The Cincinnati Bengals spent all offseason hoping to fix an offensive line that proved to be their Achilles heel in the Super Bowl a year ago.
They went out and signed La'el Collins, Alex Cappa, and Ted Karras. They drafted eventual starter Cordell Volson. For a period of time earlier in the year, it seemed as though their efforts had paid off.
However, injuries threatened to derail the unit and the Bengals' season late in the year. Collins was lost to a season-ending knee injury. Cappa suffered an ankle injury in the regular season finale. Left tackle Jonah Williams injured his knee in the team's first postseason game.
Suddenly, the Bengals were forced to trot out three backup offensive linemen in the much-maligned Jackson Carman, Houston Texans castoff Max Scharping, and former sixth-round pick Hakeem Adeniji in the team's most important game of the season.
Everyone was ready to write off the Bengals' offensive line in their Divisional Round matchup with the Buffalo Bills on Sunday — rightfully so, given the pedigrees of the guys starting. But as the old saying goes, that's why they play the games.
The Bengals' offensive line — a rag-tag group of misfits thrown together on a week's notice — didn't just hold their own on Sunday. They absolutely dominated.
It's hard to explain how or why it happened, but it most certainly did. The Bengals cruised to a one-sided 27-10 victory over the Bills due in large part to a brilliant performance from their unheralded offensive line.
Just how good was the Bengals' offensive line on Sunday?
The Bengals' offensive line dominated in every facet of the game. They allowed just one sack — a measly two-yard loss — all game and surrendered just eight total pressures. Joe Burrow was kept upright, and the Bengals' offense thrived as a result.
Perhaps more important, however, was the reemergence of the Bengals' running game. The Bengals finished with a whopping 172 yards on the ground on a highly efficient 5.1 yards per carry. That's more rushing yards than Cincinnati has managed in 16 of their previous 17 games.
Joe Mixon led the way with 105 yards and a score, just his second 100-yard game of the season. Cincinnati picked up 13 first downs on the ground alone. The Bengals asserted their dominance at the point of attack and completely overpowered their opponents on both sides of the ball.
Carman had played just 32 snaps this season prior to Sunday's game. Scharping, a cast-off from a 3-13 Texans team, had just 88 snaps to his credit. Adeniji was starting only his third game of the season.
All three players had been below-average (at best) offensive linemen before Sunday's game. They joined a rookie fourth-round rookie and a veteran center, playing injured at that, and making just $6 million per season.
As for their opponents? The Bills' defensive line consisted of multiple first-round picks (Ed Oliver, Gregory Rousseau), two second-round picks (A.J. Epenesa, Boogie Basham), and multiple highly-paid veterans (Mario Addison, Jordan Phillips).
None of it mattered. Draft pedigree, salary, reputation — all of that went out the window on Sunday. The Bengals' offensive linemen didn't care about status. They didn't care about history. Instead, they focused on the task at hand.
If this Bengals offensive line continues to play like they did on Sunday, a trip to Glendale, Arizona for Super Bowl LVII might just be in their future. That's surely a neutral-site game that Bengals fans would welcome with open arms.