KANSAS CITY, Mo. —
Patrick Mahomes was supposed to be hobbled, or at the very least limited.
A right ankle sprain suffered a week before the AFC championship game made the trash-talking Cincinnati Bengals favorites over Mahomes and a Kansas City Chiefs team playing host to the conference title game for the fifth year in a row.
But on Sunday night, Mahomes showed once again why he is regarded as perhaps the NFL’s best quarterback and a generational talent.
Mahomes made the key play when he scrambled for a first down — and absorbed a late hit — to set up Harrison Butker’s 45-yard field goal with three seconds left that gave the Chiefs a 23-20 victory before 73,426 at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Chiefs ended a three-game losing streak against the Bengals, who defeated them in last season’s AFC championship game, and advanced to the Super Bowl for the third time in four years.
“We wanted to play this team, and we got ’em at Arrowhead Stadium and we were able to finish the job this time,” Mahomes said. “And the job’s not finished for us.”
The Chiefs will play the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles, 31-7 winners Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers, in Super Bowl LVII on Feb. 12 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
For anyone familiar with NFL history, it might as well be dubbed the Andy Reid Bowl.
The Chiefs coach is in his 10th season in Kansas City after 14 with the Eagles, whom he led to the Super Bowl in 2004.
“I had a great time there,” Reid said of his years in Philadelphia. “I’m happy for them. Happy for the city.”
No one was happier than Mahomes to return to the Super Bowl. He won the NFL’s most valuable player award in 2018 and won the Super Bowl the next season.
But he fell short of winning back-to-back titles when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. And he endured three straight defeats by the Bengals and quarterback Joe Burrow.
“When I first got in the league, it all happened so fast,” he said. “I won MVP. I won the Super Bowl.
“I thought that’s just kind of how it went. … Now that I’ve dealt with failure, losing the AFC championship, losing the Super Bowl, I know how much hard work and daily grind it takes.”
Mahomes and his teammates did not need extra motivation going into Sunday’s game. But the Bengals provided it.
Cornerback Mike Hilton dubbed Arrowhead Stadium “Burrowhead.” The mayor of Cincinnati even got in on the act.
“Burrowhead my ass,” tight end Travis Kelce said during a television interview after the game.
Mahomes said he and his teammates heard the barbs.
“Guys were probably as pumped up as I’ve ever seen them going into a football game,” Mahomes said. “A lot of trash talk coming from a lot of different places.”
Mahomes shook off the talk and the injury and played a game that was short on magic but long on clutch play.
On a day that featured a temperature of 22 degrees at kickoff and a wind chill of 10, Mahomes completed 29 of 43 passes for 326 yards, including touchdown throws to Kelce and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
He appeared limited only a few times. In the third quarter, Mahomes rolled to his left and threw back to his right to complete a pass. But as he ran back to the huddle, he was noticeably limping for the first time.
“It definitely didn’t feel good,” he said.
The pain was worse the next series when he attempted to retrieve a ball that slipped out his hand and was recovered for a fumble by the Bengals.
Burrow also was absorbing shots. A Chiefs defense led by tackle Chris Jones and Frank Clark sacked Burrow five times — four in the first half — and rookie cornerbacks Jaylen Watson and Joshua Williams intercepted passes.
Burrow completed 26 of 41 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown.
And the Chiefs kept giving him opportunities to repeat last season’s championship game performance, when he led the Bengals back from a 21-3 deficit to win in overtime.
After Kansas City took a 13-6 halftime lead on two field goals and Kelce’s touchdown catch, the Chiefs’ inability to fully capitalize on opportunities appeared to set them up for another disappointing result against the Bengals.
Burrow’s touchdown pass to wide receiver Tee Higgins early in the third quarter tied the score, 13-13. Bengals running back Samaje Perine’s touchdown run early in the fourth quarter tied the score, 20-20.
“The tide was turning our way,” Burrow said. “It felt like we were just going to find a way to win this game.”
Williams’ interception with just less than seven minutes left gave Mahomes a chance, but the Chiefs failed to take advantage. The defense, however, forced the Bengals to punt, and Skyy Moore’s 20-yard return gave Mahomes the ball at the Chiefs’ 47-yard line with 30 seconds left.
On third and four, Mahomes scrambled for a first down and then was hit late by Bengals linebacker Joseph Ossai. A 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness moved the ball to the 27, and Butker’s kick cleared the goal post for the victory.
“It was pure grit,” Reid said of Mahomes’ performance. “For Pat to do what he did, and that run at the end, I can’t say enough. He is the MVP in my eyes.”
Said general manager Brett Veach: “People don’t realize how hurt he was. … It just adds to his already great legacy.”
Apprised of Veach’s comments, Mahomes indicated he still has work to do.
“My goal is to win a Super Bowl,” he said. “To me, the job’s not finished.”