McPherson NAILS it. Cincy is going to the Super Bowl. Can you believe it? Just insane.
For the first time since the 1988 season, the Cincinnati Bengals are heading to the Super Bowl. A second-half rally led by Joe Burrow helped force overtime for the second straight week at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City was again able to win the critical coin toss and gain the opening possession, but a Patrick Mahomes interception forced by Bengals safety Jessie Bates and reeled in by Vonn Bell gave Cincinnati the ball back. Joe Burrow marched the offense 42 yards down the field that set up the AFC Championship-winning field goal by Evan McPherson.
Through the first two quarters, it looked like the Chiefs were destined to reach the Super Bowl for the third consecutive season. They started the day scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions and went into the locker room with a double-digit lead at halftime. The Bengals were able to put down the clamps defensively in the second half and overtime and forced Mahomes into two interceptions that helped spark the comeback.
Since halftime, the Bengals outscored Kansas City 17-3.
Burrow completed 23 of his 38 passes for 250 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception in the upset win. Tee Higgins was his go-to receiver as he caught six of his 10 targets for 103 yards. Meanwhile, Mahomes threw for 275 yards, three touchdowns, and two picks.
For a more detailed breakdown of this game, check out of takeaways below.
Why the Bengals won
The switch was flipped for Cincinnati in the second half, particularly on defense.
They were able to get after Mahomes and throw the entire Chiefs offense off-kilter. That was on full display on the final drive of regulation where Kansas City looked like it was going to find the end zone for a game-winning touchdown. Instead, the Bengals' pass rush was able to sack Mahomes on back-to-back plays that helped back up what would have been a chip-shot field goal by Harrison Butker to force overtime into a more difficult 44-yarder.
After halftime, the Cincinnati defense forced four punts, recorded two interceptions, and allowed just three points. Even when it looked like Burrow made a critical mistake with an interception early in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 21, the Bengals defense came back out and immediately forced a three-and-out on a drive that lasted less than 90 seconds. That gave the offense the ability to go back on the field almost instantly and go on an 11-play drive that resulted in a field goal lead that gave them their first lead of the afternoon.
Specifically, the Bengals' defense did a strong job covering Tyreek Hill in the second half. After catching seven of his eight targets for 78 yards and a touchdown over the first two quarters, he was held without a catch for the remainder of the game.
Meanwhile, Burrow was extremely cool under pressure as this game came down to the wire in regulation. On the field goal drive that would put Cincinnati up 24-21, Burrow had two clutch third-down scrambles that helped keep the Bengals drive -- and their chances of pulling off the upset -- alive.
Joe Mixon was also clutch during the game-winning drive, accounting for 28 of the team's 42 yards before McPherson's conference-winning field goal.
Why the Chiefs lost
For basically the entirety of the first half, it looked like the Chiefs were going to walk into another AFC Championship and advance to the Super Bowl. They began the game hot as they scored three-straight touchdowns, but they did start to lose some steam heading into halftime.
They left points on the board just before the break as they mismanaged a scoring opportunity after getting the ball down the goal-line. Kansas City was in a first-and-goal situation from the 1-yard line with just nine seconds left in the first half and no timeouts. After an incomplete pass on first down, Mahomes threw a short pass to Hill that was at or just behind the line of scrimmage, the Bengals were able to take him and for no gain and, more importantly, allow the clock to run down to zero with no points added to the Chiefs lead.
Coming out of the break, the K.C. offense then went flat. They punted on their first two possessions and Mahomes then threw the first of his two interceptions on the day. Cincinnati was able to sandwich 10 points around that turnover to knot the game at 21 and swing the momentum in their favor. It seemed like the Chiefs also went away from doubling Ja'Marr Chase at times in the second half, which the rookie receiver took full advantage of, including that third-quarter score.
Meanwhile, those goal-line struggles reared their ugly head again in the second half. After getting the ball back with over six minutes to play in regulation and trailing by a field goal, it seemed like the Chiefs were destined to go down and score a touchdown. However, Mahomes was sacked on back-to-back plays after getting the football on the Cincinnati 4 yard line. The second sack was a poor sequence for the quarterback and nearly ended the Chiefs season. He dropped back and tried to scramble upon feeling the rush. Mahomes was then hit by Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard, who popped the ball free. Had Cincinnati jumped on that loose ball, they would have won in regulation. However, Chiefs guard Joe Thuney recovered the fumble.
Of course, the overtime interception on a third-and-10 deep shot down the field proved to be the fatal blow.
In a game like this, there were several swings that ultimately led to the Bengals' win. Those back-to-back sacks by the Cincinnati defense were key in eliminating any chance that the Chiefs could score a touchdown and get the inside track at the win in regulation.
Naturally, the interception by Vonn Bell was also a key turning point. After the Chiefs won the overtime coin toss, Arrowhead Stadium erupted as if Kansas City had already won the game. Honestly, it was hard to blame them considering what this offense is capable of by what we saw out them in the divisional round against Buffalo.
At that point, it seemed near inevitable that they'd go down and win the game. Even when it was third-and-10, it felt like Mahomes would again pull a rabbit out of his hat and find the likes of Travis Kelce to move the chains. However, that pick by Bell completely flipped the scope of the contest and sent the Bengals on a drive that would send them to Super Bowl LVI.
Mahomes' final five dropbacks went as followed: sack, sack, incomplete, incomplete, interception. That's unbelievably clutch defense by Cincinnati that now has them in the Super Bowl.
Play of the game
I mean, you have to go with the game-winner, right?
For the second week in a row, McPherson has kicked his team to victory and how has them heading to the Super Bowl. McPherson now has three games this postseason with four or more field goals made. That ties Adam Vinatieri for the most by a player in a postseason CAREER in the Super Bowl era.
The Bengals will now head to Los Angeles for Super Bowl LVI and await the winner of the NFC Championship between the Rams and 49ers.