Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow officially opened the festivities in Cincinnati Wednesday in his news conference with the AFC Championship Game logo behind him instead of the familiar Bengals “B.” But with a second consecutive title game appearance, that is also becoming a familiar sight.
So is the Patrick Mahomes Chiefs, the same guys they took down in Arrowhead Stadium last year in this game, as well as the guys they beat Dec. 4 at Paycor Stadium by the same 27-24 score. The other win over Kansas City last season also came by a field goal.
“We know the team we’re playing, we’ve played them a bunch. And so I’m sure they’re going to have some wrinkles off of things that they’ve shown us in the past whether it was last game or no playoffs last year,” said Burrow of anything he’s learned going back in the same spot, “because they know that they’re going to be studying that with all three of these games just like we are. So we’re going to have to be ready for anything.”
They’re certainly getting ready for Mahomes. He went for a full practice Wednesday with the high ankle sprain he suffered in Saturday’s Divisional won over Jacksonville. That makes for a first of its kind playoff meeting in the 21st century between the NFL’s top two passers 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 what team we’re playing,” Burrow said. “A team that has been to this game the last five seasons, and they’ve all been in that stadium. So to 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 hard fought, and we know the kind of players they have on that side.”
It’s also a game pitting two of the five finalists unveiled Wednesday for 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, Burrow moved past Allen with his fifth playoff win. With a 5-1 postseason record, Burrow is moving into rarefied air. He’s just one of three all-time quarterbacks 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 on his second shot.
“I think he’s deserving of anything that comes his way,” Taylor said. “He’s one of the greatest players in this league. Those are usually the types of guys that should be in that conversation. I’ve said it a million times. We’re fortunate to have him. And he keeps leading this thing and it’s good to see him play like that.
MORE HISTORY: The Bengals can become the fifth team in NFL history to win four straight road playoff games on Sunday. No mystery. The Bengals are plus-4 in turnover margin in those three games and Burrow has thrown four touchdown passes to two interceptions.
“That’s imperative in every game, if you’re going to want to win, you can’t really turn the ball over, especially in games like this if you want to go win the game,” Burrow said. “And as a defense, you’re always trying to cause turnovers so you try to find the balance of 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’ve always got to find a balance as a quarterback. It varies game to game.”
The Bengals had big first quarters in two of the wins to silence the crowd, going up 6-0 in last year’s Divisional in Tennessee and 14-0 last week.
“That’s always a big help,” said right guard Max Scharping.
But not so at Arrowhead in last year’s title game. They proved they could come back, down 7-3 after one and 21-10 at the half.
AND EVEN MORE HISTORY: If Sunday’s forecast in Kansas City holds up, the Bengals are going to play their coldest playoff game since another AFC title game, the iconic Freezer Bowl on Jan. 10, 1982 when Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium was encased in nine-below and whipped by a minus-59 wind chill. Temperatures are expected to be in the teens, lower than the 21 degrees at kickoff of a 2009 Wild Card Game against the Jets at Paycor Stadium.
And with a low of 12 degrees predicted, the 5:30 pm local kickoff time temperature could beat the coldest game of the Burrow Era, a 22-18 Christmas Eve win in New England that started in 17 degrees. Nothing fazes him, it seems. He threw for three touchdowns and 375 yards in Foxboro and in his first snow game last week he hit his first nine passes, had two touchdowns and finished with triple-digit passing efficiency as he moved his record to 7-0 in games played in less than 40 degrees.
“I marvel at a lot of things he does, but especially his accuracy in tough, kind of sleety conditions,” said center Ted Karras. “I thought he played very well, I was pleased with the ball handling by everybody. It was probably wetter than I thought it would be, but we got it done. It’s probably going to be a little drier in Arrowhead. Last time I was there, I remember it being very cold and dry.”
Karras has already played in an AFC title game in KC, the 2018 classic 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 stinging sleet. With Friday already set for work in the IEL Indoor Facility, Taylor wanted to make sure he got at least one day outside.
“I might have been the only one, but I enjoyed it. There’s a little bit of wind, a little bit of a wintry mix,” said Taylor when asked if he liked the sleet to simulate potential weather. “I think that’s how it’s labeled on the weather app. Not quite as cold as I think it’s going to be on Sunday, obviously, but I think it’s good to get in the work.
“We’re always inside on Friday. You just have to take what you can get. If you get outside on Wednesday, who knows what tomorrow is going to be like? I haven’t got into it too much, but you could have a rough day where you’ve got to be forced inside and you don’t get a chance to get outside all week, so we just wanted to take advantage of it when we knew we could do it.”
SILENT NIGHT: The amazing thing about the work of the Bengals’ revamped offensive line in Orchard Park last Sunday is how they negotiated the noise with a silent count with three guys (Scharping, left tackle Jackson Carman, right tackle Hakeem Adeniji) who had never played together before in a game, never mind in one of the noisiest buildings in the league.
There were just two false starts, two negative plays, no holds. Almost flawless. And here’s the thing. All three of those guys have played in postseason games in Arrowhead. Carman and Adeniji rotated last season at right guard and Scharping started the 2019 Divisional there for the Texans. Throw in Karras and only rookie left guard Cordell Volson hasn’t played there.
“In a sense, they have to get used to my rhythm,” Karras said. “I accept any feedback on how they’re feeling. Especially at tackle. How they’re feeling. Can they see the indicators and get off on time?”
Scharping starts it off with a flash of his hand to Karras.
“I’m looking back at Joe if something changes for me or Teddy or Hakeem needs to communicate to me what has happened,” Scharping said. “If Teddy is saying something that relates to Joe or the back, then I need to be that guy to relay it back. It’s a lot of communication and being on the same page with the count.”
Scharping says it’s not as complicated as it sounds. They “practiced it a lot,” last week and it started in individuals with Karras working with Scharping and then Volson. Then they’d bring the entire line together in positon work before bringing in the whole team.
Scharping played in one of the all-timers in that ’19 Divisional. The Texans jumped 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 what the score is, so we have to be on our Ps and Qs.”
INJURY UPDATE: Right guard Alex Cappa (ankle) and left tackle Jonah Williams (knee) didn’t practice again Wednesday, but Taylor said they’re progressing. Karras, who wore a knee brace most of the game to get through last Sunday, went full. Cornerback Tre Flowers, who missed last week with a hamstring injury, looks like he’ll be ready. He went limited Wednesday and Taylor indicated there could be encouraging news Thursday.