KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The ankle was a problem. So was a quick, hard-hitting and opportunistic Cincinnati defense and a Bengals team that simply wouldn’t go away.
Ultimately though, Patrick Mahomes was Patrick Mahomes and that was enough to lead Kansas City to the Super Bowl.
Mahomes, limping from a high ankle sprain but still capable of some magic, led the Chiefs in a four-play, 26-yard, 27-second game-winning field goal in the last minute to send Kansas City past the Bengals, 23- 20, in front of a delusional red-clad Arrowhead Stadium here.
Kansas City will face Philadelphia Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona for a shot at their second Super Bowl title in their third appearance in four years.
He snapped a three-game losing streak against the Bengals, including a loss in this same AFC Championship game a year ago. Cincinnati had become vocal in its confidence, including naming Arrowhead Stadium “Burrowhead” after their star quarterback Joe Burrow.
“We showed this place it’s Arrowhead,” Mahomes said after Sunday’s win, not Burrowhead.
It will mark something of a reunion for Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, who coached Philadelphia for 14 seasons, including a trip to the Super Bowl, before coming to Kansas City.
Mahomes threw 29-of-43 for 326 yards and two touchdowns. But his most important plays came at the end, courtesy of his feet, not his arm.
Starting at his own 47-yard line with just 30 seconds remaining, Mahomes ran the ball out to Isiah Pacheco 6 yards. He then scrambled for 9 yards and a first down and received an unnecessary roughness penalty on Joseph Ossai.
That was enough to set up a 45-yard field goal by Harrison Buckner that just went over the crossbar to win it.
Neither the game nor Mahomes were perfect, but that’s often the case on a cold January night so deep into the playoffs. After losing to these same Bengals a year ago in this very match in this very stadium, victory was all that mattered.
Mahomes went 29 of 43 for 326 yards and two touchdowns. Both he and Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow had multiple opportunities to lead drives to win it, but were filled with excellent and inspired defensive play.
At least until the final drive, when in the season rush, Mahomes was able to forget about the sprained ankle he sustained a week ago against Jacksonville and make a play and equalize a heartbreaking error by Cincinnati.
Burrow went 26 of 41 for 270 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He was harassed all night by a fierce pass rush from Chiefs, especially Frank Clark and Chris Jones.
The Chiefs appeared to be taking control of the game midway through the third quarter. After the Bengals tied the game at 13, Mahomes led an 11-play, 77-yard drive culminating in a 19-yard shell of a touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
KC’s defense then flexed their muscles, holding Burrow and the Bengals three-and-out and then stuffing them on fourth-and-6 to start the fourth quarter. A Mahomes fumble gave Cincy life, however, and Joe Burrow led a game-tying touchdown drive.
However, neither team could break through until the final seconds, when Mahomes tied the penalty that sent Kansas City past its nemesis and returned to the big game.