Bengals chuckle as neutral game plan has to be shelved
The NFL was gearing up for an AFC Championship game between the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs to take place at a neutral venue in Atlanta.
But the Cincinnati Bengals had other plans.
On Sunday, the Bengals, led by quarterback Joe Burrow, marched into the Buffalo snow and beat the Bills 27-10 meaning there will be no need for a neutral site game.
Because the Bills v Bengals regular season game earlier this month had to be abandoned after Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field, neither team was able to complete a full regular-season schedule.
So the normal means of deciding home field advantage, by regular season record, could not be applied and the NFL decided that in the event of a Bills-Chiefs game, the AFC title contest would be played in Atlanta.
The league even put out a press release on Friday announcing they had sold 50,000 tickets for a Bills-Chiefs game, which irked some Bengals fans.
"Better send those refunds," quipped Burrow to CBS television after the game.
Asked later whether the team had actually used the league's Atlanta plans as motivation, Burrow side-stepped the question.
"They've got to do what they got to do, I wouldn't say we used it as motivation but we definitely knew about it," Burrow said.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor lay the sarcasm on heavy when he was asked whether he had used the NFL's forward planning steps to fire up his team.
"We would never do that, never, ever do that," he said with a smile.
The NFL had previously put plans in place for a coin-toss for wildcard round home field advantage in a scenario where the Bengals lost their last regular season game against Baltimore -- but Cincinnati won again, also making those plans irrelevant.
"It is tough, they have to formulate the plans for coin tosses, the plans for neutral site games and we just keep screwing it up for everybody," Taylor said to laughter in the post-game press conference.
"I hate that. For people who have to endure all those logistical issues, we keep screwing it up, so I am sorry," he deadpanned.
- 'Built for this' -
The Bengals were labelled underdogs going into Buffalo and the Chiefs are likely to be favourites for next week's game but Taylor said his team relished playoff challenges.
"We are built for this. It doesn't matter what anyone thinks about us, we don't care who is favourite, who is not, we are built for this and we are excited to go on the road to Kansas City," he said.
The Bills had been 13-1 at home in the playoffs in the Super Bowl era and Taylor said he had presented that stat to his team.
"I wanted to show that to the team, because I knew what that would do to them," he said.
"It wouldn't put fear in them that 'oh my God, we're walking into an environment that people don't win in.' It was completely the opposite for our guys. It was."
The Bengals beat the Chiefs on the road in overtime in last year's AFC Championship game before losing to the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl and quarterback Burrow believes they have improved in the past 12 months.
"I think we are a better team, I think we are a more complete team, we just seem to make plays when it counts. I think our offensive line is better, our running game is better, our special teams is better," he said.
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