ANALYSIS: Game-changing adjustments on Mahomes, other key takeaways from Bengals’ OT win over Chiefs

Cincinnati will face Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl on Feb. 13

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said if he had been told at the beginning of the season the Bengals would make the Super Bowl, he would have thought that was crazy.

That idea became less surreal, he said, as the Bengals started getting some dominant wins in their division, and now it’s a reality. Burrow helped Cincinnati mount a second-half comeback and beat the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in overtime Sunday to win the AFC Championship.

The Bengals trailed 21-3 with about five minutes left in the second quarter but rallied while holding the two-time defending AFC champions to three points in the second half. They won the game on Evan McPherson’s 31-yard field goal in overtime after Vonn Bell intercepted Patrick Mahomes on the opening possession, and Cincinnati is headed to its first Super Bowl since 1988.

Here are five takeaways from the championship win:

1. Adjusting on Mahomes

Patrick Mahomes was near perfect in the first half and seemed unstoppable until Eli Apple stopped Tyreek Hill short of a touchdown as time expired to keep it a 21-10 game going into halftime. Mahomes completed 18 of 21 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns in the first half and completed just 8 of 17 passes for 55 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions the rest of the way.

The difference? The Bengals started to rush three linemen in the second half and dropped a fourth into pass coverage. The adjustment resulted in four sacks and two tipped balls that resulted in interceptions.

“At times, it is pick your poison with those guys because you blitz them and they are going to hit their speed in space quickly and get some big plays,” Taylor said. “You drop some more guys into coverage, and Patrick Mahomes is generally going to have more time because you are rushing fewer guys. It is just about stealing possessions, and our guys did that twice in key parts, and that is kind of the key to victory for us.”

B.J. Hill had the first takeaway on a ball he tipped to himself, and he and Trey Hendrickson combined on a third-down sack the next drive with the game tied. Hendrickson forced a punt with a solo sack on the series after that, and the Bengals drove down for their first lead at 24-21.

The Chiefs drove to the 4-yard line with 1:26 left and Sam Hubbard had back-to-back sacks to hold them to a field goal and force overtime. Bell’s play then gave Cincinnati a chance that a touchdown drive would have prevented.

2. McPherson still perfect

McPherson was 4-for-4 on field goals and kicked his fifth game-winner of the season, his second against the Chiefs and his second straight in the playoffs.

The rookie fifth-round draft pick is now 12-for-12 on field goals in the playoffs. He gave the Bengals their first lead at 24-21 with 6:04 left in the game, and after Bell’s interception, they knew they just needed to get into range for McPherson to do his thing.

“My heart rate didn’t raise above…whatever,” Hubbard said. “I had all the confidence in the world that after we got that turnover by Vonn Bell, we were going to take care of the ball and march down the field. We have the most reliable kicker in the NFL, ice it off if we weren’t going to score.”

3. Cardiac Cats

The Bengals matched the all-time largest comeback in a postseason conference championship game after trailing by 18 points in the second quarter, and they became the first team in NFL history to overcome a halftime deficit of 10 points or more multiple times against the same opponent in the season.

Cincinnati’s comeback began when Burrow connected with Samaje Perine on a short pass, and Perine turned it into a 41-yard touchdown to make it 21-10 with 1:05 left in the second quarter. The Bengals punted their first drive of the second half, but Burrow got them to the 8-yard line the next drive to set up a field goal and found Ja’Marr Chase on a pair of passes the following series, including a 2-yard touchdown to tie the game with the two-point conversion.

Even though the Bengals lost the coin toss ahead of overtime, players said they had faith the defense could at least hold Kansas City to a field goal and give Burrow a chance to cook. Burrow connected with Tee Higgins on two passes for 17 yards, Joe Mixon ran five times for 28 yards and that was enough to get McPherson in range.

“I said it earlier in the year when we started making some of these comebacks, I never really feel like we’re out of it, but obviously 21-3 isn’t exactly the most exciting position to be in,” Burrow said.

4. Cleaning up sacks

A week after the Bengals allowed nine sacks on Burrow, he seemed intent on not letting that happen again. While the offensive line did clean up some mistakes, Burrow scrambled out of a lot of the danger. He took just one sack and finished with five carries for 25 yards.

Burrow was sacked four times in a Week 17 win over the Chiefs.

“I knew coming in that I didn’t really run a lot against them the first game,” Burrow said. “I didn’t really extend a lot of plays. I think coming into today, I kind of expected them to not really account for that. That was a big part of my mindset coming in. If one or two weren’t there, try to make a play with my legs or get rid of the ball and not take as many sacks as I did last week. I’m really excited about how it played out.”

The Bengals were fortunate to advance in the divisional round after Burrow was sacked so many times. There were multiple near-sacks Sunday that he spun out of and got a pass off or ran for the first down. He converted three third downs with his legs, including twice in the fourth quarter.

“When the game is on the line, he is going to figure it out,” Taylor said. “Whether it is with his feet or extending plays. He made a comment last night that he was going to rush for 100 yards. I don’t know how many he ran for, but he sure took off there in the fourth quarter. He made some huge plays with his feet. That comedy in our quarterback meeting kind of registered with me that he realized he didn’t have enough rushing yards and he was going to try to get them all in the fourth quarter. He just finds a way to make plays when there isn’t a play to be made.”

5. Overcoming the odds again

The Bengals went into the game as a seven-point underdog despite beating the Chiefs just four weeks earlier, and once again, it seemed unlikely they would come back after a slow start against one of the most explosive offenses in the league.

But their incredible season continues. Cincinnati has won eight off its last 11 games since suffering back-to-back losses before the bye week, and the Bengals (12-7) now have doubled their win total from the past two years combined when they went 6-25-1 to open Taylor’s head coaching career.

Now the Bengals have a chance to win their first Super Bowl Feb. 13 against the L.A. Rams at SoFi Stadium.

“First of all, I am happy for this team and everyone in the organization,” Taylor said. “You can’t help but think about the people back in Cincinnati celebrating right now and all the people that were here. It felt like half of the stadium was at the end of the game when all of the fans got down there. It was a special moment. I am so happy for the city of Cincinnati. They have waited for this moment.”

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