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Burrow fails to lead Bengals back to Super Bowl

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Joe Cool’s calm demeanor for the Cincinnati Bengals melted away on a freezing night against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The brilliant Bengals quarterback was sacked five times, threw two interceptions and was unable to lead his team on a downfield late in the fourth quarter of the AFC title game. That gave the Chiefs a chance in the closing seconds, and Patrick Mahomes made the Bengals pay, setting up Harrison Butker’s last-second field goal for a 23-20 win Sunday night.

The Bengals came in after beating the Chiefs by three straight points, including last year’s AFC title game.

Burrow finished with a pass for 270 yards and a touchdown, though the two picks were costly. He was also penalized for an intentional grounding on the Bengals’ last possession, then sacked by Chris Jones on third down. Cincinnati was forced to punt with 41 seconds left, plenty of time for Mahomes.

The All-Pro quarterback scrambled for a first down with 8 seconds left and was pushed out of bounds by Bengals linebacker Joseph Ossai. This was enough to give Butker the opportunity to kick the game-winning field goal.

“This is exciting. We’ve worked really hard to get here,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “Any play that people feel like is left out there, you’re going to take it hard. it doesn’t matter, they care about their teammates. Giuseppe comes to work every day; he loves being part of this team.

So much for ‘Burrowhead Stadium’, the name some Bangladeshis had taken to call the Chiefs’ home. Theirs was the only QB to beat Mahomes three straight, and indeed, Burrow was 3-0 against the powerhouse champions AFC West.

“We’ve always believed we’re going to win the game,” said Cincinnati’s Sam Hubbard. “Sometimes you don’t understand.”

Burrow was outstanding all season, setting Cincinnati records for pass attempts and completions along with his 35 touchdown passes. And his performance against the Chiefs in early December was vintage: Joe Cool was 25 of 31 for 286 passing yards, two touchdowns and no picks in his third consecutive win over them.

Perhaps most importantly, the Chiefs have only fired him once in Cincinnati.

But after piecing together three botched game plans trying to stop Burrow and the Bengals, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo turned things around Sunday night. He knew there were two starting offensive linemen missing, and that center Ted Karras was dealing with a swollen knee, so he started blitzing almost from the opening snap.

Frank Clark was the first to bring Burrow down on the fifth play of the game, forcing the Bengals to punt. Clark teamed with Willie Gay Jr. for a sack on the second play of the next possession, then Jones drove to Burrow—the first postseason sack of his superlative career—to force a second straight punt.

Burrow was shaken and it was evident. He had 9 yards passing in the first quarter.

“Their quarterback is one heck of a player,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “For our guys to react like that, it was beautiful.”

Burrow mostly leveled off in the second quarter, however, leading the Bengals on a 63-yard drive that ended in a field goal to make it 6-3. And Burrow added a nearly flawless 90-yard drive to end the half, though even that only scored one field goal, and the AFC North champions went to the locker room down 13-6.

Burrow regained his composure in the second half. And he quickly went to work.

After the Bengals forced a three-and-out, he led them on a 62-yard drive to tie the game 13-all. He included a stylish draw through a huge hole in the Kansas City defense to convert on third down and a tough TD throw to Tee Higgins.

When the Chiefs responded with a 77-yard drive to regain the lead, Burrow fought back right away. He connected with Ja’Marr Chase 35 yards on fourth and 6 for a first down before Samaje Perine’s touchdown again tied the game.

Burrow simply couldn’t keep making plays when the Bengals needed them down the stretch.

The Chiefs defense also had a lot to do with it.

“I’m just proud of this team,” Taylor said. “This is where character will be tested the most, in moments like this, where it’s fresh and raw. You are this close to winning a back to back AFC championship, going to the Super Bowl, on the road. There have been many hurdles in front of this team and we have knocked them all down.

“We couldn’t get past the latter here.”



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