Chiefs vs. Bengals score, takeaways: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City advance to Super Bowl on game-winning FG

The Kansas City Chiefs have avenged their AFC Championship loss of a year ago and finally got into the win column against Joe Burrow and the Bengals, defeating Cincinnati 23-20 in the conference title game Sunday to advance to Super Bowl LVII.

Harrison Butker was able to kick the 45-yard game-winning field goal after Patrick Mahomes and the offense moved the ball 39 yards down the field with less than 30 seconds left in regulation. The key play on that drive came on a third-and-4 situation from the Cincinnati 47-yard line. Mahomes scrambled up the right side of the field for five yards and was hit out of bounds, which drew an unnecessary roughness penalty to put them within Butker’s range and send them to the Super Bowl.

This game was really a tale of two halves, with the first primarily owned by Kansas City. The Bengals had an uncharacteristically slow start, particularly in the first quarter when they registered zero total yards of offense. All the while, the Chiefs were moving the ball well and jumped out to a 13-6 lead thanks in large part to a 14-yard touchdown to Travis Kelce late in the second quarter. However, Cincinnati did show some signs of life in the final minutes of that first half, moving 90 yards in just over two minutes to boot a field goal before the break to cut the lead to a touchdown.

They tied the game at 13 on their first drive of the second half, and that would begin a back-and-forth final two quarters between these two rivals. Mahomes and the Chiefs offense responded to that Cincy score with an 11-play, 77-yard touchdown drive of their own to retake the lead. A fumble by Mahomes on their subsequent drive, however, breathed more life into the Bengals, who tied the game at 20 on a drive headlined by a monumental fourth-and-6 conversation by Joe Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase. That score stood at 20 for the bulk of the fourth quarter until Kansas City’s defense was able to force a punt with less than a minute in regulation, and the offense took care of the rest to clinch their spot in the Super Bowl.

Mahomes finished 29 of 43 passing for 326 yards and two touchdowns. His go-to target on the night was wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who hauled in six of his eight targets for a team-high 116 yards and a touchdown. On the other side, Burrow completed 26 of 41 for 270 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions. He also added 30 yards on the ground. Tee Higgins was the most productive skill position player for Cincinnati, tallying six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown.

For a more detailed breakdown of how this game unfolded, check out our main takeaways below.

Why the Chiefs won

Patrick Mahomes was clearly not 100% in this game, but he put together an all-time performance. He was sharp out of the gate, completing 13 of 19 in the first half for 165 yards and a touchdown to give KC the seven-point lead. Over that stretch, Mahomes seemed to be a little less bothered by the high ankle sprain he suffered during the divisional round a week ago. However, he appeared to have aggravated it in the second half after rolling out to his left and completing an 11-yard pass to Mecole Hardman. To make the throw, Mahomes had to put his full eight on that bad ankle and could be seen with a more pronounced limp for the rest of the game. That said, he was still able to make a couple of insanely clutch plays, including a dart to Marquez Valdes-Scantling that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown.

Earlier in the game, Mahomes also came up clutch as Andy Reid decided to keep the offense on the field on fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati 14. While this was before Mahomes aggravated the ankle, he was still limited in his mobility but extended the play enough to eventually find Travis Kelce — who was also dealing with an injury of his own — for the touchdown.

Mahomes still being able to pull off magical play even at less than full strength was a key reason for Kansas City advancing.

Meanwhile, the defense by the Chiefs was able to suffocate Joe Burrow early and often and sacked him four times during Cincinnati’s first three possessions on the day. That set the tone for the remainder of the game and helped force the quarterback into two interceptions. As we note in our “Turning Point” second below, the clutch play by Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, particularly from veteran Chris Jones, helped slam the door on Cincinnati pulling off another late-game comeback. Those final possessions leading up to Harrison Butker’s game-winner were perfect complementary football as the defense forced the punt, special teams gave the offense a short field, and that set up the kick that sent KC to Arizona.

Why the Bengals lost

Cincinnati didn’t do themselves any favors by coming out of the gate flat. Throughout the year, the Bengals had been one of the better scoring teams in the first quarter and were able to put up points in each of their opening possessions this postseason until this matchup. They punted the ball away after just five plays and that continued as they went three-and-out on their ensuing possession. Over that stretch, the defense was able to play stout against the Chiefs, but they still came away with a field goal to go up 6-0.

A common theme during those initial drives of the game was the leaky play along the offensive line. Burrow was sacked four times through their first three possessions. Burrow even seemed a bit rushed on what was an underthrown ball to Tee Higgins that was picked off on the fourth drive of the game. At that point, the offensive line seemed to find some cohesion right before halftime and throughout the second half, but a key sack late on Burrow by Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones helped put the nail in Cincy’s coffin. Coming into this AFC Championship, the Bengals were 0-3 this season when Burrow was sacked five or more times and was 14-1 when he was sacked fewer than five times. That trend held here.

Cincinnati also had a puzzling couple of play calls on their second-to-last possession. After Joe Mixon rushed for 7 yards on first down to give the club a second-and-3 situation from their 36-yard line, Burrow tossed back-to-back deep shots, with the first falling incomplete and the other being picked off by the Chiefs. While the running game had been nonexistent for the Bengals in this game (Perine and Mixon combined for 41 yards rushing), this might have been a spot to simply move the chain and live to fight another down.

Defensively, it’s hard to find too many faults with the Bengals as they limited the Chiefs early as the offense sputtered, and were able to force four second-half punts along with recovering a key fumble. However, the Bengals had nine penalties on the day, and a handful came on the part of the defense at less-than-ideal times. Eli Apple was called for DPI on a third-and-9 to erase a sack on Mahomes, and, of course, the unnecessary roughness penalty on Joseph Ossai assisted in allowing the game-winning field goal.

Turning point

As you’d expect in a game of this magnitude, there were many swings in momentum throughout the evening. The sequence that truly moved the game in Kansas City’s favor, however, was a key defensive stop by Steve Spagnulolo’s unit late. Cincinnati’s defense was able to force the Chiefs to punt the ball just before the two-minute warning, spoiling an opportunity to capitalize off of a Joe Burrow interception that happened prior to the drive. With time ticking under a minute, Burrow completed a 23-yard pass to Hayden Hurst that was inching the Bengals closer to midfield and possibly setting up a game-winning field goal if they were to garner a few more chunk plays.

But, on a third-and-8 from the Cincinnati 35-yard line, Chris Jones came up with a clutch sack of Burrow, which led to an immediate timeout called by the Chiefs and a subsequent punt. That punt was returned 29 yards by rookie Skyy Moore which put the offense already at midfield, needing a manageable amount of yards to get within field goal range.

That defensive stand and stellar return by Moore to give them a strong field position was enough of a swing in momentum to get the Chiefs in a position to kick the game-winner.

Play of the game

Because Cincinnati came out on the losing end of this matchup, this fourth-down conversion by Burrow to Chase may get lost in the history books, but it was a tremendous moment in the game. The Bengals had just recovered a fumble by Patrick Mahomes and seemed like they were going to let that opportunity slip through their fingers with a three-and-out. However, Zac Taylor elected to keep his offense on the field for a fourth-and-6 attempt, which was one of the gutsiest calls of the night.

The decision paid off for him as Burrow uncorked a 35-yard pass to Chase, who beat two defenders to make the grab. Two plays later and Samaje Perine barreled in for the touchdown to tie the game at 20 and, momentarily, keep Cincinnati’s season alive.

What’s next

From here, the Chiefs will travel to Arizona, where they’ll face the Philadelphia Eagles, who defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship earlier Sunday. Super Bowl LVII will kick off at 6:30 pm ET from State Farm Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 12.

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