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Bengals lit up Bills, refs in key 1988 game

With AFC supremacy on the line in Week 13 of the 1988 season, the high-flying Cincinnati Bengals eschewed their aerial assault, saddled up the offensive line and rode the group to a 35-21 stampede against the Buffalo Bills.

And then as if he had seen enough destruction, head coach Sam Wyche steamrolled the referees.

Wyche had been critical of the officiating all game, so he tried to hold back in his postgame press conference, claiming he had already said enough.

“I haven’t changed my opinion, and I’m not going to say anything else about it,” Wyche said.

But reporters kept pressing him after seeing how angry and argumentative he was after cornerback Darryl Smith got whistled for a 15-yard penalty on a sack of Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly. The play, however, had been blown dead because the play clock expired, but no one heard the whistle in roaring loud Riverfront Stadium.

Wyche lit into referee Bob McElwee on the field, and again after the game, calling the state of officiating in the NFL “weak.”

“His comment to me was that he was busy blowing the whistle and didn’t have time to step in front of the quarterback to stop the play,” Wyche said. “Those kinds of things are unforgiveable and they have to be fixed from the top. Mr. Art McNall (the head of officiating), something has to be done.

“I think we had to whip two teams,” he added. “We had to beat the officials again, and we had to beat the Buffalo Bills. We beat both. I hope something is done about the former because it’s getting a little scary.”

The same could be said of the Bengals running game on that overcast, 53-degree final Sunday in November.

Cincinnati ran for a season-high 232 yards and rolled up 455 yards of total offense against one of the top defenses in the league. Ickey Woods ran for 129 yards for three touchdowns, and James Brooks rushed for 93 yards and one touchdown, and he also caught one from Boomer Esiason.

The headline on Dayton Daily News columnist Gary Nuhn’s story was “Bills turn out to be counterfeit.”

“We had to run,” center Bruce Kozerski said. “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 Kelly’s hands.”

After being stopped on fourth and goal at the Buffalo 1-yard line on their opening drive, the Bengals scored touchdowns on their of their next four possessions.

They ran the ball 28 times on their first 37 snaps, including 10 of 11 on the third touchdown drive that made it 21-0 with 2:26 left in the first half. Woods capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run and then started the new tradition of doing his Ickey Shuffle on the sideline with the fans to avoid being penalized for excessive celebration in the end zone.

Reports from the game indicate fans were standing on seats and in the aisles doing the Shuffle along with Woods.

Woods later scored on runs of 1 and 2 yards to give him 13 touchdowns for the season. He would add two more the following week to set the franchise rookie scoring record that still stands today. The 15 TDs also rank as the third most in team history by any player (Carl Pickens 17, Pete Johnson 16).

The victory against Buffalo left the Bengals one win away from clinching a playoff berth, which they would do the following week in San Diego.

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