KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes was forced to rely on his badly sprained right ankle rather than his strong right arm as the Kansas City Chiefs made a desperate bid to win the AFC championship.
The pro quarterback, who missed three wide receivers because of injuries and fumbled himself, took off on a third down near midfield in another gut-check game with the Cincinnati Bengals. Mahomes straining to reach the target he needed and was taken out of bounds when he felt the hands of Joseph Osaye send him sprawling on the bench.
The crazy punt, coupled with the 15-yard penalty for a late hit, was all Kansas City needed.
Harrison Butker strode confidently onto the field, sent a 45-yard shot through a cold, gusty wind over the bar with 3 seconds left and bring the Chiefs back to the Super Bowl for the third time in four years with a 23-20 win.
“I don’t think we have cigars,” Mahomes said with a smile, “but we’ll be ready to go to the Super Bowl.”
It was a rehab for the AFC West champions, who had lost three straight to their newfound foes, including a three-point loss to Cincinnati in last year’s conference title game. All of those losses were by three points.
Now the Chiefs are back to the big game.
Coach Andy Reid’s old team, the Eagles, await them in the black quarterbacks’ first Super Bowl matchup with Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. It will also feature a brother-on-brother matchup between Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Philadelphia center Jason Kelce.
“I’ve been watching them all year,” Mahomes said. “It will be a big challenge for us. But first I will celebrate this.”
Mahomes, who injured his ankle against Jacksonville in the divisional round, threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns despite missing three of his wide receivers to injuries until late. Marquez Valdez-Scantling led the way with 116 yards and a touchdown, while Travis Kelce — bad back and all — had seven catches for 78 yards and a score.
“It’s a tough group. My heart goes out to them, man, they’re tough guys,” Reid said. “They worked so hard this week. Both Pat and Kelsey were slightly hit. They succeeded and great things happened.”
The Chiefs also managed to silence the Bengals, some of whom had taken to calling their home “Burrowhead” for Joe Burrow, who had never lost to Kansas City. Even Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Purewal started talking trash.
“I have some words of wisdom for this mayor of Cincinnati,” Kelce said. “Know your part and shut your mouth jabronis!”
Burrow, who was sacked five times and fumbled until the end, finished with 270 yards passing to go with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Bengals. Tee Higgins had six catches for 83 yards and a score.
“We’re not going to do it for one play. There were a lot of plays we left on the field today that could have put us in a better position,” Bengals coach Zach Taylor said. “The character of this football team will never change. We have the right people in the locker room, the right people leading this team and this organization.
“I know this is a team that our city and our fan base can be proud of,” Taylor added. “They’re performing the right way and we’re going to fight and scratch and fight to get back into that position next year.”
The Chiefs were able to do early what the Buffalo Bills couldn’t in last week’s divisional round: They ran roughshod over an ailing Bengals offensive line, missing two starters to injury and another bothered by a sore knee.
Burrow was sacked three times in the first quarter alone, and the Bengals offense didn’t gain a single yard.
Mahomes looked good on his sore ankle as he led Kansas City to a field goal on the opening possession. When the Chiefs got the ball back, Mahomes did it again, but only after Kadarius Towney failed to make a nifty throw for a potential touchdown — the incompletion upheld on review.
Cincinnati finally got going in the second quarter, but also had to settle for an Evan McPherson field goal.
So much for two of the league’s highest scoring offenses.
The Chiefs finally reached the end zone late in the second quarter when Mahomes hit Kelce, loosely covered by Jesse Bates III, with a fourth down touchdown. The Bengals drove 90 yards in the final minutes but only added a field goal to make it 13-6 at the break.
It turned out that their offense was just getting going. And another classic is in the making.
After the Chiefs went three-and-out to start the second half, Burrow led the Bengals downfield, bursting through a gaping hole in the defense for a third-down conversion before hits Higgins from 27 yards to node the game 13-all.
Mahomes, suddenly losing three wide receivers to injuries and starting to limp, playfully pressed on. He answered Burrow with a touchdown of his own, capped by a third-down throw to Valdez-Scantling to regain the lead.
The Chiefs had a chance to get some breathing room later in the third quarter, but Mahomes somehow lost control of the ball before throwing a pass and the Bengals pounced on the punt. Six plays later — including a daring fourth-down throw from Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase — Samaje Perine ran into the end zone to tie the game at 20.
Burrow gave the Chiefs a chance when his deep throw to Higgins on third down was deflected into the air and picked off by rookie cornerback Josh Williams. Mahomes was able to move the Chiefs past midfield, but two runs came up short and his third-down throw to Jerick McKinnon fell well short, forcing them to punt into Bengals territory.
Kansas City’s defense, however, was crucial heard from Chris Jones to force a punt with 39 seconds left and a fumble return Skye Moore broke free for 29 yards on the way back. That gave Mahomes and the offense another try.
“The road here was difficult. To win 10 in a row was a pretty incredible feat,” Taylor said. “It didn’t reach us. We wanted to play longer than that, but we’re really proud of these guys.”
Bengals: WR Tyler Boyd left with a quad injury early in the second half.
Chiefs: Lost CB L’Jarius Sneed (concussion), LB Willie Gay Jr. (shoulder) and WRs Toney (ankle), Mecole Hardman (pelvis) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee).
The Chiefs are headed to their third Super Bowl in four seasons. They ended a 50-year championship drought when they rallied to beat the San Francisco 49ers in 2020, then lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the following year.
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