BALTIMORE — The Patriots and Bengals were separated by just two touchdowns and the score was tied at 17 late in the fourth quarter when an illegal forward pass was intercepted by Bengals defensive tackle Kevin Williams.
The Patriots went on to beat the Bengals 29-24 on Sunday night to claim the AFC East title.
“That was an unbelievable play by Kevin Williams, one of the most exciting players in the NFL,” coach Bill Belichick said.
“I just said to the team, ‘We’re going to get this done.'”
The Patriots are back in the AFC title game for the third time in four years after they lost their first two games of the season to the New York Giants and Chicago Bears.
But this season the Patriots have been better, winning four of their last five.
They will face the Dolphins on Thursday night in Miami.
“It’s going to be one of those games that we’ll have to watch from the bench,” quarterback Tom Brady said.
The Bengals had won five straight games and were the favorites to win the division after beating the Steelers and the Bills.
But the Patriots beat the Bills 31-20 last Sunday to win their fifth consecutive AFC East championship.
“We’ve been getting the better of them all year long, and now they’re playing in front of us,” cornerback Leon Hall said.
WR Chris Hogan had a career-high 11 catches for 139 yards.
WR James White had a season-high 12 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown.
LB Brandon Spikes had a fumble recovery for a safety and CB Xavier Rhodes had a pass breakup.
LB Chris Conte had a tackle for loss.
The Dolphins have lost four straight to the Patriots, including a 23-10 loss in the playoffs last year.
“They’re going in there with the intent of taking away all the chances that we have, and that’s exactly what we did,” linebacker Brian Cushing said.
DE Dion Jordan had seven tackles, including three solo stops, and a sack.
LB Lawrence Timmons had eight tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
“Everybody got in a good rhythm today,” Cushing added.
“And it’s a good thing they were playing with such confidence.
We just had a lot of good plays.
The defense came together today.”
RB Ray Rice had nine carries for 79 yards.
DE Charles Johnson had nine tackles and a tackle-for-loss.
WR Michael Floyd had six catches for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
LB Paul Kruger had three tackles.
“The guys that are out there right now, they’re going out there to play,” Belichick said of the starters.
They’re playing with confidence right now.” “
For them to step up, they have to get on the field and play.
They’re playing with confidence right now.”
Patriots coach Bill Cowher said he was glad to see the Patriots come back to win.
“A lot of guys got hurt, but we still got a lot more talent to come out,” Cowher told reporters.
“You could see we had a good game plan.”
The Patriots have not won the division since 2007.