ravens lost a heartbreaker to the Patriots in the 2011 AFC Championship Game, as Lee Evans dropped a for sure touchdown and Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal. An Evans touchdown would have won the game for Baltimore, while a Cundiff field goal would have forced overtime. In 2012, Joe Flacco put up historic numbers in the playoffs, posting a passer rating of 117.2 with 1,140 yards and 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in four games. Flacco led the Ravens to a 34-31 over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII and was named MVP. Flacco’s dominance sent Lewis out as a champion, his second Super Bowl title of his Hall of Fame career.
Time will tell if the Bengals could pull off a remarkable run and bring a Lombardi Trophy home to Cincinnati for the first time. They’ll first have to get through the high-powered Chiefs, though.