Neither, however, is as unfazed or unbeatable as the Cincinnati quarterback. At least not recently.
Buffalo had him where he wanted him on Sunday, inside a western new york snow globe, surrounded by the table-breaking mafia of the Bills. That included no less than Damar Hamlinlooking inspiringly through the snowflakes.
All of Buffalo had been waiting for a year and 13 seconds for that, another shot in the divisional round, another shot at the Chiefs, another push to the Super Bowl. If not last year, then what year, they wondered? Well, if not now, then when?
Maybe when Burrow retires, which, given he’s 26, is going to take a while.
Cincinnati 27, Buffalo 10and for Burrow and his bengalshis back in Kansas City, where they won the AFC title last year. For the Bills, it’s a return to historic misery.
“Domination,” Burrow said on CBS afterwards. “From beginning to end.”
It wasn’t just Burrow’s on-court performance, although that was impressive. He finished 23 of 36 for 242 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 31 yards. The Bengals’ ability to control both lines of scrimmage was the biggest difference, but it was elite quarterback play, especially under the circumstances.
“It was like football,” Burrow said. “It was fun.”
As much as anything, it’s his demeanor, his confidence, his curiosity, not cowardice, in the face of a playoff environment straight out of the Bills’ wildest imagination — snow, cold and noise.
All of that attitude rubs off on his teammates, on his coaches, on an entire organization and a fan base that was known so much for its demoralizing, self-inflicted hopelessness.
The Bengals, founded in 1968, won five playoff games in their history before Burrow arrived as LSU’s first draft pick in 2020.
They have won five since, including three on the road.
“Joe Burrow, amazing”, running back Joe Mixon said. “In games like this, he always rises to the occasion.”
It’s not just about Burrow’s ability to drop passes in hard places or avoid turnovers or play at his best when his best was needed most.
In this case, it was the beginning of the match, where behind so much emotion and excitement, the Bills sought to set the tone and the atmosphere. Instead, Burrow went 4-for-4 for 64 yards and a touchdown on the first drive. When Buffalo went three and out, Bengal pounced. Burrow went 5-for-5 for 41 yards and another touchdown.
Just like that, Cincy led 14-0 and Buffalo never fully recovered from the need to press, while being surrounded by the pressure that comes from a fanbase accustomed to fate.
And when Buffalo cut Cincy’s lead to 17-10 midway through the third quarter, Burrow (and Mixon) closed the door with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown that bled a precious 6:31 out of time.
Cincinnati had come in as a 5.5-point underdog, despite being the defending AFC champion. It’s not that no one thought the Bengals could win, but few thought they would hold the Bills back like this.
“The job is not done,” Burrow said. “I have another big one next week on the road.”
It’s a trip to play the Chiefs again. A year ago, Cincy arrived and Burrow beat Mahomes, winning 27-24 in overtime in one of the hardest places to play in the league. The Bengals lost to Los Angeles Rams at the Super Bowl, but the tone was set, even if too few people seem to realize it.
Perhaps the NFL’s predicted narrative featured the AFC led by either Mahomes or Allen for years to come, but Burrow has now defeated both in the playoffs.
And where the NFL rewrote its rules to set up a neutral site AFC title game if it was between Kansas City and Buffalo – a mini Super Bowl if you will – well, it was Cincinnati that was ruining that experience. .
“Better send those refunds,” he sang of tickets sold for a game that won’t take place.
“We keep screwing it up for everybody,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor deadpanned. “I hate it. We just keep screwing it up. Sorry.”
If anything, Burrow might be even better away from Cincinnati. Nothing seems to bother him. Not the big stuff. Not the little one either.
He’s a kid from Ohio, who couldn’t win the job at Ohio Stateonly to then shrug and win a Heisman Trophy and a national title at LSU and come back as the savior of the Bengals.
Do you think snow showers and the noise of the crowd will shake it?
“It’s going to be fun,” Burrow said. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
Maybe some in Kansas City believed him last year, but he proved them wrong. So they can wrap Arrowhead in red and show the predicted teen temperature, but that’s probably only going to make him stronger.
“I think we are a more complete team [this year]”, Burrow said. “I think we’re a better team. Overall, I just think we’re a better team than we were last year. We tend to make games when it counts.
Bring him, said Burrow. Bring the leaders. It’s not the Bungles anymore and the AFC isn’t just about Mahomes and Allen.
Joe Burrow and Cincinnati are running the conference right now, at least until someone proves otherwise.