KANSAS CITY - Vonn Bell's overtime interception and Joe Mixon's crunching running in crunch time set up rookie kicker Evan McPherson's 31-yard field goal that sent the Bengals to their third Super Bowl Sunday in a thrilling 27-24 AFC title win over Patrick Mahomes' two-time AFC champion Chiefs.
Bell corralled fellow safety Jessie Bates III's tip and ran it nine yards to the Chiefs 46. From there Mixon bulled and danced the Bengals to Los Angeles as he finished with 88 yards on 21 carries. Twenty-eight yards came on that drive that sent Bengals president Mike Brown to accept the Lamar Hunt trophy from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell with Bengals Super Bowl icon Ickey Woods as his stand-in.
Two passes from quarterback Joe Burrow to wide receiver Tee Higgins for 17 yards helped on his way to six catches for 103 yards. McPherson went 4-for-4 for the third straight game in the playoffs and hit a walk-off for the second straight week. He's now two shy of the NFL postseason record for field goals and his 12 shatters Jim Breech's all-time Bengals postseason record of nine.
Mahomes couldn't get the winner into the end zone in the final 6:04 of regulation. He could only get it as far the Bengals 4 and Bengals right end Sam Hubbard erupted for back-to-back sacks, the last one on third down from the 9 as the Bengals dropped eight men in coverage. Hubbard dumped Mahomes for a 15-yard loss, guard Joe Thuney recovered his fumble and Harrison Butker kicked a 44-yard field goal to send it into overtime.
It was just the opposite of the Bengals' 34-31 win over the Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium, where Burrow kept the ball away from Mahomes in the final 6:01 for the winning field goal at the gun.
Burrow, 21 of 36 for 233 yards with two touchdowns and a pick in regulation, and his defense led a swashbuckling comeback from 21-3 to a 24-21 lead with 6:04 left.
Burrow rope-and-doped the go-ahead with two of his Houdini scrambles for first downs and got 15 yards on a crossing route to Higgins. They survived a false start on right guard Jackson Carman and got a 52-yard field goal from rookie kicker Evan McPherson with 6:04 left for their first lead of the day to quiet the world's loudest outdoor stadium.
That 24-21 lead marked 21 straight points.
The Bengals mounted a furious defensive second half rally to tie at 21 with 14 seconds left in the third quarter when Burrow went to little-used wide receiver Trent Taylor for the tying two-point conversion. It was Taylor's first snap of the postseason from scrimmage and when he went in motion no one went with him.
It was the first time an AFC or AFL Championship game went into the fourth quarter tied. When the Bengals took that 24-21 lead, they had 165 yards in the half and the Chiefs had just 34 yards.
Wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who had just eight yards for two catches in the first half, became the all-time rookie postseason receiver on the tying drive and finished the game with 54 yards on six catches. On third down, Burrow lofted it for Chase in the left corner and he posted up cornerback Rashad Fenton.
The score was set up on the first turnover of the game when Bengals defensive tackle B.J. Hill batted a pass to himself at the Chiefs 27 and kept their postseason turnover carousel going
The Bengals got the ball right back, the fourth straight time they stopped Mahomes, when edge Trey Hendrickson and Hill teamed up for a third-down sack. But Burrow gave it right back when cornerback L'Jarius Snead undercut a sideline route to Chase and picked off Burrow at the 47.
But for the 16th time this season following 20 turnovers, the Bengals refused to allow a touchdown. In fact, they forced the Chiefs to punt for the third time in the half when Hendrickson shot past left tackle Orlando Brown for another sack.
The Bengals got a lift in the last 1:05 of a first half and ended up winning the game because of it. Mahomes scalded them on 18 of 21 passing for 220 yards and three red-zone touchdown passes. to go up 21-3. But this seemed to throw some water on it.
View the best game action photos as the Bengals faced the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship.
The Bengals cut it to 21-10 with 1:05 left on their biggest play of the half on one of Burrow's shorter throws. He checked down a second-and-12 pass to backup running back Samaje Perine and Perine got a great block from Carman, in a rotation with Hakeem Adeniji, as well as wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, and he scored his third touchdown of the season on a 41-yard play.
Mahomes, who didn't get touched hitting 13 of his first 14 passes, then rolled them right back into the red zone, where, at that point, they had scored 11 touchdowns on 13 trips. With nine seconds left he drew a pass interference call on cornerback Eli Apple to get the ball at the Bengals 1. But after an incompletion, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid , in his ninth conference final, opted to go for the touchdown with a screen pass to the left perimeter to wide receiver Tyreek Hill and Apple blew the play up as the half ended.
But other than that, it was a tough half, made tougher by tight end C.J. Uzomah's game-ending knee injury on the second series that robbed Burrow of his second-leading receiver in the postseason.
Burrow, just 10 of 18 in the half for 101 yards, didn't have much time to go down field. He didn't get sacked in the half, but he got the ball out quick. His longest pass to one of his Big Three receivers went 18 yards to Higgins. Chase, who had a rookie record 266 yards against Kansas City on Jan. 2, had just eight yards on two catches in the half. With the Chiefs strangling the deep ball with two high safeties and bracketing Chase, Mixon had 40 yards on eight carries in the half.
Mixon's 23-yarder off the right side complete with detonation of a defensive back put the Bengals at the Chiefs 14. But the postseason red-zone woes continued. They came in three-for-seven and on the next three snaps Burrow took a shot at each of his three wide receivers but al they got out of it was three incompletions and McPherson's 32-yard field goal that cut the lead to 7-3 late in the first quarter.
Slot receiver Tyler Boyd was so well covered on first down that Burrow threw it away. On second down Higgins had a step on Rashad Fenton down the seam and Burrow put it over his shoulder in good shape but Higgins could only get one arm on it. Then on third down Chase got behind cornerback Charvarius Ward in the right corner but Ward made a nice recovery and batted it away.
The defense, allowing just two touchdowns on eight-red zone trips in the playoffs, gave up three touchdowns in there on the first three series.
Winning 7-3, Mahomes converted a third-and-three and third-and two in the red zone. On the first one running back Jerick McKinnon got lost going out of the backfield and Mahomes nudged it to him for the first down. Then on third-and-two, right edge Trey Hendrickson got a good rush on Mahomes. But he went backward, reversed field and as he ran right toward the sideline and the DBs had to play him Kelce got away from free safety Jessie Bates III for a five-yard TD flip.
Kelce didn't have a catch longer than ten yards in Cincinnati back on Jan 2 but he got a 10-yarder on the first drive and had five catches for 55 yards at the half. Tyreek Hill, just 60 yards a month ago, had 78.