Around 4:30 on Sunday afternoon, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was standing in the middle of the Bengals locker room, carrying a cardboard box full of Leather Rose cigars.
The Bengals just beat the Baltimore Ravens, 27-16, at Paycor Stadium to clinch a first-round home playoff game and put a stamp on their AFC North championship season. In the postgame locker room, Burrow, who later said the Bengals would be in their championship window as long as he is their quarterback, led the way like he always does.
Burrow picked up the box and went from person-to-person delivering cigars for everyone.
“That’s who Joe Burrow is,” Bengals backup quarterback Brandon Allen said. “A cigar-smoking winner.”
Burrow, the Bengals’ captain, MVP candidate and the face of the franchise, passed out so many cigars that he had to go and get a second box. There were surely other people who could have passed them out and let Burrow dance and celebrate.
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But Burrow famously smoked a cigar after winning the national championship at LSU, and he’s the one who brought the cigar tradition to Cincinnati. Over the last week, Burrow also made a point to check in one-on-one with his teammates and tell them that he loved them.
That message continued when different players were celebrating, were approached by Burrow and were offered a cigar from the “Drew Estate” line.
“You don’t see that often,” Bengals safety Jessie Bates III said. “That’s what makes our group special. It’s a bunch of normal dudes. Joe Burrow doesn’t walk around like he’s Joe Burrow. He walks around like any other guy in this locker room. He plays hard, and then he’s handing out cigars. It’s good to have those leaders on your team.
“That’s a team guy right there,” cornerback Eli Apple said. “He’s a giver. He loves everybody. He always expresses that.”
“That’s epic,” Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “Who else would it be?”
Before the celebration, facing a Ravens team that was resting most of its star players, the Bengals stormed out to a 17-0 lead. The Bengals defense forced three turnovers, including a forced fumble by defensive end Trey Hendrickson that was recovered by defensive end Joseph Ossai for a touchdown. Burrow admitted that he missed some throws that he “always makes,” but he hit on a 26-yard touchdown down the left sideline to wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase as the Bengals held a three-score lead for most of the game.
Joe Mixon has memorable coin toss celebration vs. Ravens
The first touchdown, a 1-yard run by running back Joe Mixon, was the most memorable.
On Friday, the NFL announced a new plan for seeding the playoffs. Since the Bengals and Buffalo Bills will only finish the regular season having played 16 games, the NFL put scenarios in place that could have led to a coin toss determining the site of the Bengals’ first-round playoff game.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor was livid about the NFL’s decision. The new format took away the Bengals’ most realistic path to the No. 2 seed in the conference. If the Ravens had won on Sunday, the coin toss scenario could have been in play. Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn sent a memo to the NFL about her frustration.
The players felt the same way. Mixon used a touchdown celebration to show how the Bengals were feeling.
“Mixon did it perfectly,” Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst said. “We didn’t agree with what happened, but we knew we had to go out and win. It doesn’t matter where we are. This team is full of confidence. And we’re rolling right now.”
Mixon brought a quarter that he had recently gotten at McDonald’s and put it in one of his gloves. After the touchdown, Mixon took the coin out and flipped it. Then he kicked the coin as far as he could.
“That was a (heck) of a celebration,” Bates said. “Best one all year. It shows how cool our locker room is, for someone to come out with that idea and have fun with it instead of (complaining) about (the coin toss situation).”
Bengals find motivation vs. Ravens
For what felt like the 100th time this season, the Bengals used a source of motivation to fuel another win.
All season, the Bengals have sought out every piece of motivation they could find. After beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in November, Burrow shouted “we’re the big dogs.” After Chiefs safety Justin Reid couldn’t remember the names of the Bengals’ best players as he was trash talking them before that game, the Bengals made that bulletin board material. When Tom Brady called the Bengals defense “fairly tough,” the Bengals took it personally.
This week, the Bengals turned the concept of the coin flip into another chip on their shoulder.
Taylor leaned into that idea by showing the team clips from the movie “Gladiator” on Saturday night. The clip highlighted an “Us against the world” mentality that he wanted the Bengals to embrace.
“We’ve had that whole narrative the whole year,” Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson said. “Everyone thought last year was a fluke, that we don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. Whatever. We don’t really care about those things.”
Now, the Bengals enter the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the AFC. They’ll face the Ravens again next week at Paycor Stadium. If the Bengals win, then they’ll likely have to travel to Buffalo to face the Bills.
Burrow said the “Us against the world” mentality fits the players on the Bengals roster. Burrow is the quarterback who had to transfer to LSU to be a starter and then became one of the best quarterbacks in college football history. He still hasn’t had a “normal” offseason in the NFL, and he had to recover from an appendectomy at the beginning of the year.
Bates, Mixon, Tyler Boyd and Hubbard survived years of losing and have set the tone for a perennial Super Bowl contender. Taylor joined the Bengals in 2019 having to prove himself without full-time coordinator experience under his belt.
With the NFL’s rule changes about the playoffs this season, Burrow said the Bengals were given another slight.
“We like the hard way,” Burrow said. “Would you like it any other way? It’s not as satisfying.”
The Bengals finished the regular season with a 12-4 record, winning back-to-back AFC North titles for the first time in franchise history. With an eight-game winning streak, they have the longest winning streak in the conference. They’ve already beaten the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs.
While previous Bengals teams were just hoping to win a single playoff game, the Bengals enter the postseason this year with the goal of winning the Super Bowl.
“There’s no easy path into the NFL, into the playoffs and into the Super Bowl,” Burrow said. “The harder it is, the better it will feel.”