The AFC Championship came down to a game-winning field goal, but the Cincinnati Bengals weren’t the team kicking it this time.
The Bengals fell one game short of Super Bowl 57 to the Kansas City Chiefs, 23-20.
It started tumultuous for Cincinnati’s offense, featuring two pre-snap penalties and three sacks allowed on the first and only two drives of the first quarter. Frank Clark and Chris Jones got a taste for blood against a Bengals offensive line that looked overmatched out of the gate.
Kansas City had chances to capitalize after each drive, and settled for three points each time. The game’s first big play nearly came against Mike Hilton’s expense as Kadarius Toney couldn’t haul in a perfect pass from Mahomes in the end zone. Isiah Pacheco did cross the goal-line with the ball on the following drive, but a holding call on Andrew Wylie nixed it.
Down 6-0 to begin the second quarter, the Bengals were at zero yards of total net offense. They racked up 63 on their third drive, with 40 of them coming on two Tyler Boyd catches down the field, one of which converted a third-and-14 following the fourth sack on Burrow. Boyd hobbled off the field with a knee injury after his second catch, and the rest of the offense joined him on the sidelines a few plays later. Evan McPherson knocked in a 30-yard field goal to give the Bengals their first points of the game and make it 6-3.
Mahomes went back at Hilton twice more to move the ball down the field back into Bengals territory, and then took his first sack of the day on third-and-one thanks to Cam Sample. But Andy Reid opted for aggression and rolled his All-Pro quarterback out to the right on fourth down. Mahomes found Travis Kelce in the end zone against Jessie Bates to record the game’s first touchdown and extend their lead to 13-3.
On the game’s first drive, Burrow was nearly intercepted by rookie Trent McDuffie. Burrow didn’t get so lucky following the Chiefs’ touchdown and threw his first pick in postseason play since last year’s Divisional Round game against the Tennessee Titans.
The turnover awarded Mahomes and the Chiefs great field position, but the Bengals’ defense came up with an impressive stand and forced three-straight incompletions to stay out of field goal range.
Kansas City pinned Burrow and Co. down at the five-yard line with 123 seconds remaining in the half, and Burrow saw another one of his passes intercepted. Fortunately, the Chiefs initiated contact on intended receiver Hayden Hurst a second too early and defensive pass interference was called on the play.
Burrow found Chase again and Tee Higgins three times to advance the ball deep into the red zone, but fell short of the goal line once again. McPherson’s 23-yard field goal in the half’s final seconds made it 13-6.
Speaking of that Titans game, when Burrow was infamously sacked nine times, Burrow was on pace to be taken down that many times through two quarters. Burrow was 15 of 22 for 147 yards and the interception and lost 25 yards on his four sacks. Both teams had exactly 19 rushing yards on eight attempts entering the second half of play.
Coming out of the half and getting a stop is nothing new to Lou Anarumo’s defense, and that’s exactly what the Bengals produced in a second-consecutive three-and-out for the Chiefs’ offense.
Third down was a bit nicer for the Bengals’ offense on their first drive of the third quarter. Burrow ran a quarterback draw out of empty on a third-and-six just outside of field goal range and picked up 11 yards. A third-and-six came up two plays later, but Burrow trusted one of his best playmakers for that conversion. The ole’ lob it up to Higgins from 27 yards out and watch him high-point the ball over the shorter cornerback play!
And just like that, it was tied at 13 apiece.
TEE IT UP!#CINatKC | CBS pic.twitter.com/ixJPcWZ1Xf— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 30, 2023
It took until the following drive to see the first sign of pain from Mahomes’ high-ankle sprain, as he hobbled back to the huddle following a big third-down conversion to open the series.
Mahomes wasn’t deterred as the Chiefs marched down into the red zone once more and threw a dart to Marquez Valdes-Scantling for six as Mike Hilton was an inch away from a diving pass breakup. Cincinnati couldn’t muster a response as a Cordell Volson holding penalty wiped out a third-and-long conversion to Chase.
Down seven points with the Chiefs driving once more, there couldn’t have been a better time for a turnover. Mahomes obliged as he never got a hold of a shotgun snap, and Sam Hubbard fell on top of the ball in the backfield.
Hubbard on the recovery #CINatKC | CBS pic.twitter.com/4o3pyPeXbM— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 30, 2023
The Bengals only gained five yards on their first three downs of the ensuing drive, putting the offense in a tough spot. Do you punt it back to Mahomes and force him to go the length of the field to make it a two-score game, or do you trust Burrow and his playmakers to convert a fourth-and-six near midfield?
The answer was the latter. Burrow launched it to Chase in double coverage and allowed his former LSU partner in crime make one of the greatest catches of his life.
That connection #CINatKC | CBS pic.twitter.com/AgvRbylOXe— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 30, 2023
Samaje Perine ran it in from yards two plays later to even the game at 20-20.
Cincinnati’s defense got a stop on the following drive, but only after some tomfoolery. An official tried to call the Chiefs’ third-and-nine play dead, but the play ensued and was then redone. The Bengals sacked Mahomes on the do-over only for Eli Apple to commit a holding penalty on the play, giving the Chiefs a new set of downs. They did nothing with them as the Bengals finally got off the field with less than 10 minutes remaining.
Burrow’s second interception of the game ended up being an arm punt on third down, and the Chiefs got the ball back at their own 14-yard line. Mahomes got Kansas City to the Bengals’ 37, but the freezing cold forced a punt instead of a long field goal.
Cincinnati’s offensive line broke down one last time as Chris Jones got a sack against Hakeem Adeniji to stall the Bengals’ last drive. Drue Chrisman’s punt was a booming one, but rookie Skyy Moore churned out a big return to give the Chiefs great field position. The Bengals had a chance to force a long field goal at the gun, but a personal foul penalty on Joseph Ossai against Patrick Mahomes gave Harrison Butker a 45-yarder to win it. He drilled it with three seconds remaining.
The Bengals’ 10-game win streak ended one game shy of a return trip to the Super Bowl.