Cincinnati’s comeback began late in the first half, when the defense finally forced a three-and-out for the Chiefs’ first punt of the day, and the offense followed by a cut field goal made the deficit 13-6 early. . the break.
Kansas City went three again to open the second half, followed by the Bengals with their first touchdown drive. Higgins surged and caught a 27-yard pass into the end zone on third down to tie the game. The Chiefs responded with another touchdown drive and had a chance to extend their lead when Cordell Volson’s holding penalty nullified a first down, and the Bengals ended up punting.
However, on the next drive, Mahomes lost control of the ball when it slipped out of his fingertips before swinging his arm forward for a pass attempt, and Hubbard jumped on it for his second fumble recovery of the playoffs . The Bengals made the most of the turnover when they attempted fourth-and-6 and Burrow threw a deep ball to Chase, which he caught for a 35-yard gain despite having two defenders in his face.
Two plays later, Samaje Perine scored from the 2-yard line to tie the game at 20 with 13:30 left.
The Bengals had bounced back from a 21-3 deficit in last year’s AFC Championship on this same ground. A slow start on Sunday could have been much worse than this time, but a win was not in the cards.
While the Chiefs took the field with ease on their first two drives, the Cincinnati defense did what they do best by ducking into the red zone to limit them to a pair of field goals. But the Bengals offense could not find a rhythm as the offensive line struggled out of the gate.
A false start by Hakeem Adeniji canceled a run by Joe Burrow for a first down on the opening drive, and on third down, Burrow was sacked after Frank Clark sneaked through a gap between Volson and Jackson Carman. He was sacked twice on the next drive, leading to another Drue Chrisman punt. Burrow finished with five sacks.
Kansas City could easily have gone up 14-0 on those first two drives. Kadarius Toney lost control of a third pass from Patrick Mahomes when he fell to the ground in the end zone, forcing the Chiefs to settle for a 43-yard field goal by Harrison Butker on their first possession. On the next drive, Isiah Pacheco rushed into the end zone on second and goal from the 9-yard line, but the touchdown was nullified by a catch and once again the Cincinnati defense limited them to a field goal, this time a 24 yards. .
The Bengals got on the board on their third drive, but also had to settle for a field goal after Burrow’s pass to Hayden Hurst went off Hurst’s fingertips with two defenders on him in the end zone. Evan McPherson attempted a 30-yard field goal to cut the Chiefs’ lead to 6-3 with 8:36 left in the second quarter.
Travis Kelce’s 14-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-1 four minutes later was followed soon after by a Burrow interception to put the Chiefs back to the 39-yard line. Three consecutive fumbles led to Kansas City’s first punt of the night, and that gave Cincinnati one last opportunity before the half. A defensive pass interference call also nullified an interception on that drive, and Burrow’s 21-yard pass to Higgins gave the Bengals a seven-point chance, but Burrow threw two incomplete passes and McPherson had to kick the his 30-yard field goal on third down.
Mahomes and Kelce both went into Sunday’s match with injury concerns but had no trouble cutting through the Bengals defense in the first half to build an early lead. Mahomes sprained his high ankle last week in a divisional round win over Jacksonville, and Kelce was dealing with back spasms. Mahomes appeared to have a minor setback in the second half but finished the game uneventfully.
Burrow threw for 270 yards but had two interceptions. Mahomes had 326 passing yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions and only one fumble.
Kansas City was hosting its fifth straight conference Finals.