The Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl LVII bound, and all it took to clinch a berth in America’s biggest sporting even was overcoming their biggest nemesis over the past two seasons.
After losing three straight games to the Cincinnati Bengals, including last year’s AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs finally got their vengeance on Sunday evening, beating the Bengals 23-20 to earn their third trip to the Super Bowl in the Patrick Mahomes era.
The 2023 matchup of the AFC’s top contenders started similarly to the last three meetings, and progressed at a similar fashion. Kansas City jumped ahead early, but conservative play calling and a couple miscues meant the Chiefs found themselves up just 6-0 in the first quarter instead of possibly 14-0.
After the Bengals tacked on a field got on the board for the first time with a field goal midway through the second quarter, the Chiefs finally reached paydirt less than five minutes later. Mahomes found tight end Travis Kelce on a fourth-and-one play, extending to the lead to two scores less than four minutes before halftime.
Similarities and flashbacks began to pile up from there. The Chiefs couldn’t take advantage of an interception thrown by Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow later in the period, and Cincinnati marched 90 yards downfield in the final two minutes of the half for another field goal.
Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones may have saved four points on the final play before the half, though, by generating pressure and forcing an off-target throw by Burrow from the five-yard line.
Jones was arguably the best player in the game, picking up two sacks while generating multiple pressures, including the aforementioned one late in the second quarter. He failed to finish multiple would-be sacks in last year’s AFC Championship Game, but rebounded this year with the first two sacks of his postseason career.
“My whole offseason was dedicated to this game,” Jones said.
Each team scored a highlight-reel touchdown in the third period, including a leaping catch by Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins and a laser beam pass from Mahomes to Chiefs wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Facing a fourth down and a seven-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter, Burrow found wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase for a 35-yard gain, which was followed by a touchdown run for Samaje Perine just two plays later to tie the game.
What happened from that point can safely be described as “bizarre.”
The rest of the fourth quarter included a stagnation from the Chiefs offense, a replayed third down after officials waved off a failed Kansas City third-down conversion attempt and a second interception by Burrow after rookie safety Bryan Cook tipped a deep ball to rookie cornerback Joshua Williams.
Kansas City ended up with one final chance to score, taking over after a Cincinnati punt with just 30 seconds left. Facing third down and four yards to go, Mahomes, who was playing on a highly publicized sprained ankle, scrambled for five yards and was hit late out of bounds by Bengals linebacker Joseph Ossai. That drew a 15-yard penalty with only eight seconds remaining and set up kicker Harrison Butker for a 45-yard field goal attempt.
The veteran placekicker drilled the try, clinching the win for the Chiefs and ending the Bengals’ bid for a second-straight Super Bowl appearance.
I’m proud of them for everything they’ve done,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Great for the city. Our fans were unbelievable.”
Mahomes finished the game 29-of-42 passing for 326 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions. He did lose one fumble, losing his grip on the ball and turning it over right before the Bengals’ final scoring drive. He outdueled his counterpart, Burrow, who was 26-of-41 for the game with 270 yards, one touchdown and the two interceptions.
“For Pat to do what he did and then to have that run at the end, I can’t say enough,” Reid said. “He is the MVP in my eyes.”
Valdes-Scantling was Mahomes’ top target, making six catches for 116 yards and a score, setting new career postseason highs in the two former categories.
Jones wasn’t the only Chief to react emotionally to this game, either, both on the field and after the fact. Trash talk between the two teams and the two cities was a major storyline going into the game, and it was one of the biggest headlines after it, too.
“The mayor came at me, man,” Mahomes said. “You’ve just got to play the football game and let your play do the talking.”
As for the banter coming from Cincinnati mayor Aftab Pureval, Kelce channeled Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and made a point to fire back while celebrating the win.
“I’ve got some wise words for that Cincinnati mayor,” Kelce told CBS’s Jim Nantz. “Know your role, and shut your mouth you jabroni.”
Once the AFC Championship celebration wraps up and the smack talk winds down, the Chiefs will refocus their attention on the Philadelphia Eagles, who blew out the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game to earn that conference’s Super Bowl berth.
That game will feature more than enough narratives to fill the two weeks building up to kickoff. Mahomes, the likely league MVP, will try to become the first MVP to win the Super Bowl in the same season since Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams did it in the 1999 season. Reid will be facing his former team, who he coached for 14 years but with whom he never won a Super Bowl. It will also be the first Super Bowl ever to feature two black starting quarterbacks (Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts).
The excitement and preparation for Super Bowl LVII is coming soon. For now, though, Kansas City has a moment to bask in the vengeance it desperately craved and finally accomplished.
“To have that chance at redemption, I think, was sweet for the whole organization,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said.
For more reaction to the Kansas City Chiefs’ 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, check out Mic’d Up with Jake and Fulton from noon-3:00 p.m., and 580 Sports Talk with Brendan and Dan from 3-6:00 p.m. Monday on 580 WIBW.