The Cincinnati Bengals wear the AFC crown, and they showed why on Sunday, defeating the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24.
Ja’Marr Chase reminded the NFL what he’s all about in his first game back in a month, finishing with 97 yards on seven receptions. Samaje Perine once more proved his worth as a starter and amassed 155 total yards on nearly 30 touches.
And then there was Joe Burrow, making his case for MVP, throwing for 286 yards on 25-31 passing and two touchdowns. He’s gone head-to-head with Patrick Mahomes three times and has come out on top each and every occasion.
Chase didn’t see the ball the first drive, but the Bengals didn’t need him to. Burrow completed his first five passes to four different receivers and eventually ran the ball into the end zone from four yards out to put Cincinnati up 7-0 early. Hayden
Higbee Hurst caught two of those passes including the first pass of the game, by the way.
Mahomes and the Chiefs were on the precipice of responding with a red zone touchdown of their own before DJ Reader knocked down a third down pass to force a short field goal, making it 7-3.
Chase started getting involved on the ensuing drive (both good and hilariously) converting a third-and-two with his first reception since coming back. He was interfered with on his next target, and Burrow drew a roughing the passer as he was hit mid-throw, which set up the Bengals in the red zone. Tee Higgins converted the most important third down of the drive with his first catch and stretched himself into the end zone.
Fought for it #ProBowlVote x #TeeHiggins#KCvsCIN | CBS pic.twitter.com/elk3FAJ3l7— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 4, 2022
After the play, Chase and Kansas City defensive backs were chopping it up and the second-year receiver was flagged for taunting as he was throwing imaginary ones into their faces (lol).
Tyler Higbee... wait -- Tee Higgins with the TD pic.twitter.com/YMYI4DFbUv— NFL on CBS (@NFLonCBS) December 4, 2022
The Bengals’ first 20 plays featured 11 first downs, but they were forced off the field on the third drive after doing the same to Mahomes. The front-runner for MVP got to work right afterwards, finding JuJu Smith-Schuster on a critical fourth-and-four play right after he was nearly intercepted by Cam Taylor-Britt. Mahomes capped off the 14-play drive with his first touchdown of the day to Jerick McKinnon.
Kansas City was having their way running against a usually stout Cincinnati front seven, one that featured a healthy Reader. McKinnon and Isiah Pacheco had 82 yards on just 13 carries, and the Chiefs as a team averaged 7.2 yards per carry in the first half.
The score gave the Bengals time to drive down to the goal line once more, thanks in part to the biggest play of the day up to that point from Chase. He was up to 54 yards on just three receptions through the first two quarters.
Ja'Marr is back like he never left. @Real10jayy__— NFL (@NFL) December 4, 2022
: #KCvsCIN on CBS
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/KRUwj1CkWe pic.twitter.com/Hjx3NDP6hT
The offense carefully inched their way closer to pay dirt, forcing Andy Reid to empty out his timeouts, but a phenomenal play by former Bengal Carlos Dunlap stopped the Bengals’ jet sweep to Trent Taylor on fourth-and-one.
Cincinnati’s lead was kept at 14-10 entering the second half, and was quickly eliminated at the start of the third quarter. Mahomes found Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 42-yard reception on third down over Vonn Bell, and Pacheco capped off the seven-play drive with an eight-yard rushing touchdown to give the Chiefs their first lead, 17-14.
Burrow and Co. had a prime opportunity to retake the lead on the next drive. Tyler Boyd hauled in two receptions to take the offense next to the red zone, but it was the catch he didn’t make that highlighted the drive. Boyd dropped arguably the easiest touchdown of his life, prompting Evan McPherson to tie it up—17-17—from 36 yards out.
Mahomes found another big play to Valdes-Scantling on the following drive, this time beating Mike Hilton deep, and finished the drive on his own on fourth down by elevating over multiple Bengals defenders. Mahomes lost control of the ball right as it crossed the plane, and the Bengals opted not to challenge.
Down by seven, Burrow found Chase again for a 22-yard gain, and later pulled some improvisation out of his sleeve. Instead of handing the ball off to Samaje Perine, Burrow kept the pigskin and rumbled his way to a 16-yard gain, taking a shot as he went to the turf. Burrow nearly found Higgins for their second touchdown of the day, but a Jonah Williams penalty—his second of the drive—negated the near score, and McPherson was called on to cut the deficit to 24-20 after Willie Gay batted down Burrow’s third-down attempt.
More than ever, the Bengals needed a play, and Germaine Pratt provided it. Pratt stripped the ball away from Travis Kelce following the tight end’s second reception of the day, giving the Bengals the ball with excellent field position.
What a play by GP MONEY‼️#ProBowlVote x #GermainePratt#KCvsCIN | CBS pic.twitter.com/h6CLPN7djo— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 4, 2022
The Bengals’ running backs can take credit for the drive Pratt provided them. Burrow found Perine thrice out of the backfield, converting two first downs in the process, Trayveon Williams got his first carry, and Chris Evans broke free over the middle and caught the go-ahead touchdown with just under nine minutes to play.
Not to be forgotten was an all-important third down reception from Boyd on his first target since the dropped touchdown.
Another member of the Bengals’ 2021 draft class came up big on the ensuing Chiefs possession. Joseph Ossai came from behind Mahomes to trip him up in the backfield for his second sack of the season. The takedown forced a 55-yard field goal for Kansas City, and Harrison Butker pushed his attempt wide right.
Running out the clock became Cincinnati’s priority, and a third-and-five conversion thanks to Chase nearly helped them do that. But Burrow’s first sack taken of the day forced another third down. But this is Burrow we’re talking about, and he immediately responded. A perfect pass to Higgins moved the chains, and the Bengals ran knelt the clock out.
The Bengals became the first team to beat the Chiefs in three-consecutive meetings since Mahomes took over in 2018. Up next is the Cleveland Browns, who come to Paycor Stadium next Sunday to challenge the now 8-4 AFC Champions.