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Only two teams had previously accomplished what the Cincinnati Bengals did after upsetting the Chiefs to earn the AFC's spot in Super Bowl LVI. The Bengals join the 1981 49ers and 2003 Panthers as the only teams in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl two years after having the NFL's worst record, via Ben Volin of The Boston Globe

Longtime Bengals fans are familiar with the work of the '81 49ers, who defeated Cincinnati in Super Bowl XVI in a game between two teams that were 6-10 the previous season. The 49ers won their first Super Bowl title two years after going 2-14 in 1979, the first seasons in San Francisco for coach Bill Walsh and quarterback Joe Montana. The 49ers went onto win four Super Bowls during the 1980s and five rings in a 14-year span. 

The 2003 Panthers reached Super Bowl XXXVIII after going 1-15 two years earlier. Carolina went 7-9 in 2002, John Fox's first season with the franchise. Carolina reached the franchise's first Super Bowl in 2003 behind a hard-hitting defense and a dynamic offense that was anchored by quarterback Jake Delhomme, receivers Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad, and running back Stephen Davis. Carolina and the Patriots dueled in one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever, as the two teams scored a combined 29 points in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the Patriots won the game on Adam Vinatieri's second Super Bowl-winning kick in a three-year span. 

Cincinnati may have surpassed both teams as far as the most unexpected appearance in Super Bowl history. The Bengals were 2-14 in 2019, Zac Taylor's first season in Cincinnati. They were 4-11-1 in 2020 after quarterback Joe Burrow missed the season's final six games after suffering a major knee injury. 

The Bengals' quick turnaround was largely due to the play of Burrow; receivers Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd; running back Joe Mixon; defensive linemen Trey Hendrickson, Larry Ogunjobi and Sam Hubbard; linebackers Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson; and defensive backs Mike Hilton and Jessie Bates III. The Bengals have also received clutch kicking from rookie Evan McPherson, who delivered game-winning kicks in Cincinnati's playoff wins over Tennessee and Kansas City. 

Down, 21-3, against Kansas City, Burrow and the Bengals scored 24 of the game's final 27 points. In overtime, Vonn Bell's interception of Patrick Mahomes gave the ball back to Burrow, who completed two passes to Higgins to help set up McPherson's game-winning field goal. Cincinnati also received tough running from Mixon, who ran for 88 yards on 21 carries. 

"We've been a second-half team all year," Burrow told CBS Sports' Jim Nantz after the game. "We don't really want to be that way, but it's kind of how it's worked out. Our defense really stepped up in the second half, and on offense we made plays when we had to. Our offensive line played great; we started running the ball. Just a great overall team effort." 

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