No Super Bowl repeat: Bengals fall to Chiefs on late field goal

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Cincinnati Bengals won’t get a chance to complete their “unfinished business.” The Kansas City Chiefs denied them of a second straight trip to the Super Bowl, winning the AFC title on a 45-yard field goal from Harrison Butker with three seconds left.

Cincinnati rallied from a 10-point deficit to tie the game twice in the second half but fell 23-20 on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship. The loss ended a 10-game winning streak for the Bengals and was the first for them in four conference finals.

Kansas City advances to its third Super Bowl in four years, facing the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Ariz.

On Sunday, the Bengals needed their most proven recipe for success to pan out in order to beat the Chiefs for a fourth straight time in the last 13 months — a comeback win fueled by a crucial takeaway and big plays from the top two receivers. They got all that but couldn’t take a lead.

A late hit by Joseph Ossai at the end of a Patrick Mahomes scramble with eight seconds left set Butker up for the game-winning field goal. Cincinnati tied the game twice in the second half with help from third- and fourth-down passes from Joe Burrow to Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase, and in between was a fumble recovery from Sam Hubbard. The Bengals punted with 30 seconds left and couldn’t get the necessary stop to send the game to overtime.

“It’s tough,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “It’s one play. It didn’t come down to that. We had a lot of other plays we just missed out on.”

“This is emotional,” he added. “We worked really hard to get here, and any play that people feel they left something out there, you’re going to feel it. We want guys like that, that this means a lot to, that care about their teammates. Joseph comes to work every day. He loves ball, he loves being part of this team. And it didn’t come down to that.”

Cincinnati’s comeback started at the end of the first half when the defense finally forced a three-and-out for the Chiefs’ first punt of the day, and the offense followed with a field goal drive cut make it a 13-6 deficit going into the break.

Kansas City went three-and-out again to open the second half, and the Bengals followed with their first touchdown drive. Higgins went up and grabbed a 27-yard pass to the end zone on third down to tie the game. The Chiefs responded with another touchdown drive and had a chance to add to their cushion when Cordell Volson’s holding penalty negated a first down, and the Bengals ended up punting.

However, on the ensuing drive, Mahomes lost control of the ball when it slipped out of his fingertips before moving his arm forward for a pass attempt, and Hubbard jumped on it for his second fumble recovery of the playoffs. The Bengals made the most out of the turnover when they went for it on fourth-and-6 and Burrow threw a deep ball to Chase, which he caught for a 35-yard gain despite having two defenders in his face.

Two plays later, Samaje Perine punched it in from the 2-yard line to tie the game at 20 with 13:30 left. The Bengals had two drives in the last 10 minutes and couldn’t take the lead, even after converting a third-and-16 with a 23-yard completion to Hayden Hurst with less than a minute left.

“We started out strong, and then had a penalty or two and a big third-down conversion and just weren’t able to convert the last couple plays to extend that drive,” Burrow said about the last drive.

While the Chiefs moved down the field with ease on their first two drives of the game, Cincinnati’s defense did what it does best buckling down in the redzone to limit them to a pair of field goals. But, the Bengals’ offense couldn’t find a rhythm while the offensive line struggled out of the gate.

A false start by Hakeem Adeniji wiped a Joe Burrow scramble for a first down on the opening drive, and on third down, Burrow was sacked after Frank Clark snuck through a gap between Volson and Jackson Carman. He was sacked twice on the next drive, leading to another punt for Drue Chrisman. Burrow finished with five sacks, including two by standout defensive tackle Chris Jones, who also had three tackles for loss.

“They did a good job,” Burrow said. “They had a good plan. They did a good job creating one-on-one matchups up front to let their guys go and try to win, and they did a good job with it.”

Kansas City easily could have been up 14-0 those first two drives. Kadarius Toney lost control of a third-down pass from Patrick Mahomes when he hit the ground in the end zone, forcing the Chiefs to settle for a 43-yard field goal from Harrison Butker on their first possession. On their next drive, Isiah Pacheco dashed into the end zone on second-and-goal from the 9- but the touchdown was nullified by a hold and again the Cincinnati defense limited them to a field goal, this time a 24-yarder.

The Bengals got on the board on their third drive but also had to settle for a field goal after Burrow’s pass to Hayden Hurst went off Hurst’s finger tips with two defenders on him in the end zone. Evan McPherson made the 30-yard field goal attempt to cut the Chiefs’ lead to 6-3 with 8:36 left in the second quarter.

Travis Kelce’s 14-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-1 four minutes later was followed soon after by a Burrow interception that put the Chiefs back on the 39-yard line. Three straight incomplete passes led to Kansas City’s first punt of the night, though, and that set up Cincinnati for one last opportunity before the half. A defensive pass interference call negated an interception on that drive as well, and Burrow’s 21-yard pass to Higgins gave the Bengals a chance at seven points, but Burrow threw two incomplete passes, and McPherson had to kick his 30-yard field goal on third down.

Mahomes and Kelce both went into Sunday’s game with injury concerns but had no trouble cutting up the Bengals defense in the first half to build an early lead. Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain last week in the divisional round win over Jacksonville, and Kelce was dealing with back spasms. Mahomes seemed to have a bit of a setback in the second half but finished the game without issue.

Burrow threw for 270 yards but had two interceptions. Mahomes had 326 yards passing and two touchdowns with no interceptions and just the one fumble.

Kansas City was hosting its fifth straight conference final.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow, but hopefully everyone lets that fuel them going into the offseason, they are healthy, get time to spend with family, rest up and just go back and get ready to kick that door down again next year,” defensive tackle D.J. Reader said.

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