TDBH: Bengals bowl over Bills in AFC title preview

Posted Nov 26, 2017

This Day in Bengals History - November 27, 1988

The Bengals roll up their sleeves today at crazed Riverfront Stadium and smash through to the elite when they plow the Bills’ feared No. 1 defense to the tune of 232 rushing yards in a 35-21 victory that drops Buffalo to 11-2 and prevents them from clinching home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. As the sign hanging high in the upper deck suggests (“Boomer Bombs Buffalo, Part 1), the fans expect the 10-3 Bengals to meet the Bills again in the playoffs and that is most likely in the AFC title game. And the Bengals now have a shot after rolling up 455 yards against a Buffalo defense that hasn’t allowed that many in a game this season while giving up a mere 101 yards rushing a game. And the Bills haven’t allowed 35 points in a game since linebacker Cornelius Bennett joined the club more than a year ago.  “Today was like a play-off game for Cincinnati,” says Bills defensive coordinator Walt Corey. “I don’t know if we’re ready for a play-off game.” Bills Pro Bowl nose tackle Fred Smerlas thinks not. “We weren’t emotional enough to play a team of that caliber,” Smerlas says. “They’re the best offensive team we’ve played. They maul you with powerful people.”

After helping guide the Bengals within a game of clinching their first post-season berth in the five years under head coach Sam Wyche, Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason says, “A lot of people talk about us having an explosive offense. But the most important thing we do is establish the run. When you establish the run, you can do anything.” And so they do, helping perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Anthony Munoz neutralize fellow future Hall-of-Famer Bruce Smith on the edge. “We always have a top 20 play list and the first couple of plays were runs and Anthony was knocking Smith off the ball and their linebackers were overpursuing to the outside,” says left guard Bruce Reimers. “So there were natural cut-back lanes. Every time we came to the sidelines we just kept screaming, ‘Keep running the ball.”’  Wyche obliges and rookie running back Ickey Woods adds to his burgeoning legend with  129 yards and three touchdowns while back-field mate James Brooks adds 93 more and one TD rushing and another receiving, allowing Esiason to average 9.5 yards per his 25 throws while completing 18 of them. “We had to run,” says center Bruce Kozerski. “We knew we couldn’t line up against these guys and throw 50 times a game and we knew if we were going to have a chance we had to keep the ball out of Jim Kelly’s hands.”

Even though the Bengals hog the ball for 41:21 and their biggest time of possession under Wyche, Kelly, the Bills’ gifted passer headed to the Hall of Fame, still is driving the Bills to a tying touchdown trailing, 28-21, with 10:42 left in the game. That’s when he completes a seven-yard pass to running back Robb Riddick and Pro Bowl nose tackle Tim Krumrie makes another huge play. He has already recovered a fumble in the first half and this time he forces one when, as always, he hustles to the ball, knocks it out, and cornerback Lewis Billups recovers at the Bengals 35. The Bills don’t score the rest of the way. “I got off the heat and came back and got a good angle on him,” Krumrie says. “I got a good rip at the ball and stripped it. I was just at the right place at the right time.” The Bengals will be, too, because it is they that end up hosting that AFC title game against these Bills and they’ll offer the same result to earn a Super berth.

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