Blythe Hastings ’23
Joe Burrow and the young and hungry Cincinnati Bengals are Super Bowl-bound as unexpected and tenacious AFC champions. Evan McPherson kicked a 31-yard field goal with 9:22 left in overtime after Burrow kept his cool while leading a furious second-half comeback. They got the Bengals to the NFL’s big game for the first time in 33 years with a 27-24 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC championship on Sunday.
The Bengals erased an 18-point deficit, tying an AFC title game record for the largest comeback, to take a late 24-21 lead on McPherson’s 52-yarder. The Chiefs opened overtime again with the ball, but Vonn Bell intercepted Mahomes on the third play, and Burrow and the Bengals took over. The Bengals (13-7) will play the winner of the NFC championship, the Los Angeles Rams, in the Super Bowl in Los Angeles on Feb. 13. Cincinnati lost to the 49ers in both of its previous trips to the Super Bowl. Mahomes and the Chiefs (14-6) will be left to grieve after blowing the chance at a third straight Super Bowl appearance. The Chiefs had a chance at a winning touchdown in the closing seconds of regulation, but sacks by Sam Hubbard on consecutive plays forced Kansas City to settle for the tying field goal.
The Chiefs got a touchdown on their first three possessions, with Mahomes finding Mecole Hardman for a 3-yard score that made it 21-3 and had this one looking very much like a rout. Mahomes joined Tom Brady (2014), Joe Flacco (2012), and Aaron Rodgers (2010) as the only players with three games with three or more TD passes in a single postseason. But Burrow kept the Bengals in it, proving himself yet again in enemy territory. He tossed a short pass to Samaje Perine, who avoided a tackle attempt by Charvarius Ward and flew into the end zone for a 41-yard touchdown with 1:05 left in the opening half.
The Chiefs appeared headed for their fourth straight touchdown drive to open the game, especially after Byron Pringle’s 10-yard catch put Kansas City at the 15 with 13 seconds left setting off chants from the fired-up Arrowhead Stadium crowd of “13 seconds!” who were still ecstatic from the Chiefs’ stunning comeback last week against Buffalo. Cincinnati got the ball back at the Chiefs 27 moments later when B.J. Hill intercepted Mahomes’ short pass intended for Demarcus Robinson.
Two plays after Joe Mixon gained 2 yards on first-and-goal from the 5, Ja’Marr Chase went up over Rashad Fenton in the end zone to catch Burrow’s toss for a touchdown. Burrow then found a wide-open Trent Taylor for the 2-point conversion to tie it at 21 with 14 seconds left in the third quarter. The 18-point comeback by Cincinnati tied Indianapolis (vs. New England in 2006) for the largest in AFC championship history. And now they’re heading to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1989 after winning their first playoff overtime game.