Super Bowl bound: Bengals stun Chiefs in OT to win AFC Championship

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It took another improbable comeback, but the Cincinnati Bengals are Super Bowl bound after unseating the two-time defending AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs.

Trailing by as many as 18 points in the first half, the Bengals held the Chiefs to three points in the second half and rallied to beat the second-seeded Chiefs a second time this season, 27-24 in overtime Sunday in the AFC Championship at Arrowhead Stadium. Vonn Bell intercepted Patrick Mahomes on the first drive of overtime, and Evan McPherson won the game with a 31-yard field goal.

“We were down, but we just kept fighting,” safety Vonn Bell said. “We’re resilient and didn’t bat an eye. We’re showing the world who we are, and we’re going to keep showing the world who we are.”

The Bengals -- a team that had six wins combined the previous two seasons -- had staged a similar comeback in Week 17, rallying from 14-point deficits three times to beat the Chiefs in an AFC North-clinching game at Paul Brown Stadium. Kansas City managed just three second-half points in that one as well, and McPherson also had the game-winning field goal. He has five game winners this season.

Kansas City’s Harrison Butker made a 44-yard field goal as time expired in regulation to send the game to overtime, after McPherson’s 52-yarder gave the Bengals’ their first lead of the game with 6:04 left. The Bengals are now 3-for-3 in AFC Championship games and heading to their first Super Bowl since 1988.

“I don’t think it’s set in,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said after the trophy presentation. “It was such an incredible moment. … Hopefully we get to do it again, but I don’t think it will ever be as special.”

B.J. Hill’s interception of Mahomes late in the third quarter sparked the comeback Sunday after the Bengals made it an eight-point game on McPherson’s second of three field goals for the day. Ja’Marr Chase then hauled in a 2-yard touchdown pass from Joe Burrow, and Trent Taylor’s two-point conversion catch tied the game at 21 with 14 seconds left in the third quarter.

Sam Hubbard sacked Mahomes twice on the final drive to help Cincinnati hold the Chiefs to a field goal with the Bengals leading by just three. Burrow, the first quarterback drafted No. 1 overall to start a conference championship in his first two seasons, finished with 250 yards passing with 103 of those going to Tee Higgins. Chase had 54 yards to set the record for most receiving yards by a rookie in the postseason. He had 225 yards receiving entering the game and needed just 18 more to break Torry Holt’s 242 postseason receiving yards in 1999.

Mahomes, who led the Chiefs to a fourth straight AFC championship game, threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. The Bengals sacked him four times.

The Chiefs’ unraveling in earnest began on the last play of the first half after the Bengals had just cut a 21-3 deficit down to 11 on Samaje Perine’s 41-yard touchdown reception with 1:05 remaining. Kansas City made it to the 1-yard line but elected to go for the touchdown with five seconds left, and Eli Apple tackled Tyreek Hill short of the goal line to keep the score at 21-10 going into halftime.

Kansas City got the ball first to open the second half, but punted on the first two drives, and the Bengals chipped off another three points with McPherson’s 31-yarder, then tied the game after Hill’s pick. Hill and Trey Hendrickson came up with a third-down sack to force another punt, and Hendrickson repeated that feat the next drive to set up McPherson’s go-ahead field goal. McPherson has made all 12 of his field goal attempts this postseason.

Just like the Bengals’ AFC North-clinching win over the Chiefs four weeks ago, it was another slow start.

After the Bengals went three-and-out their opening drive, the defense came out flat, too. Kansas City drove 84 yards to take the lead on Mahomes’ 10-yard touchdown pass to Hill, who made a last-second burst into the corner of the endzone to make the play.

The Bengals responded with a better second drive, getting a pair of third-down conversions from Tyler Boyd before Joe Mixon carried them into the red zone on a 23-yard run. However, Tee Higgins and Chase couldn’t make plays on back-to-back passes to the corners of the end zone with Chiefs defensive backs Rashad Fenton and Charvarius Ward covering, respectively. Cincinnati then had to settle for a 32-yard field goal from McPherson to make it 7-3 with 36 seconds left in the first quarter.

Kansas City’s speed hurt the Bengals again when Mecole Hardman ended the opening stanza with a 44-yard reception. Six plays later, Mahomes danced around the Cincinnati pass rush before finding Travis Kelce in the endzone for a 5-yard touchdown and the 14-3 lead while Bengals coach Zac Taylor appeared to be questioning a missed hold that prevented Sam Hubbard from getting to Mahomes.

Mahomes then extended the lead to 21-3 with 5:04 left in the second quarter when he found Hardman in the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown. But that was the last time the Chiefs would reach the end zone. Mahomes, who has led the Chiefs to all four consecutive conference championships,

Taylor, 16-32-1 in three seasons, is now the fourth head coach with a career losing record to win a conference championship game, joining Kyle Shanahan (2019), Bill Belichick (2001) and former Bengals coach Forrest Gregg (1981).

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