The Chiefs finally beat the Bengals on a last-minute field goal as quarterback Patrick Mahomes played through an ankle injury and led a late, game-winning drive
KANSAS CITY, Mo.—The sardonic nickname that Cincinnati Bengals players had given Arrowhead Stadium made the rounds so quickly over the course of the past week that it even made its way into the Chiefs’ lexicon.
“See y’all at Burrowhead,” Kansas City defensive tackle Chris Jones said in an apparent bid to mock the term.
It wasn’t difficult to decipher the meaning behind Burrowhead. With three wins over Kansas City in the last two seasons, Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow had owned the Chiefs.
The Chiefs made sure Burrow didn’t feel at all like he was at home on Sunday. Arrowhead Stadium again belonged to Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs finally beat Burrow, and now they’re going to the Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles, winners of the NFC Championship earlier.
“Is this thing still called Arrowhead?” Mahomes said on the field afterward to cheers from the fans. “What does it sound like out there?”
Mahomes—who was playing with an obviously injured ankle—and the Chiefs are headed to their third Super Bowl in their last four years after beating the Bengals 23-20 on Sunday night with a last-second field goal. After stopping Burrow with under a minute left, Kansas City received a clutch 29-yard punt return from Skyy Moore to set up a slice of magic from Mahomes—and an enormous blunder by Cincinnati’s defense.
Facing third-and-4, the hobbling Mahomes scrambled 9 yards for a first down with eight seconds to go. After Mahomes was out of bounds, Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai was flagged for unnecessary roughness for continuing to tackle him.
The huge 15-yard penalty put the Chiefs within field goal range. Harrison Butker’s 45-yard kick sailed through the uprights, without much room to spare, and all that was left for the Bengals was a kickoff return that went nowhere. The party was on in Kansas City.
The victory over the one team that had Kansas City’s number cements how there isn’t a more reliable powerhouse in the NFL than the Chiefs during the Mahomes era. They have made five straight conference championships and have turned their regular seasons into cakewalks. Now Mahomes is a win away from his second Super Bowl victory.
After an NFC Championship win by the Eagles that was defined by the San Francisco 49ers running out of quarterbacks—both of theirs suffered injuries, leaving them essentially unable to pass the ball for much of the game—this one featured a matchup between arguably the best two quarterbacks on the planet. But entering the game, there was an enormous question having over one of them: Just how healthy was Mahomes?
After suffering an ankle injury during Kansas City’s divisional round win, when he returned to the game but was visibly limited and in pain on even basic handoffs, how exactly that might hold up against the Bengals figured to be one of this game’s deciding factors. In the win over Jacksonville, the injury sapped his mobility and robbed him of his normal ability to make the type of creative, offbeat plays that are so much of his brilliance.
From the start of this game, it was clear that Mahomes was less limited than he was this time last week. He wasn’t moving especially well, especially as the game wore on, but he could do enough to make plays happen. On the first possession, he rolled out to his right and hit star tight end Travis Kelce. The pain, though, was still apparent. When he moved to his left and fired early in the second half for a first down, he hopped and appeared to be in pain.
It was also a painful game for Burrow. Missing three starting lineman who suffered injuries in recent weeks, and going up against one of the NFL’s best pass rushes, proved to be a lethal combination. Burrow was sacked four times on Cincinnati’s first three possessions.
That helped the Chiefs leap out to a 13-3 lead, but they also left points on the table. They settled for field goals on their opening two possessions, including one inside Cincinnati’s 10-yard-line, before finally getting into the end zone when Mahomes completed a 14-yard pass to Kelce when they went for it on a 4th-and-1. Kansas City missed another chance at easy points when its defense intercepted Burrow and gave the offense good field position, only for the offense to quickly go three-and-out.
So while it felt like the Chiefs had a strong early edge, the margin was still small. And it didn’t take the Bengals long to catch up. With a touchdown pass on their first possession of the second half, they knotted the game up at 13—sending sudden flashbacks to last year’s game when the Kansas City offense crumbled after halftime as Cincinnati mounted a comeback.
This time, though, Mahomes responded with a touchdown to retake the lead. On his next possession, driving down the field and poised to build on that advantage, the ball simply slipped out of Mahomes’s hand as he attempted to throw it. The Bengals recovered and scored a game-tying touchdown after going for it on a fourth-and-6 in which Burrow completed a 35-yard pass.
That was just the beginning of the drama in the fourth quarter. The Chiefs got what felt like a do-over on a critical play after the officials said a third-down attempt didn’t count after an issue with the clock, confusing everyone because of the bizarre sequence. On Cincinnati’s next possession, Burrow threw his second interception.
That gave Mahomes the ball back with the game tied 20-20 and just under seven minutes to play. He got the ball into Cincinnati territory, but the drive stalled and Kansas City coach Andy Reid opted to punt facing fourth-and-12 from the Cincinnati 37-yard-line. That gave the ball back to Burrow, whose drive stalled—and set up the last-minute score by the Chiefs.
The win sets up a delicious Super Bowl between the top teams from each conference this season. Jalen Hurts, the Eagles quarterback, was one of the season’s breakout stars as he led Philadelphia to the best record in the NFC.
But there’s just one quarterback and one team that has proven to be a reliable bet to make it this far in the postseason lately: Mahomes and the Chiefs. And this time they did it by finally triumphing over Burrow and the Bengals.
Write to Andrew Beaton at firstname.lastname@example.org
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