The Bengals stamped their status as arguably the AFC’s most dangerous team heading into the playoffs.
Cincinnati downed Baltimore 27-16 Sunday to take an eight-game winning streak into the postseason, the longest in the AFC. It also ties the 2015 Bengals for the longest winning streak in franchise history.
The division rivals are set to meet again at Paycor Stadium next week in the wild-card round, with the Bengals (12-4) being the AFC’s No. 3 seed and the Ravens (10-7) set as the sixth seed.
The AFC North champions for the second straight season, the Bengals took control Sunday with defensive dominance. They had four takeaways, including three in the first half that led to 21 points.
Hendrickson had beaten left tackle Ronnie Stanley on the edge to bring down quarterback Anthony Brown — starting with Lamar Jackson and Tyler Huntley inactive — and hit the ball out of his hand in the end zone, allowing Ossai to fall on it.
Bates’ interception led to the eight-play, 48-yard scoring drive in the first quarter capped by running back Joe Mixon, who had a one-yard touchdown run. He proceeded to troll the NFL with a coin-flip celebration, a nod to the Bengals’ frustrations with the league’s playoff guidelines in the wake of their canceled Week 17 game against the Bills. If Cincinnati fell to Baltimore and the teams were to meet in the wild-card round, the site of the game would be determined by a coin flip.
Bengals star receiver Ja’Marr Chase (eight receptions, 86 yards) surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the season, marking the second consecutive year he’s done so to start his career. He scored a 26-yard touchdown after Hilton’s takeaway, winning a one-on-one matchup with cornerback Daryl Worley down the sideline.
What stood out the most from Cincinnati in Week 18, though? The play of its defense.
Granted, Baltimore was short-handed offensively, without star tight end Mark Andrews and down to the third-string quarterback in Brown. But the Bengals have recorded a takeaway in five straight games and have 11 total in that span. That’s the way you want your defense playing heading into the playoffs.
When you take into account how explosive Joe Burrow and the Bengals’ offense can be, that makes for a frightening proposition for the rest of the AFC.
“That’s a quarterback’s best friend,” Burrow said in an on-field postgame interview with CBS. “When they can get turnovers, score on defense, it’s going to be tough to beat us if we’re doing that.”
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Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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