Bengals win AFC title, secure 3rd Super Bowl bid

NFL

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Break out the victory cigars. The Cincinnati Bengals are headed to the Super Bowl.

For the first time in decades, the Bengals are AFC champions. Cincinnati defeated the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in overtime, 27-24, to win its first conference championship since 1989. The Bengals will face either the Los Angeles Rams or the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.

Cincinnati rookie kicker Evan McPherson hit a 31-yard field goal in overtime to cap a furious Bengals rally. The game-winning drive was set up after Cincinnati safety Jessie Bates deflected a deep pass from Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes that was intercepted by Bengals safety Vonn Bell.

The turnover set Cincinnati, and second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, up with its first possession and plenty of momentum for the Bengals’ skilled set of receivers and running backs to build off.

Needing only to score a field goal to win — after Kansas City won the overtime toss, took possession and was stopped — the Bengals mixed the pass with the run, churning out first downs in front of a stunned Kansas City crowd, eventually giving way to McPherson 5:24 into the overtime. The winning kick was his fourth field goal of the game.

“Usually when you lose a coin flip to those guys, you’re going home,” Burrow said on the field during his postgame CBS interview. “But our defense really stepped up and made plays in the second half. And on offense, we made plays when we had to.”

Burrow became the first No. 1 overall draft pick to lead a team to the Super Bowl in just his second year. He finished 23-of-38 passing for 250 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also had some pivotal scrambles for first downs in a second-half performance to remember.

Cincinnati defied the odds and pulled off a road upset for the second straight week. After toppling the top-seeded Tennessee Titans in the divisional round, Cincinnati was a 7-point underdog against Kansas City, which made its fourth straight appearance in the AFC title game.

But the Bengals’ internal belief that they could beat any team in the NFL was justified following Sunday afternoon’s victory at Arrowhead Stadium.

Cincinnati trailed 21-3 at one point in the second half and appeared to be out of the game.

But the Bengals started to slowly chip away at the deficit starting with a 41-yard touchdown reception by Samaje Perine off a screen play. Cincinnati defensive tackle B.J. Hill picked off Mahomes midway through the third quarter, a turnover that sparked a 2-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase just before the end of the quarter.

The way the game unfolded was very similar to Cincinnati’s Week 17 win over Kansas City. In both games, the Bengals trailed by 11 points. On Sunday against the defending AFC champions, Cincinnati was able to keep the deficit at 11 after cornerback Eli Apple made an open-field tackle on Kansas City wide receiver Tyreek Hill a yard away from the goal line on the final play of the first half.

The conference title game was a rematch of the Week 17 meeting between both teams. In that game in Cincinnati, the Bengals rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat Kansas City, 34-31, to clinch the AFC North title and their first playoff berth since 2015.

From there, the Bengals kept rolling. Cincinnati ended the infamous “Curse of Bo Jackson” when it beat the Las Vegas Raiders at home in the Wild Card game, the Bengals’ first playoff win in 31 seasons.

The franchise’s victory over Tennessee was the team’s first road playoff victory that set up the AFC title game against Kansas City, the Super Bowl 54 champions vying for its third consecutive conference title. The Bengals and quarterback Joe Burrow had other plans. Cincinnati, which most recently went to the Super Bowl in 1989, won the franchise’s third AFC championship in as many attempts.

Just two years ago, the Bengals were the worst team in the NFL. That allowed them to draft Burrow with the first overall pick in the 2020 draft.

Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the Bengals are the third team to go from worst to first in a three-season span. The 1981 San Francisco 49ers were one of those squads. They went on to beat the Bengals in Super Bowl 16.

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