The two teams that met in last year’s AFC Championship Game went at it again this season, as the Kansas City Chiefs hosted the Cincinnati Bengals. Kansas City entered as the top seed with a record of 14-3. They took down the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-20 in the divisional round. Cincinnati was the 3rd seed in the conference with a record of 12-4. They defeated Baltimore by seven in the wild card round and impressively handled the Bills on a snowy field in Buffalo, 27-10. This championship game featured arguably the top two quarterbacks in the NFL in Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow. Last season the Bengals defeated the Chiefs by the score of 27-24 in overtime and have won the last three meetings between the teams.
The Bengals took the opening kickoff but failed to make a first down, going just four yards on five plays, resulting in a Frank Clark sack of Burron on 3rd and 9 from the Cincinnati 23. After a 53-yard punt and 12-yard return, the Chiefs went to work on offense. They methodically moved into field goal range with Mahomes connecting on short passes to Isiah Pacheco, Travis Kelce, and Skyy Moore. Harrison Butker connected from 43-yards out to give the Chiefs a 3-0 lead.
Kansas City’s defense, which ranked 18th in passing yards allowed during the regular season, sacked Burrow twice on three plays in the next Cincinnati possession. After a punt, the Chiefs took over on their own 23-yard line. A balanced drive of eight passes and four runs resulting in 61 yards gained resulted in another field goal by Butker, this one from 24-yards. Kansas City led 6-0.
Cincinnati finally found some rhythm offensively on their next possession. Burrow completed four of eight on the drive, hitting Tyler Boyd twice for 40 yards. The 13-play, 62-yard drive resulted in 30-yard field goal by Evan McPherson to cut the Kansas City lead to 6-3.
The Chiefs took little time putting some distance between themselves on the Bengals. Three consecutive completions from Mahomes, two of them to Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a combined 40 yards, put the Chiefs to the Bengals 23-yard line. On 4th-and-one from the Cincinnati 14, the Chiefs decided to go for the first instead of bringing out Butker for a third field goal. The gamble paid off as Mahomes hit Kelce for a 14-yard touchdown to increase the lead to 13-3.
The defenses tightened for the rest of the half. Cincinnati pulled to within a touchdown at the half following a 23-yard field goal by McPherson.
Kansas City looked to put some distance between the teams with the opening possession of the second half, but Cincinnati had other plans, forcing a three and out. The offense got into gear as well, marching 62 yards on eight plays, capped with a 27-yard touchdown pass to the corner of the endzone to Tee Higgins. The extra point tied the game at 13-13 with 9:54 remaining in the third quarter.
Not blinking an eye, the Chiefs responded with an 11-play, 77-yard drive was dominated by Valdes-Scantling. He caught three passed for 51 yards and a 19-yard touchdown to put the Chiefs ahead 20-13. Mahomes, who has been noticeably limping on his high ankle sprain, threw for his second touchdown of the game.
A costly fumble by Mahomes on the Chiefs next possession resulted in a Bengals’ 45-yard drive and tying two-yard touchdown run by Samaje Perine with 13:30 left in the game. Cincinnati held the Chiefs to a punt on the next possession, but Joe Burrow was intercepted on a deep pass intended for Tee Higgins with seven minutes remaining.
Kansas City advanced the ball 49 yards but stalled, punting the ball back to Cincinnati with 2:36 left in the game. Chris Jones sacked Burrow, forcing a punt with 41 seconds to play. A scramble by Mahomes with 17 seconds left and a resulting 15-yard late hit penalty on Joseph Ossai set up a game-winning field goal by Harrison Butker.
The Chiefs advanced to the Super Bowl with a 23-20 win, despite rushing for only 42 yards on 20 carries. Mahomes led the Chiefs with 326 yards passing and two touchdowns. Travis Kelce led the Chiefs with seven receptions and Marquez Valdes-Scantling led all player with 116 yards receiving. Chris Jones had two sacks in the win and kicker Harrison Butker drilled all three field goal attempts.
For the Bengals, Joe Burrow threw for 270 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice. The Bengals rushed for 71 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Cam Sample and Sam Hubbard each recorded a sack in the loss.
The Chiefs advance to the Super Bowl for the third time in four years. Andy Reid, who coached the Eagles to a Super Bowl appearance, will face his former team on February 12 in Arizona.