CINCINNATI — Joe Burrow came off the field, yelling “I’m him” in a celebratory exchange with cornerback Mike Hilton after throwing his second touchdown pass in as many drives to open the divisional round win over the Buffalo Bills.
After the game, Hilton told a cameraman on film, “We’ll see you all in Burrowhead,” as a play on Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, where the Bengals will try to repeat their AFC title victory from a year ago against a Chiefs team that is hosting its fifth straight conference championship.
Both now-viral statements are symbolic of how poised Burrow looked in that 27-10 blowout win at Buffalo and how much confidence his teammates have in their quarterback’s abilities to lead them to a second straight Super Bowl.
But it’s back to business as usual for Burrow. He didn’t even remember saying, “I’m him,” and he laughed at Hilton’s reference to “Burrowhead” Stadium.
“We’ve been in these spots,” Burrow said Wednesday. “We have the experience, we know what team we’re playing, 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, but we know it’s gonna be tough. We know it’s gonna be hard fought, and we know the kind of players they have on that side.”
Burrow, in just his second full season, is one win away from a chance to complete the “unfinished business” the team has been talking about since last offseason.
The Bengals have overcome adversity once again to advance, despite having to fight for even just one home playoff game and then being as much as six-point underdogs against the Bills. Now they find themselves going on the road as the favored team for the first time in a postseason game away from Paycor Stadium.
As confident as he is, Burrow prefers being doubted. He feels like he’s thrived taking the “hard road,” first being a third- or fourth-string quarterback at Ohio State and then leading LSU to a national title. Last year, he took a team that hadn’t won a playoff game in 31 years to an unexpected Super Bowl appearance and nearly led the Bengals to victory.
“It’s just more gratifying,” Burrow said. “When you know the road that you’ve been on has been tough and maybe other people have had it easier, it’s always more satisfying when you pull it out in the end.”
Burrow said he hasn’t even thought about being one win from a return to the Super Bowl because the focus is solely on beating Kansas City.
As similar as this postseason feels to last year’s run, the Bengals have reason to be even more confident in the offense, which for the first time in a while didn’t need the defense to bail it out to get a win. Not only are outsiders now believing in Cincinnati as 1.5-point favorites, but Burrow is coming off his best playoff performance and looking like a different quarterback. Part of that could be attributed to taking far fewer hits this season and being much healthier than his 2021 NFL Comeback Player of the Year campaign.
Burrow was sacked just once in the divisional round game at Buffalo, compared to the nine sacks he took at Tennessee in that stage last year. At this point in the season, he has taken 16 fewer sacks than he had going into the AFC Championship last year. The Bengals are still monitoring right guard Alex Cappa and left tackle Jonah Williams this week to see if they can return, but an offensive line with three new starters was good enough for the offense to dominate last week.
Last year’s run also helped Burrow and other players learn how to prepare for the long grind, and that could be making a difference, he said.
“I’m feeling great,” Burrow said. “I think last season did help a lot of guys in their understanding how to take care of their bodies through these long deep playoff runs. That’s part of the experience that helps you win these kinds of games, not just on the field stuff and going into hostile environments, but being through these long seasons and understanding where you might have been better if you had done something different off the field last year. I think guys have taken strides and taken that to heart.”
Burrow said he’s even more confident in this year’s team because it is just a “more complete team from top to bottom.” It helps the offensive leader is a steady performer.
“Joe is the exact same guy from when we were 0-2 to right now,” Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “You would see no difference. Here’s his focus, demeanor. He’s not tight. He’s always loose. He likes to have fun in the meeting room and talk about a bunch of different things. He gets his work in when it’s time to get work in. That’s what makes him special. There’s no up and down. He’s the same, consistent. Our team is that way too from top to bottom. Guys that understand that’s the difference, you don’t overreact. You keep doing your work, go out Sunday and play well. That’s how Joe is.”
Bengals at Chiefs, 6:30 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7
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