For the first time since 2015, the Cincinnati Bengals are AFC North champions. Zac Taylor's team was able to secure the division title in the final seconds of its Week 17 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs as kicker Evan McPherson netted a 19-yard field goal to give them the 34-31 victory as time expired.
Kansas City -- which now falls to the No. 2 seed in the AFC behind the Titans -- held the lead for the majority of this game, but Cincinnati was able to jump ahead of them at the beginning of the fourth quarter as Joe Burrow connected with Tyler Boyd for a 5-yard score. An ensuing field goal by the Chiefs knotted the game at 31 before the Bengals marched 74 yards down the field to set up the game-winning kick. Rookie Ja'Marr Chase was critical during that division-clinching drive as he hauled in a 30-yard reception on third-and-27 to move the chains and keep the Bengals' drive alive.
It was a historic day for the first-year wide receiver as he broke the single-game record for most receiving yards by a rookie. Chase finished with 11 receptions for 266 yards and three touchdowns. For the second week in a row, Burrow was stellar through the air, completing 30 of his 39 passes for 446 yards and four touchdowns in the win. On the other side, Patrick Mahomes threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns, while Darrel Williams rushed for 88 yards and two scores.
Why the Bengals won
Even as they fell behind by two scores, Cincinnati's firepower on offense didn't make Kansas City's lead that intimidating. The Bengals -- led by Chase -- were able to start matching the Chiefs scoring as they closed out the first quarter and that's when a comeback was seriously put on the table. These two clubs traded scores essentially for the rest of the first half, but it was over the final two quarters where Cincinnati's defense proved to be an X factor. As the Bengals' offense kept up the scoring -- 17 points in the second half -- the defense held the Chiefs to back-to-back punts to begin the third quarter and held them to a field goal on what proved to be their final possession of the game.
Meanwhile, Burrow continued to play well under pressure and was able to make a number of timely throws, especially a third-and-27 pass to Chase on the game-winning drive (more on that below).
Why the Chiefs lost
After an impressive opening half where they scored four-straight touchdowns, the Chiefs offense fell largely silent in the second half. Mahomes and Co. had just 112 yards of total offense over the final two quarters and managed just three points, which allowed Cincinnati to climb back into this game. K.C. held the lead for the majority of the contest, but then allowed the Bengals to jump ahead for the first time with 11:44 to play in the fourth. They were able to knot the game up at 31, but there was a missed opportunity to find the end zone on their final possession after getting the football all the way to the Cincinnati 16.
Andy Reid's team also had a crushing penalty on the final drive that gave Cincinnati a new set of downs after it failed to convert a fourth-and-goal play. Had the Chiefs played it clean there, they would have kept the game tied at 31 and either forced overtime or had a couple of deep shot attempts with 50 seconds left in regulation.
Two big moments in this game stand out as swings that went in favor of the Bengals and both center around Chase. The first came with just around two minutes to play in the first quarter. At that point, the Chiefs had already built up a 14-0 lead and appeared to be on their way to a blowout win after forcing the Bengals to punt the ball twice and manage just 25 yards of total offense. However, Chase was able to get his team back within a score in quick fashion as he hauled in a pass from Burrow over the middle of the field and the receiver was able to turn upfield and outrun everyone as he scampered for a 72-yard touchdown. That sparked a run for the Bengals where they would score points on four straight drives.
While that moment helped the Bengals get back in the game, the final swing by Chase that put them in a position to win it was on that game-winning drive. Cincinnati's offense stalled out a bit as a penalty and 7-yard sack on Burrow helped lead the Bengals into a third-and-27 situation with just over three minutes left in the game and the score knotted at 31. On that play, Burrow connected with Chase for a 30-yard completion that moved the chains and kept the drive alive to eventually boot the game-winner.
Play of the game
Sure, we have 72-yard and 69-yard touchdown catches by Chase, but let's go with the division-clinching kick as our top play of Sunday's contest!
There was plenty of drama leading up to this 20-yard boot by McPherson as the Bengals looked to not only put points on the board, but also have the Chiefs burn their timeouts and kill clock. Following the two-minutes warning, Cincinnati was able to burn the final two timeouts held by the Chiefs, but then found itself in a third-and-goal situation at the K.C. 1-yard line with less than a minute to play.
After a fourth-and-1 attempt that was negated due to offsetting penalties, L'Jarius Sneed was called for an illegal use of hands that gave the Bengals a new set of downs. However, Burrow was injured on the play and needed to hobble off the field. That forced backup quarterback Brandon Allen into the game, who needed to kneel the ball and then clock it with just enough time for McPherson's kick.
From here, the Bengals will finish out the regular season in Cleveland where they'll face the Browns. As for Kansas City, they will take on the Broncos in Denver in Week 18.