KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Exhale, Chiefs Kingdom.
Fittingly, the rematch of the AFC Championship Game was another classic.
But this time, the drama ended with the Kansas City Chiefs headed back to the Super Bowl. The Chiefs avenged last season’s loss in the AFC title game against the Cincinnati Bengals with a 23-20 victory at Arrowhead Stadium, clinched with Harrison Butker’s 45-yard field goal with three seconds left.
The outcome marks Kansas City’s third Super Bowl appearance in four seasons and sets up a matchup in Super Bowl 57 in Glendale, Arizona, on Feb.12 that pits Chiefs coach Andy Reid against his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes – who hobbled into the game after suffering a high ankle sprain in the AFC divisional playoffs — helped set up the winning kick on a 9-yard scramble in the final minute.
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Yet Mahomes’ effort came with a big assist. Bengals linebacker Joseph Ossai was flagged 15 yards for unnecessary roughness as he blasted Mahomes with a late hit out of bounds, which moved the Chiefs (15-3) into Butker’s range.
Before Mahomes’ big run, the Chiefs got a 29-yard punt return from Skyy Moore and a third-down sack of Joe Burrow by Chris Jones to help set the stage for the final dramatic act.
The Bengals (12-5) sought to become the first team in NFL history to win conference championship games on the road in consecutive seasons, and rallied back from a 10-point first-half deficit. But unlike last year, Mahomes & Co. had something left in crunch time.
Three things we learned:
Chris Jones gets his moment
Chris Jones found a perfect way to end his playoff drought: For years, the Chiefs defensive tackle has been arguably the NFL’s best interior pass-rusher. Including this season, Jones is the only D-tackle since 1992 to post multiple 15-sack season. Until Sunday, Jones had registered zero sacks in 13 postseason games. When it mattered most, Jones delivered a seven-yard sack of Joe Burrow in the final minute of the fourth quarter to force the punt that set up Kansas City’s game-winning field goal. Jones ended his personal drought earlier in the game, with a third-down sack of Burrow in the first quarter.
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Game of inches
It’s still a game of inches. A thrilling sequence during the third quarter illustrated just how close it can get for any given play to go either way. First, there was Marquez Valdes-Scantling stretching the ball as he fell to the turf to gain a first down. The ruling on the field was reversed after Andy Reid challenged the spot. Two plays later, a scrambling Mahomes flipped a shovel pass to Isiah Pacheco for a magical 4-yard completion as he was pulled to the turf by Sam Hubbard. The pass was wiped out, though, by the NFL’s Replay Assist system as the videotape showed that Mahomes’ knee hit the turf before the pass left his hand. On the next play, Mahomes stepped up in a crowded pocket and drilled a laser throw to finish off a Valdes-Scantling post route for a 19-yard, go-ahead touchdown – just beyond the reach of diving cornerback Mike Hilton.
The Chiefs really wanted to strike with a hook-and-ladder. Kansas City seemed poised in the first quarter to convert on a razzle-dazzle play that involved tight end Travis Kelce. It was set up nicely with Kelce hauling in a 13-yard reception, then turning to pitch a lateral to Jerrick McKinnon, streaking on the wing. The play went awry, and McKinnon saved a disaster by falling on the football. So, the hook-and-ladder turned out to be a hook-and-fumble. Four plays later, Kelce caught another pass in the seam from Mahomes (13 yards), then appeared to look to lateral before tucking the ball away. And now the Eagles have something else to prepare for as they devise their game plan for Super Bowl 57.
Story Credit: usatoday.com