KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes was forced to rely on his severely sprained right ankle rather than his strong right arm when the Kansas City Chiefs were driving desperately with a chance to win the AFC championship.
The All-Pro quarterback, who lost three wide receivers to injuries and got battered, took off with a third down play near midfield in another gut control game with the Cincinnati Bengals. Mahomes struggled to reach the mark he needed and was headed when he felt the hands of Joseph Ossai send him to the bench.
The mad dash, coupled with the 15-yard penalty for a late hit, was all Kansas City needed.
Harrison Butker confidently walked onto the field, kicked a 45-yard kick through cold wind and gusts over the bar with 3 seconds left, and led the Chiefs back to the Super Bowl for the third time in four years with a win by 23-20 .
“I don’t think we have cigars,” Mahomes said with a smile, “but we’ll be ready to go to the Super Bowl.”
It was revenge for the AFC West champions, who had lost three straight to their new nemeses, including a three-point overtime loss to Cincinnati in last year’s conference title game. All those losses were by three points.
Now, the Chiefs are returning to the big game.
Waiting for them is coach Andy Reid’s old team, the Eagles, in the first black quarterback matchup in the Super Bowl with Philadelphia’s Mahomes and Jalen Hurts. It will also feature a brother-on-brother showdown between Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Philadelphia center Jason Kelce.
“I’ve been watching them all year,” Mahomes said. “It will be a big challenge for us. But first I will celebrate this.”
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 with 116 yards and a touchdown, while Travis Kelce — bad back and all — had seven catches for 78 yards and a score.
“It’s a difficult group. My heart goes out to them man, they’re badass,” Reid said. “They worked so hard this week. Pat and Kelce were both a little screwed up. They managed to do it and great things happened.”
The Chiefs also managed to shut the mouths of the Bengals, some of whom had taken to calling their home “Burrowhead” for Joe Burrow, who had never lost to Kansas City. Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval has also started talking about waste.
“I have some wise words for that Cincinnati mayor,” Kelce said. “Know your role and shut your mouth, jabroni!”
Burrow, who was sacked five times and wobbly late, 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.
“We are not going to make it with a comedy. There were a lot of plays we left on the field today that could have put us in a better position,” said Bengals coach Zac Taylor. “The character of this football team will never change. We have the right people in the locker room, the right men to lead this team and this organization.
“I know this is a team our city and our fan base can be proud of,” Taylor added. “They represent themselves right and we will fight and scratch and claw our way back to this position next year.”
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 looked fine with his sore ankle leading Kansas City to a field goal on its first possession. 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 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 when Mahomes hit Kelce, loosely covered by Jessie Bates III, with a fourth touchdown throw. 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 that their offense was just hitting its stride. And another classic was preparing.
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.
Kansas City’s defense held, however, got a crucial sack from Chris Jones to force a punt with 39 seconds left, and wobbly return man Skyy Moore broke free for 29 yards on the return. This gave Mahomes and the offense another chance.
“It was a tough road to get here. To win 10 in a row, that was quite an amazing feat,” Taylor said. “We came up short. We wanted to play longer, but we are really proud of these guys.”
Bengals: WR Tyler Boyd left with a quadriceps 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.