Underdog (?) Bengals rally from 18-point deficit to beat Chiefs, advance to Super Bowl

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is carried by teammate Tyler Shelvin.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is carried by defensive lineman Tyler Shelvin after Cincinnati beat the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in overtime in the AFC championship game Sunday.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

They had won six games combined in the previous two seasons.

They had finished last in the AFC North three straight years.

In mid-December, they were 7-6 and had just lost back-to-back home games.

Now, the Cincinnati Bengals are going to be playing the Rams in Super Bowl LVI, a place the franchise has not been since January of 1989.


“If you had told me before the season that we would be going to the Super Bowl, I probably would have called you crazy,” quarterback Joe Burrow said. “But then we played a whole season and nothing surprises me now. I know the kind of guys we have and the team we have.”

The Rams, winners of a 20-17 thriller over the 49ers, will attempt to win their first Super Bowl in L.A. when they face the Bengals on February 13 at SoFi Stadium.

The Bengals moved on Sunday by bouncing back, rebounding from an 18-point second-quarter deficit to defeat Kansas City 27-24 in overtime.

Kicker Evan McPherson improved to 12 for 12 in the postseason with a 31-yard field goal to win it.

The loss ended the Chiefs’ bid for a third consecutive trip to the Super Bowl and came despite dynamic quarterback Patrick Mahomes getting the ball first in the extra session.

In the divisional round, Kansas City won the second coin toss and Mahomes immediately directed a 75-yard touchdown drive to finish the game against Buffalo and renew debate about the NFL’s overtime procedures.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow scrambles under pressure from Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Jarran Reed.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow scrambles out of the pocket under pressure from Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Jarran Reed during the first half.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

This time, however, Mahomes was stopped when Bengals safety Vonn Bell intercepted a deflected pass near midfield.

Burrow and running back Joe Mixon led the offense to the Kansas City 10-yard line before McPherson was summoned.

“I had all the confidence in the world that after we got that turnover we were going to march down and have the most reliable kicker in the NFL ice it off if we didn’t score [a touchdown],” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “Once we got that first stop, I knew it was in Joe’s hands and we were good.”

Compared with his teammates, Hubbard has an especially pointed view of what a Super Bowl trip means for this franchise and its fans. He was born in Cincinnati and drafted in the third round by the Bengals in 2018 after playing at Ohio State.

Hubbard endured three consecutive losing seasons — including an 0-11 start in 2019 — and watched in November 2020 as Burrow, the No. 1 pick in that year’s NFL draft, crumpled with a season-ending knee injury.

“We’re going to the Super Bowl, and it sounds crazy to say that,” Hubbard said. “When you say that, it’s hard to believe. I love this team. I love this city. We’ve got one more to get it all.”

The Rams and their star-studded roster will defeat San Francisco to advance to Super Bowl LVI, no matter how many 49ers fans flood SoFi Stadium.

Midway through the second quarter, the idea of Cincinnati advancing did, in fact, sound crazy.

The Chiefs built a 21-3 lead by scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions, sending Arrowhead Stadium into a rocking frenzy and introducing the possibility of a ho-hum second half.

At that stage, Mahomes had completed 13 of 14 attempts for 154 yards, with touchdown throws going to Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Mecole Hardman. He had a passer rating of 152.1, barely six points short of perfection.

But the Bengals began their comeback by scoring on their next series, with reserve running back Samaje Perine turning a five-yard pass from Burrow into a 41-yard touchdown by juking past cornerback Charvarius Ward.

That still left Mahomes time for another possession, with the Chiefs taking over at their 19-yard line with 61 seconds left before halftime.

Kansas City advanced all the way to the Bengals’ one after Cincinnati cornerback Eli Apple was called for pass interference in the end zone.

With five seconds remaining and out of timeouts, Mahomes completed a pass in the left flat to Hill, who was unable to score as Apple tackled him for no gain, the clock reaching zero.

Kansas City coach Andy Reid took the blame for failing to score, saying, “I probably gave him the wrong play.”

Mahomes explained that he was supposed to throw the ball away if something wasn’t available quickly, adding, “I got a little greedy there.”

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes dives after running the ball ahead of Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes dives after running the ball ahead of Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson. Mahomes had a great first half and a subpar second.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

Regardless of who was at fault, the impact was not deniable.

“That was a big play,” Burrow said. “I think that was really the turning point of the game.”

Cincinnati’s defense kept the Chiefs from scoring on their next five possessions as well. That lull allowed the Bengals to roar back to take a 24-21 lead with 6:04 remaining.

The game’s pattern was similar to four weeks earlier, when the Bengals erased an 11-point halftime deficit and defeated the Chiefs in Cincinnati on the final play of regulation.

Harrison Butker’s 44-yard field goal as time expired Sunday necessitated overtime, with the Bengals again prevailing.

Gregory Eaton, Tom Henschel and Don Crisman have attended every Super Bowl and have had many close calls and interesting stories over the last 56 years.

“Special team that’s capable of doing special things,” Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said. “We believed from the get-got, whether people believed us or not. We’re not surprised. This is where we’re meant to be.”

Burrow finished 23 for 38 for 250 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Tee Higgins caught six passes for 103 yards.

Mahomes was 26 for 39 for 275 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. He threw for only 55 yards after halftime.

“It’s been coming this whole year,” McPherson said. “We kind of pushed the underdog narrative to the side and showed everybody that the Bengals are here to stay. We mean business.”