The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bengals claw back to stun Chiefs, advance to first Super Bowl in 33 years

The Bengals climbed out of an 18-point hole and then beat the Chiefs in overtime on Evan McPherson's 31-yard field goal. (Eric Gay/AP)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Cincinnati Bengals are a Super Bowl team, believe it or not. And just as amazingly, the Kansas City Chiefs are going home for an offseason that arrived sooner than expected.

The upstart Bengals, led again by second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, extended their surprising postseason run. They beat the Chiefs, 27-24, in overtime here Sunday at stunned Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC championship game by overcoming a sluggish start with a flurry after halftime.

“I wouldn’t call it surreal,” Burrow said. “I would say it’s exciting. I think if you would have told me before the season that we’d be going to the Super Bowl, I probably would have called you crazy. But then we played a whole season. And nothing surprises me now. I know the kind of guys we have and the team that we have.”

Rookie kicker Evan McPherson’s 31-yard field goal on the second possession of overtime won it for the Bengals. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw an interception on the opening drive of the extra period.

The Bengals scored 21 straight points in regulation to lead 24-21 before the Chiefs tied the game with a field goal as time expired to force the overtime.

Cincinnati will make its first Super Bowl appearance since January 1989. It will face the Los Angeles Rams, on Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium, the Rams home field, in Inglewood, Calif.

What you need to know about Super Bowl LVI

“A special team that’s capable of doing special things,” Bengals Coach Zac Taylor said. “And we’ve believed from the get-go. Whether people believe in us or not, we did. And so we’re not surprised. This is where we’re meant to be. I’m proud of the guys in that locker room.”

Until this postseason, the Bengals hadn’t had a playoff victory in 31 years. But these Bengals aren’t those Bengals. Not with Burrow, the top overall selection in the 2020 draft, back in the lineup and doing wondrous things after his rookie season was cut short by a knee injury.

The Bengals beat the Las Vegas Raiders at home in the opening round of the postseason and upset the top-seeded Tennessee Titans in Nashville in the divisional round. And now they have ended the AFC reign of the Chiefs.

“The leaders on this team know that this isn’t our standard,” Mahomes said. “We want to win the Super Bowl.”

The Chiefs became the first team in NFL history to host four straight conference title games. But they failed in their bid to reach a third consecutive Super Bowl.

“It’s definitely disappointing,” Mahomes said. “Here with this group of guys that we have, we expect to be in that game and to win that game. And anything less than that is not a success.”

Mahomes threw three first-half touchdown passes, and Kansas City seemed well on its way to further postseason glory. Mahomes was en route to becoming the youngest quarterback to start three Super Bowls. The Chiefs were poised to join the Miami Dolphins of the early 1970s, the Buffalo Bills of the early 1990s and the New England Patriots near the end of quarterback Tom Brady’s tenure in reaching three Super Bowls in a row.

Their offense looked practically unstoppable, and the Chiefs led 21-3. But they did not cash in on a scoring opportunity in the final seconds of the first half. And then their offense stalled in the second half. Kansas City had six straight scoreless possessions before the tying field goal at the end of regulation.

The Bengals, who had beaten the Chiefs during the regular season, kept hanging around. And then they made the clutch plays down the stretch.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure that we do better offensively and as a team,” Kansas City Coach Andy Reid said. “And I obviously didn’t get that done that second half. So I’ve got to do a better job there. … Unfortunately this is so final. And that’s where we sit now. Our players are disappointed, obviously.”

Mahomes threw first-half touchdown passes to wide receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and wideout Mecole Hardman. The Chiefs tried for a fourth touchdown just before the half ended, running a play with five seconds left and no timeouts remaining rather than settling for a field goal. But Hill failed to reach the end zone after catching Mahomes’s swing pass to the left, and time expired with the Chiefs at the Cincinnati 1-yard line.

The Bengals reached the end zone once in the opening half when running back Samaje Perine rumbled 41 yards for a touchdown after catching a short pass from Burrow. They pulled even in the third quarter with a field goal by McPherson and Burrow’s touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, followed by a successful two-point conversion. The touchdown came after Mahomes threw an interception on a screen pass.

“We were playing so well in the first half,” Mahomes said. “And the second half, we were just off a tick.”

McPherson’s 52-yard field goal with 6:04 left in regulation gave the Bengals their first lead. Kansas City drove to the Cincinnati 4-yard line but was pushed backward as Mahomes was sacked twice. Kicker Harrison Butker connected from 44 yards to force overtime.

The Chiefs won the coin toss, and the fans cheered wildly, envisioning a repeat of the touchdown on the opening possession of overtime that beat the Bills the previous weekend in an NFL postseason classic. But it was not to be. Mahomes’s third-down pass toward Hill was deflected and intercepted by Bengals safety Vonn Bell.

“I think if you would have told me coming into the league when I got drafted that we’d be here this year, it obviously would be a shock,” Burrow said. “But like I said earlier, now I’m not surprised. Playing this whole year, I knew we would have a chance to be here. I would say it was a great win for the organization, for ownership and the city and me personally as well.”