CINCINNATI (AP) — Joe Burrow danced and puffed on a cigar as the Cincinnati Bengals staged a locker room celebration worthy of a worst-to-first AFC North champion.
“I said it in the preseason, we were talking about the playoffs,” the second-year quarterback said after Cincinnati rallied to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 34-31 on Evan McPherson’s field goal Sunday. “I said the easiest way to do that is win the division. They kind of laughed at us, but we knew the team we had.”
Now that the Bengals have made the playoffs for the first time since 2015, they’ll have to figure out how to win a game in the postseason, which they haven’t managed to do in three decades.
First, though, they’ll go to Cleveland for the regular-season finale against the Browns, who have been eliminated from playoff contention and will be on a short week after a Monday night matchup with the Steelers.
Burrow, who limped off the field late in Sunday’s game with a sore right knee — not the one that was surgically repaired last season — continued his outstanding season. He threw for 466 yards and four touchdowns, and rallied the Bengals from three 14-point deficits.
Cincinnati (10-6) won the division two seasons after a 2-14 finish in coach Zac Taylor’s first season.
“We’re gotten to this point so many times and failed to capitalize, and that’s kind of the narrative that’s the Cincinnati Bengals,” said defensive end Sam Hubbard, who grew up in Cincinnati following the team.
“To get an opportunity to clinch the division and actually take advantage of it and have this momentum going into the playoffs, it’s something that’s uncharacteristic of the Bengals,” Hubbard said. “And it signifies what we’ve been talking about for awhile, about how things are changing and the direction we’re heading in as a franchise and a team, so it’s really special.”
Taylor was 6-25-1 in his first two seasons in Cincinnati. The front office expressed support for him while making it clear that there needed to be better results in 2021.
The Bengals have been inconsistent, but finally reeled off three straight wins for the first time since they started 8-0 and won the division six seasons ago.
“It was a lot of earned emotions,” Taylor said when asked to describe the raucous postgame locker room. “You don’t want a playoff berth or a division championship handed to you, that’s something you take for yourself. And we wanted to do it with a victory. And our guys did it in unbelievable fashion. It took everybody.”
Records fell as Burrow and receiver Ja’Marr Chase continued to team up for spectacular plays. Chase piled up a rookie-record 266 receiving yards, while catching three of Burrow’s four touchdown passes.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Burrow is a master of escape when the pocket closes in, but protecting him is still an issue. He was sacked four times and hit at least six more times. It didn’t help that starting left guard Quinton Spain went out with an ankle injury in the first half.
After a series of games in which he wasn’t a major factor, Chase had seven catches for 125 yards against the Ravens on Dec. 26 before his monster game on Sunday.
Running back Joe Mixon had 12 carries for just 46 yards as Cincinnati played from behind and relied on the passing game.
Burrow said his sore knee wasn’t a big deal and that he could have gone back in the game. Instead, Brandon Allen came in for two kneel-downs before the game-winning field goal. … Spain has been a stalwart at left guard whose absence will be felt if his injury lingers into the playoffs.
1,429 — Receiving yards by Chase through 16 games, breaking a rookie record set by Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson, who had 1,400 last season.
The Bengals are the third seed in the AFC and could improve their standing with a win at Cleveland and some help from other teams.
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