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NFL: AFC Championship Reaction: Chiefs edge Bengals to reach championship

The Kansas City Chiefs finally got their revenge on the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night, closing out another down-to-the-wire AFC Championship Game between these two conference superpowers.

A year after Joe Burrow drove the Bengals into field goal range for Evan McPherson to make the game-winning overtime kick at Arrowhead Stadium, Patrick Mahomes displayed similar heroics to set up Harrison Butker's game-winner, sending Chiefs into the championship game.

Mahomes' surprising performance with a gimpy ankle proved to be the difference between the teams in a memorable chapter of what is now the NFL's most enthralling quarterback rivalry.

What:2023 NFL Champioship
Where:State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
When:6:30 ET, Sunday, February 12th
How to watch:TSN, CTV and CTV2
Odds:KC Chiefs +115, PHI Eagles -135

Three quarters of back-and-forth

Cincinnati started slow, allowing as many sacks as Burrow had completions until their first scoring drive midway through the second quarter.

By contrast, Mahomes seemed to have all the time in the world to make his throws - including on the 4th-and-1 in which he found Travis Kelce in the end zone to put the Chiefs up 13-3.

Soon after, Burrow was spared the embarrassment of being intercepted on back-to-back drives thanks to a pass interference call that kept Cincinnati's second scoring drive alive. McPherson booted though a 23-yarder as time expired in the first half, narrowing KC's lead to 13-6.

Burrow and WR Tee Higgins combined on a perfect 27-yard catch and throw for a TD on Cincy's first drive of the second half, but Mahomes came up with a magical throw on the run to hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling for the go-ahead score on the home team's subsequent drive.

Late in the third quarter, the Bengals landed on a Mahomes mishandled snap, forcing KC's only turnover of the game. Cincy went on to convert a risky 4th-and-6 play from midfield as Burrow lofted the ball to Ja'Marr Chase in double coverage. Chase miraculously came down with the ball, setting up Cincy in the red zone and ultimately Samaje Perine bulldozing in to even the score at 20.

Fourth-quarter flags add to the drama

Cincinnati's momentum was checked by some avoidable penalties in the fourth quarter. The Bengals' defense appeared to have stopped the Chiefs short of the first-down marker on a 3rd-and-9 play with just over 10 minutes remaining, which would have forced them to punt, but the officials blew it dead because the clock was running when it should not have been at the start of the play. The only problem was nobody heard the ref's whistle.

Following much debate between the officiating crew and both sidelines, the Chiefs were awarded a do-over, even though the previous play was played to completion. The Bengals sacked Mahomes, but there was some more laundry on the field. 

Cincy cornerback Eli Apple was called for a defensive holding penalty and the drive continued, although the Chiefs did eventually punt.

CB Mike Hilton also committed pass interference and Burrow was called for intentional grounding in the fourth quarter - which visibly upset head coach Zac Taylor who argued Perine was in the vicinity of his QB's pass. 

But the most costly penalty of the nine that Cincinnati committed was undoubtedly on Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai.

Bengals stand by inconsolable Ossai

On 3rd-and-4 with 17 seconds left in the game, Ossai pushed a scrambling Mahomes while he was already out of bounds to incur an unnecessary roughness penalty that advanced the Chiefs 15 yards and well within Butker's makeable field goal range.

Butker slotted the 45-yard field goal with ease, putting the Chiefs up three with three seconds to go.

Taylor said in his post-game press conference that one mistake did not determine the outcome and teammates rallied around the inconsolable Ossai when he eventually made his way to the locker room.

"Means the world to me," Ossai said of his teammates' support, via NFL Media.

"These guys mean a lot to me. We come every day and we work hard for each other. To know that they have my back is giving me peace right now, for sure."

Chiefs chirping back

If it wasn't clear during the game, it became evident quickly after Kansas City's 23-20 victory that the Chiefs were fueled by 'bulletin board material' comments made in the leadup to Sunday by multiple parties out of Cincinnati. 

Aftab Pureval, the mayor of Cincinnati, released a video proclaiming Sunday, January 29, as "They Gotta Play Us Day," in which he mentioned the Bengals were heading to "Burrowhead" Stadium. He suggested Burrow should get a paternity test to confirm "whether or not he's (Patrick Mahomes') father."

Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton coined the "Burrowhead" nickname when he was mic'd up on the sidelines during their victory over the Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round.

It's safe to say that the Chiefs took it to heart, with defensive lineman Chris Jones telling reporters that he would see them at "Burrowhead" on Sunday during a recent press conference.

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