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Bengals beat Ravens to ensure AFC playoff home game without coin toss


Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon had a message for the NFL league office on Sunday, and it was waiting inside his glove.

With 1:18 left in the first quarter on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, Mixon reached for the glove on his right hand. An actual coin popped out. Mixon flipped it into the sky, and the entire offense ran over to track it. 

The coin landed, and Mixon then tried to kick it into the crowd.

For what felt like the 100th time this season, the Bengals used a source of motivation to fuel another win, beating the Ravens 27-16 at Paycor Stadium in the regular season finale on Sunday. The Ravens were content with turning their attention toward the postseason, but the Bengals wanted to enter the playoffs in style.

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Even though the Ravens had something to play for, a shot at a home game in the playoffs as well as a shot at the No. 5 seed, they rested most of their star players. With third-string quarterback Anthony Brown getting the start for the Ravens, and without tight end Mark Andrews, cornerback Marcus Peters and running back J.K. Dobbins, the Bengals took an early 17-0 lead and picked up their 12th win of the season.

It was an ugly second half for the Bengals’ offense after taking a three-score lead, but they held on throughout a chippy second half to clinch a home playoff game. The Bengals won their second consecutive division title and finished the regular season with a 12-4 record.

Bengals head coach Zac Taylor addressed the team Friday morning, looking to give the Bengals another source of motivation.

In Taylor’s eyes, the NFL had given the Bengals a less likely shot at winning the AFC with last-minute rule changes that impacted the Bengals’ path in the playoffs. Taylor was livid about the NFL’s decision, which took away the Bengals’ most realistic path to the No. 2 seed in the conference. Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn sent a memo to the NFL about her frustration.

Because of the rule changes, if the Bengals lost on Sunday, there could have been a coin flip to decide the location of the Bengals’ first-round playoff game. From Blackburn to the 53rd player on the roster, the entire Bengals organization was furious about the decision.

Bengals center Ted Karras shouted in the locker room that the Bengals needed to “settle it on the field,” and they did.

Now, the Bengals are the undisputed AFC North champions, and the coin flip is off. Next week, they’ll be back for a playoff game at Paycor Stadium with Taylor looking to give another game ball to a local bar.

At the start, Sunday’s win over the Ravens looked like the Bengals taking their frustrations out on a division rival. After Bengals safety Jessie Bates III picked off Brown, the entire Bengals defense ran to the end zone where they pretended they were riding a rollercoaster. After an interception by Mike Hilton, the Bengals’ defense ran to the end zone and pretended to fall asleep.

After Mixon plunged into the end zone for a touchdown, he brought out the coin. Chase made a leaping catch on a deep route down the left sideline early in the second quarter to give the Bengals a 17-0 lead, and the Bengals’ offense got another chance to dance in the end zone.

The Bengals got one more turnover and one more touchdown before halftime. Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson broke free off the edge, got a strip-sack against Brown and forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive end Joseph Ossai in the end zone.

Hendrickson added another highlight to his Pro Bowl season, and the Bengals took a 24-7 lead into the half. In the second half, when the Bengals needed some stops to stay ahead by two possessions, Hendrickson was reliably there to pressure Brown or get the sack.

The Bengals have sought out every piece of motivation they could find all season. After beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in November, Burrow shouted “we’re the big dogs.” After Kansas City 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.

Cincinnati turned the concept of the coin flip this week into another chip on their shoulder. 

The players on the Bengals’ roster had a similar reaction to Taylor and Blackburn. Mixon tweeted a photo of the page of the rulebook that wasn’t being followed. Karras predicted a win over the Ravens, saying they’d settle the North title on the field and laying out his plan for a postgame celebration on Sunday.

After decades where all anyone wanted was for the Bengals to win a single playoff game, the Bengals enter the postseason expecting a deep run ahead of them. After beating the Ravens on Sunday, the Bengals are right where they wanted to be at this point of the year. 

They’ve beaten Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. They’ve embraced a “they’ve got to play us” mentality and played their best football in years during the second half of the season. Burrow has been playing the best football of his career, and Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has been befuddling some of the best offensive players in the NFL with his game plans.

Sunday’s win wrapped up an emotional week that Taylor said highlighted the culture that the Bengals have built. After Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field at Paycor Stadium, several Bengals players were initially unsure if they wanted to play in Sunday’s game.The players on the Bengals responded by having small group conversations within their position rooms. Every player got a chance to discuss their concerns and what they needed. Burrow set the tone by telling every player on the Bengals that he “loved them” and the support within the locker room helped the Bengals move forward with the season.

The AFC North title was technically wrapped up when the NFL canceled the Bengals’ game against the Bills, but the Bengals players said they wouldn’t recognize it until they beat the Ravens. The Bengals got what they were looking for on Sunday, and now their attention turns to winning the Super Bowl.

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