By DAVE SKRETTA
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Patrick Mahomes scrambled for a first down on his severely sprained right ankle, then was pushed out of bounds by Joseph Ossai, giving Harrison Butker a chance to kick a 45-yard field goal with 3 seconds left that gave Kansas City Chiefs a 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC title game Sunday night.
The Chiefs finally beat the Bengals after three straight losses, including a three-point overtime loss in last year’s title game, and will play the Philadelphia Eagles – head coach Andy Reid’s old team – in their third Super Bowl in four years.
“I watched them all year, great quarterback, great whole team,” said Mahomes of the Eagles. “It will be a big challenge for us, but first I will celebrate this one.
“I don’t think we have cigars, but we’ll be ready to go to the Super Bowl.”
Mahomes, who injured his ankle against Jacksonville in the Divisional round, threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns, though he was ultimately missing three of his wide receivers with injuries. Marquez Valdes-Scantling led the way with 116 yards and a touchdown, while Travis Kelce – bad back and all – had seven catches for 78 yards and a score.
Yet it was Mahomes on his wayward right ankle, rather than his strong right arm, that saved the Chiefs.
“At certain points in games, you just have to put everything on the line,” Mahomes said. “The defense gave us a couple of chances to get on the pitch, but we didn’t get through. Defense got one more stop for us and I knew I was going to get there somehow.
“So I just put everything on the line and we got in field goal range, and now we’re at Arrowhead and we’re in.”
The Chiefs got a crucial sack off Chris Jones to force a punt with 39 seconds left, and wobbly return man Skyy Moore broke free for 29 yards on the return. On third and fourth at the Bengals 47, Mahomes dodged the pressure and scrambled toward the Bengals sideline, barely picking up a first down before Ossai shoved him from behind.
Penalty flags flew, the ball closed 15 yards and Butker’s kick had just enough to clear the crossbar.
Joe Burrow, who was sacked five times and wobbly at the end, finished with 270 passing yards to go with one touchdown and two interceptions for the Bengals. Tee Higgins had six catches for 83 yards and the score.
The Chiefs were able to do early on what the Buffalo Bills failed to do in last week’s Divisional Round: They stomped an ailing Bengals offensive line while losing two starters to injuries with another bothered by a sore knee.
Burrow was sacked three times in the first quarter alone, and the Bengals offense did not gain a single yard.
Mahomes, whose ankle had been the subject of speculation all week, looked fine leading Kansas City to a field goal on their first possession. And when the Chiefs got the ball back, Mahomes did it again, but only after Kadarius Toney failed to throw a fancy shot for a potential touchdown—the incompleteness was confirmed upon review.
Cincinnati finally moved the ball in the second quarter, but also had to settle for Evan McPherson’s field goal.
So much for two of the highest scoring offenses in the league.
The Chiefs finally reached the end zone late in the second quarter, moving quickly downfield behind a pair of nice catches by Valdes-Scantling. The Bengals held on 3rd and 1 at their own 14-yard line, but the Chiefs went for it and Mahomes hit Kelce loosely covered by Jessie Bates III for the touchdown.
The Bengals drove 90 yards in the final minutes, but added just one field goal to make it 13-6 at halftime.
It turns out their offense was just getting its stride, and another classic was brewing.
After the Chiefs went three-and-out early in the second half, Burrow drove the Bengals downfield, hurtling through a gaping hole in the defense for a third down conversion before hitting Higgins from 27 yards out to tie the game 13- all.
Mahomes, suddenly down three wide receivers with injuries and starting to limp, pushed gamely. He answered Burrow with his own touchdown drive, capped off by a third ground throw to Valdes-Scantling to regain the lead.
The Chiefs had a chance to gain some breathing room later in the third quarter, but Mahomes somehow lost control of the ball before throwing a pass and the Bengals pounced on the fumble. Six players later, including a bold fourth down run by Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase, Samaje Perine ran into the end zone to tie it at 20.
Burrow gave the Chiefs a chance when his deep pass to Higgins on third down was batted in the air and picked up by rookie cornerback Josh Williams. Mahomes managed to move the Chiefs beyond center field, but two runs went nowhere and his third down run to Jerick McKinnon fell well short, forcing them to punt into Bengal territory.
The Chiefs defense held, however, giving Mahomes and their offense one more try.
The Chiefs got a second chance on third down early in the fourth quarter when referee Ron Torbert said the game clock and game clock would start on his whistle. The only problem was that the game came after an incomplete, so the game clock shouldn’t have started.
The Bengals stopped the Chiefs, but Torbert ruled the play didn’t count due to the clock failure – and ended up getting a first down on Eli Apple’s defensive penalty. Kansas City eventually bet however.
Bengals: WR Tyler Boyd went out with a quad injury early in the second half.
Chiefs: Lost CB L’Jarius Sneed (concussion), LB Willie Gay Jr. (shoulder) and WRs Toney (ankle), Mecole Hardman (pelvis) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee).
The Chiefs are headed to their third Super Bowl in four seasons. They ended a 50-year league drought when they rallied to beat the San Francisco 49ers in 2020, then lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the following year.