After winning three consecutive games against them, the Cincinnati Bengals seemed convinced that on Sunday night, they could defeat the Kansas City Chiefs for the second straight year in the AFC Championship on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. The Bengals filled the preceding week with trash talk — not only from the team’s players, but also from Cincinnati’s mayor Aftab Pureval.
But it was not to be. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes played heroically on a high ankle sprain suffered in the Divisional Round a week earlier. One Chiefs player after another was knocked out of the game with an injury. But in the end, Kansas City qualified for its third Super Bowl in four years, winning the AFC title with a last-second 23-20 victory over Cincinnati.
The Chiefs forced a punt on the Bengals’ opening possession after defensive end Frank Clark grabbed a 9-yard sack on a third-and-9. Starting with good field position, Kansas City drove down the field. What appeared to be a 25-yard touchdown pass to Kadarius Toney on third-and-5 was ruled incomplete. Head coach Andy Reid challenged the ruling — but the call stood, forcing a 43-yard Harrison Butker field goal to give the Chiefs a 3-0 lead.
On the next Cincinnati drive, defensive tackle Chris Jones notched his first career postseason sack on a third-and-18, forcing a punt that gave Kansas City the ball at their own 33-yard line after a special teams penalty. The Chiefs drove the ball to the Bengals’ 9-yard line, where an Isiah Pacheco touchdown run was called back after a holding penalty on right tackle Andrew Wylie. As the second quarter opened, the Chiefs took a 6-0 lead with a Butker field goal.
Cincinnati then managed a 13-play, 63-yard drive — but the Chiefs held on third-and-7, forcing the Bengals to kick a 30-yard field goal to make the score 6-3. Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling was the star of the next drive, catching two passes for 40 yards before a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Travis Kelce extended Kansas City’s lead to 13-3.
Cornerback Jaylen Watson intercepted a Joe Burrow pass to end the next Bengals drive in their own territory — but Patrick Mahomes was incomplete on three consecutive passes to force a punt. Cincinnati managed another field goal as time expired, making the score 13-6 at halftime.
Kansas City went three-and-out to open the third quarter, opening the way for an 8-play, 62-yard Cincinnati touchdown drive that tied the game at 13. On the ensuing drive, Valdes-Scantling once again turned on the heroics, getting a 25-yard reception, converting a first down by extending the ball past the line of gain and pulling in a 19-yard touchdown pass to give the Chiefs a 20-13 lead.
The Chiefs forced a punt — and then ended their own drive when Mahomes fumbled the ball. The Bengals drove 45 yards to score. evening the game at 20 with under 14 minutes remaining. Kansas City couldn't get past midfield on its next possession, punting it back to the Bengals — who gave up the ball when cornerback Joshua Williams intercepted a pass deflected by safety Bryan Cook. The Chiefs drove past midfield — but not close enough for a field goal in the cold weather, forcing a punt with 2:36 remaining.
The Bengals converted a third-and-16 — but shortly found themselves in a third-and-8. That was when Jones collected his second postseason sack. The biggest sack of his career forced a punt that Skyy Moore returned 29 yards to the Kansas City 47-yard line. On third-and-4 from the Cincinnati 47-yard line, Mahomes scrambled to the right sideline for a first down with eight seconds left on the clock. But a late hit called on the Bengals’ Joseph Ossai moved the ball to the 27-yard line — and Harrison Butker’s 45-yard field goal sent the Chiefs to the Super Bowl.