BUFFALO, N.Y. — Not so fast, Mr. Goodell and the NFL.
Not so fast.
More than 5,000 tickets were sold in the first 24 hours they went on sale last week for a potential AFC Championship game in Atlanta, according to league officials, between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.
Season-ticket holders of the No. 2 Bills and top-seeded Chiefs were given priority access to tickets in anticipation of the expected matchup — which was set to be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The NFL revamped its AFC playoff situation after it canceled Buffalo’s Monday Night Football game against Cincinnati.
That contest was shut down after Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field from cardiac arrest in Week 17, and there was not enough time to reschedule.
On Sunday, Hamlin made an appearance on the big screen from his seat in a suite at Highmark Stadium just before halftime, which brought the Bills faithful to their feet.
Buffalo could have claimed home field throughout the AFC Playoffs with a win over the Bengals before the game was canceled.
Instead, they played one less game and finished a half-game behind top-seeded Kansas City.
That prompted the NFL to decide that a neutral site would be used if both the Bills and Chiefs advanced.
The league was ready with ticket sales and advertising in full swing for the highly-anticipated game.
It was all set.
No one in the league considered that Cincinnati just might win.
The Bengals came into snowy Buffalo and thrashed the Bills 27-10 in the AFC Divisional contest, and will now travel to Kansas City next Sunday (Jan. 29) for the AFC Championship.
This will be a rematch from last year — when the Bengals upset the Chiefs to advance to the Super Bowl.
Cincinnati has knocked off KC in their last three meetings.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor sarcastically apologized to the league for spoiling their plans for a Bills-Chiefs matchup.
Spite turned out to be a pretty good motivator, as it only inspired the Bengals to prove more than ever that they deserved to advance to the AFC Championship.
“It was a slap in our face,” Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson said. “They sold 5,000 tickets and just wrote us off. They had it planned out and everything. But we came to play tonight and didn’t care what the NFL did. They obviously wanted the Bills and Chiefs — but it’s the Bengals and Chiefs. We handled our business.”
Wilson led the defense that stymied the favored Bills with four tackles and three assists.
“We came in here and just did what we know we can do,” he added. “At the end of the day, we got a win and that’s what is most important.”
Buffalo struggled to find rhythm, and was limited to 325 total yards.
Quarterback Josh Allen threw for 265 yards with one interception and no touchdowns.
On the other end, Joe Burrow was right on target.
He finished with 242 yards in the air, and completed 23 of 36 passes with two TDs.
Running back Joe Mixon ran for 105 yards on 20 totes with one TD and a 5.1-yards-per-rush average.
“Refund. Refund,” Mixon said after the win. “They didn’t expect us to win — but guess what? We going to Kansas City — not the Bills.”
Mixon took to Twitter after the game and directed his opinion to the NFL:
“AFC CHAMPIONSHIP IN MERCEDES BENZ STADIUM!? THAT’LL BE NEVERUARY. MAKE SURE YALL GO GET YALL REFUNDS BACK!! #WHODEY”
Tight end Hayden Hurst, who had five catches for 59 yards and one touchdown, said the team used what the NFL did as inspiration to win.
“They counted us out and that’s fine,” he said. “We love it. We go out there and play for each other. This is who we are. The NFL was selling tickets to a game that wasn’t even set. We see everything. We’re not stupid. And that just motivates us. We keep quiet throughout the week and come out and play hard on game days. That’s what we did today. We used that stuff as ammunition and played pretty awesome.”
Bengals safety Eli Apple, who had five tackles and a key deflection, said the team came through again on defense.
“We expect it all the time because we prepare for it,” he said. “The NFL is going to do what they want to do — and we are going to do what we are going to do. Just being out there on the field with my brothers is enough motivation for me.”
Cincinnati will take on the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday — with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
There is no indication who the NFL wants to win this game yet.