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Final Score: Chiefs become AFC Champions with 23-20 victory over Bengals

Kansas City qualifies for its third Super Bowl with quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

AFC Championship - Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

On Sunday evening, the Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC Championship with a 23-20 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, sending them to Super Bowl LVII against the Philadelphia Eagles on Feb. 12 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. It will be the team’s third Super Bowl in the last four seasons.


First quarter


The world would wait to see how quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ ankle responds to treatment after the Chiefs won the coin toss and deferred. Trayveon Williams took Harrison Butker’s kickoff at the two-yard line, returning it to the Cincinnati 19 to begin the drive.

Joe Burrow found wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase on his first two throws — gaining a new set of downs at the 31. Chiefs cornerback Trent McDuffie narrowly missed picking off Burrow’s third pass. On second down, running back Samaje Perine burst through for six yards — and Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed was down on field after the play. Burrow initially appeared to have scrambled to gain a first down — but the play was nullified by a false start call. On third-and-9 from the 32-yard line, Frank Clark would not be denied, dropping Burrow for a nine-yard loss. Kadarius Toney returned the ensuing Drue Chrisman punt 12 yards from the Chiefs’ 24, starting the Chiefs at their own 36-yard line.

On first down, running back Isiah Pacheco rushed for two yards. The next two plays, however, each went for 16 yards: first a short pass to Pacheco and then a shot over the middle to tight end Travis Kelce. On first-and-10 from the Cincinnati 30, wide receiver Skyy Moore took a handoff for a three-yard gain. Pacheco could only find two yards on second down bringing up third-and-5. Mahomes appeared true on a deep touchdown pass to Kadarius Toney, but the play was ruled incomplete. The Chiefs unsuccessfully challenged, setting up a 43-yard Butker field goal attempt. The kick was true, and the Chiefs opened a 3-0 lead.

Williams took Butker’s second kickoff at the ten-yard line, and returned 28 yards to begin the drive at the 38-yard line. Running back Joe Mixon gained two on first down. On second down, Clark and linebacker Willie Gay got to Burrow for a five-yard sack. On third-and-13, Burrow and company could not overcome crowd noise to get the play off, resulting in a delay of game penalty. Now pushed back five yards, defensive tackle Chris Jones finally notched his first career playoff sack for another six-yard loss. Chrisman’s 48-yard punt was downed by the Bengals at the Chiefs’ 28-yard line to start Kansas City’s next drive.

The Chiefs gained five yards before the drive started due to a late illegal touching call on the Bengals’ punt coverage. Mahomes found tight end Noah Gray for five yards on first down. A screen pass to Pacheco on second down went for 18 — and brought the Chiefs to the Cincinnati 45. A pass to Toney gained nine — and the receiver appeared injured on the play. A Ronald Jones carry did not gain the final yard — but a handoff to wide receiver Mecole Hardman moved the chains. Running back Jerick McKinnon lost a yard on first down — before Mahomes found Kelce at the 20 for a first down. An attempted lateral to McKinnon brought the play down at the 22.

On first down, Mahomes was complete to McKinnon to the Bengals’ nine-yard line to set up first-and-goal. A shuffle pass to McKinnon was bobbled and nearly intercepted before hitting the ground. On second-and-goal, Pacheco appeared to rush for a nine-yard touchdown — but the play was nullified by an Andrew Wyle holding penalty. Mahomes was incomplete on second-and-goal now from the 19. The Chiefs called a timeout with the third down looming. Mahomes was complete to Kelce to bring the ball back to the six-yard line. The first quarter came to an end seemingly with another Butker field goal attempt looming.


Second quarter


Butker’s 24-yard attempt was good to extend the Chiefs’ lead to 6-0.

On his third kickoff, Butker found the end zone, starting the Bengals at their own 25. An eight-yard pass to Chase and two-yard carry by Mixon promptly brought up third-and-1. Perine was able to gain a new set of downs on a five-yard carry. Burrow eluded pressure to find tight end Mitchell Wilcox to bring the ball near midfield. On first down, George Karlaftis got in on the sack party, bringing Burrow down for a four-yard loss. Burrow was incomplete to Perine on second down, bringing up another third-and-long situation. He found Tyler Boyd to move the sticks, starting a new set of downs at the Kansas City 39. On first down, Burrow threw the ball to the ground to avoid Trent McDuffie coming on a blitz. He then found Boyd for 24 yards to enter the red zone at the Chiefs’ 15-yard line. Mixon ran directly into Jones on first down for a three-yard loss. Tight end Hayden Hurst was able to gain six yards on second down, but safety Justin Reid broke up a pass to him in end zone on third down, bringing Evan McPhereson on for a 30-yard field goal attempt. The kick was good — and the Chiefs’ lead was halved to 6-3.

McPhereson’s kickoff found the end zone, starting the Chiefs at the 25. Pacheco found five yards on first down — before Mahomes found JuJu Smith-Schuster for a new set of downs at the 36. Mahomes extended a play to find Maquez Valdes-Scantline for another first down to the Chiefs’ 48 — before finding the same receiver for a deep shot to the Bengals’ 23. McKinnon brought the offense again into the red zone with a five-yard carry. A four-yard carry by Hardman then forced a third-and-1. The Chiefs’ inexplicable short-yardage struggles continued, however, as Mahomes was unable to scramble for the yard. The Chiefs called their final timeout of the half in the midst of the fourth-down decision.

The offense stayed on the field coming out of the timeout. Mahomes rolled to the right and connected with Kelce for a 14-yard touchdown. Butker was successful on the extra point to extend the Chiefs’ lead to 13-3.

For a second consecutive drive, the Bengals started at the 25 after a touchback. A short pass to Mixon gained six yards on first down — and an ensuing two-yard carry forced third-and-2. Cornerback Jaylen Watson then intercepted his second pass in as many career playoff games, giving Kansas City the ball back at the Bengals’ 39-yard line with 2:22 remaining in the half.

Mahomes threw to the ground on first down to avoid pressure. He then could not connect with Pacheco on second down, quickly forcing third-and-10. He overthrew Moore, bringing on Tommy Townsend for his first punt of the night. The All-Pro punter sent the ball out of bounds at the Cincinnati five-yard line, where the Bengals took possession with 2:03 remaining.

Mixon only gained two yards on first down before the two-minute warning.

Coming out of the break, Burrow was complete to Hurst for five yards before the tight end was forced out of bounds. He went to Hurst again on third down. Juan Thornhill appeared to have another interception — but fellow safety Bryan Cook was called for pass interference, giving the Bengals a first down at their own 34. After a short gain on first down, Burrow found Chase for 17 yards to the Kansas City 49. A short pass to Tee Higgins and a short carry by Perine set up third-and-1 at the Chiefs’ 40. The Bengals called their first time out with 43 seconds remaining in the half.

Mixon gained three yards to extend the drive — and the Bengals called their second timeout. With 39 seconds remaining, Burrow was complete to Higgins for 11 yards to the Chiefs’ 26-yard line — and the Bengals called their final time out. Another pass to Higgins advanced to the five. Burrow took another shot at the tall receiver to the end zone, but Watson broke the pass up with eight seconds remaining. Burrow was incomplete on second down. McPhereson closed the half with a 23-yard field goal to cut the Chiefs’ lead to 13-6.


Third quarter


Pacheco took McPhereson’s kickoff out of the end zone and returned to the Chiefs’ 21-yard line to start the drive. He carried for two yards on first down — before a second down completion to Hardman went nowhere. On third-and-7, overthrew Valdez-Scantling deep to open the second half with a three-and-out. Townsend’s punt sailed to the Bengals'. 34-yard line before a four-yard return started the drive at the 38.

On first down, Higgins continued his hot streak from the first half with a nine-yard reception. Perine then gained seven yards to start a new set of downs at the Chiefs’ 46. Burrow avoided a sack by sliding to the 44 on first down. A short Perine carry set up third-and-6 — and Burrow negated the Chiefs’ deep coverage by keeping the ball for an 11-yard gain. Mixon gained four yards on the first down carry — and linebacker Willie Gay Jr. remained down on the field after the whistle blew.

After the injury time out, Burrow narrowly got the ball out of his hands to avoid a Jones sack. The incompletion forced third-and-6 from the 26. Burrow three deep to Higgins — and the third-year pro leapt over Watson and Thornhill to bring in a touchdown. McPhereson’s extra point tied the game at 13-13.

Skyy Moore took McPhereson’s kickoff in front of the end zone and returned the ball to the 23-yard line to start the drive. Mahomes found Kelce for a five-yard gain on first down. A second down pass to Hardman fell incomplete — but he found him on third down for and 11-yard gain. The wide receiver remained down on the field after the play — and Mahomes was visibly bothered by ankle pain from the previous week’s injury.

Kelce again gained five yards on first down. On second down, Valdes-Scantling took a short pass 25-yards to the Bengals’ 29-yard line. McKinnon only gained a yard on first down — and Mahomes stretched for two more yards on second down. On third-and-7 from the 26, Mahomes called the Chiefs’ first timeout of the second half.

After the timeout, a pass to Valdes-Scanting was called just inches short of the line to gain — and the Chiefs challenged the spot. After review, the Chiefs were rewarded with a new set of downs at the Cincinnati 19. A first down Pacheco carry gained only two yards, and Mahomes was sacked on second down for a two-yard loss. On third-and-10, Mahomes threw a bullet to Valdes-Scantling for a 19-yard touchdown. Butker’s extra point put Kansas City back in front 20-13.

Butker’s kickoff sailed into the end zone to start the Bengals at the 25. A short pass to Chase gained three yards. Under heavy pressure, Burrow threw the ball away on second down. A 19-yard pass to Chase on third down was called back by offensive holding. On third-and-17, Higgins was unable to continue his hot hand as McDuffie tipped the pass away from him. Skyy Moore appeared to have a solid punt return, but a holding call started the drive at the 31.

Mahomes was incomplete to Moore to start the drive — and a short second down pass to Pacheco netted only two yards. On third-and-8, Valdes-Scantling went over 100 yards for the game with a 25-yard reception to the Bengals’ 42. A taunting call, however, moved the chains back 15 yards. On first down from the Chiefs’ 43, Mahomes was too low for Moore. On second-and-10, Mahomes-to-Kelce brought the drive back to Bengals’ territory to the 46. On the next snap however, Mahomes was unable to take the snap cleanly — and the Bengals took possession at the Chiefs’ 45.

Mixon caught a short pass for five yards on first down before Burrow threw the ball at the ground to avoid a sack on second down. The third quarter came to a close with Perine taking a one-yard loss — setting up fourth-and-6 from the Kansas City 41.


Fourth quarter


Burrow found Chase deep coming out of the break for a 35-yard completion to set up first-and-goal at the Chiefs’ six-yard line. Mixon brought the ball to the two-yard line. Perine then powered through for a touchdown. McPhereson’s extra point tied the game at 20-20.

Pacheco took the kickoff out of the end zone and advanced to the 22. A first down pass to Moore went only for two. Pacheco then took a pass for seven yards — setting up third-and-1. The rookie running back narrowly reached the line to gain to extend the drive. A one yard Pacheco carry and incomplete pass to McKinnon quickly brought up third-and-9. A bizarre set of officiating circumstances negated a five yard pass to Kelce that would have resulted in fourth down. With the second attempt on the down, Mahomes was sacked — but a holding call on longtime Chiefs’ nemesis Eli Apple gave the drive new life. A short gain by Pacheco and incomplete pass to Kelce put the Chiefs right back at third-and-9. The Bengals then called their first timeout of the second half to get set.

Mahomes could not connect with Valdes-Scantling, and Townsend took the field for another punt. The Bengals would start their next drive at their own 17 after a fair catch.

Burrow was incomplete on first down — and a holding call brought the Bengals nine yards back to replay the down. A pass to Trenton Irwin regained six yards — and Burrow ran 14 yards on second down. Mixon started the next set of downs with a seven-yard carry. Chase could not haul in a deep pass on second down, forcing third-and-3. Burrow looked for Higgins deep — and Bryan Cook made up for two costly penalties by tipping the ball into the hands of Joshua Williams. The Chiefs took possession at their own 14-yard line.

Pacheco gained three yards on first down. A 13-yard pass to Marcus Kemp moved the drive to the 29. An eight-yard pass to Moore and a defensive pass interference penalty set up another first down at the 45. Pacheco seemed destined to continue his stretch of short gains on first down — but he broke a tackle to take a short pass to the Bengals’ 42-yard line. The Chiefs quickly found themselves in another third-and-long situation, however, after a three yard loss by McKinnon and a short run by Mahomes. On third-and-12 from the 41 Mahomes found McKinnon for only three yards. Townsend’s punt set the Bengals up at their own six-yard line with 2:30 remaining in the third quarter.

Higgins gained ten yards on a first down catch — and the Bengals did not run another play before the two-minute warning.

On first-and-10 from the 16-yard line, a scrambling Burrow was brought down at the 19. Burrow barely got the ball away on second down to avoid a Chris Jones sack — but the quarterback was called for intentional grounding. On third-and-16 from the 10, Burrow was complete to Hurst — and the tight end advanced to the 33. A two-yard throw to Hurst on first down forced the Bengals’ second time out with 48 seconds remaining.

Burrow was incomplete on second-and-8 from the 35. On third down, “Sack Nation” returned as Jones sacked Burrow for a seven-yard loss. The Chiefs called timeout with 41 seconds remaining.

Moore took the punt at the 18-yard line and returned it 27-yards to the Chiefs’ 47 to start the drive. With 30 seconds remaining, Mahomes was complete to Pacheco for six yards. With only 21 seconds remaining, Mahomes was incomplete on second down. On third-and-4, Mahomes scrambled to the 39 for a first down — and a late hit out of bounds tacked 15 more yards on to move the ball to the 23-yard line. Butker came on for a 45-yard attempt. He nailed what was likely the biggest kick of his career — giving the Chiefs a 23-20 lead with three seconds remaining on the clock. Butker squibbed the kickoff — and the game ended at the 18-yard line.

The Chiefs clinched their third trip to the Super Bowl in four seasons — and likely retired Cincinnati’s “Burrowhead” rhetoric for all time.


Injuries


Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed was injured in the first quarter tackling running back Samaje Perine. He was subsequently ruled out of the game with a head injury.

Wide receiver Kadarius Toney left the game in the first quarter after a nine-yard reception. The Chiefs announced that he was questionable to return with an ankle injury.

Linebacker Willie Gay Jr. was injured on the first Bengals’ drive of the third quarter. He was announced as questionable to return with a shoulder injury.

Wide receiver Mecole Hardman aggravated the pelvis injury that cost him the season’s second half making a catch in the third quarter. He was announced as questionable to return.

Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was announced as questionable to return with a knee injury.

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