Believe it or not: Burrow, Bengals are Super Bowl bound

Jan 30, 2022, 10:35 PM | Updated: Jan 31, 2022, 1:02 pm
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, left, celebrates with teammates as they hold the Lamar H...

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, left, celebrates with teammates as they hold the Lamar Hunt trophy after the AFC championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. The Bengals won 27-24 in overtime. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

CINCINNATI (AP) — When the Cincinnati Bengals went down 21-3 early in the second quarter of Sunday’s AFC championship game, a third straight Super Bowl for the Kansas City Chiefs seemed inevitable.

The Bengals weren’t feeling it, though. They’d been coming from behind and winning close games all season. What transpired was another incredible Bengals finish, this one propelling them to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1988 season.

In the first half, Patrick Mahomes tossed three touchdown passes, and the Bengals went to the locker room at halftime down 21-10.

“Nobody blinked an eye,” Cincinnati kicker Evan McPherson said. “We all thought that we were definitely going to come back and find a way to win. That’s what we’ve done the whole year.”

The Bengals clawed back in the second half, scoring 14 unanswered points and holding the Chiefs to just Harrison Butker’s field goal as time ran out to tie the score at 24 and force overtime.

After Cincinnati safety Vonn Bell intercepted Mahomes in overtime, quarterback Joe Burrow put McPherson in position for the 31-yard field goal, the rookie kicker’s second game-winner in as many playoff games.

Who expected this?

Burrow was coming off major offseason knee surgery. Cincinnati was just 7-6 after Week 14. The Bengals finally managed to win three in a row in December, a streak that coincided with the late-season struggles of the Browns and Ravens. They won the AFC North with a 10-7 record.

Burrow and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, the first-round pick in the 2021 draft, emerged as a reliable and resilient tandem. A defense that had been up and down got the job done with sacks and critical interceptions in the past two playoff games.

Coach Zac Taylor said the season started with many uncertainties, but it all came together at the right time.

“I certainly think that when we got to December that the feeling in the locker was we have the ability to play with anybody in this league,” Taylor said Monday. “And we all know, those of us who have been in the league a long time, you just have to get hot at the right time.”

After the game, some of the players were still trying to get their heads around it.

“It’s crazy, it still hasn’t hit me yet,” said receiver Tee Higgins, who had six catches for 103 yards. “It didn’t feel real at all. It’s crazy.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Bengals seem to be able to get what they need to get when they need to get it. In the second half, they needed the defense to disguise some looks and get after Mahomes, one of the league’s most-elusive quarterbacks. They needed running back Joe Mixon to break some his carries for more yards. They needed Burrow to make some more magic, and the second-year quarterback delivered.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Bengals have been a slow-starting team all season. That usually causes the team to play from behind. It’s exciting and hard to argue with the results when they get them, but the Bengals surely would like to be far enough ahead at the end to keep from dropping all the pressure on the shoulders of their 22-year-old kicker.

STOCK UP

The pass protection was better after Burrow was sacked nine times in the divisional-round win over Tennessee. He was better at evading it this time, too. He was sacked just once and hit three other times. He had two third-down scrambles in the fourth quarter that moved the chains at critical times.

STOCK DOWN

Nobody was happier about the Bengals’ success than tight end C.J. Uzomah, who has been with the team through five poor seasons. He had the best season of his career and became a sure-handed, go-to receiver for Burrow. He was carted off with a knee injury in the first quarter.

INJURIES

Taylor said Monday that Uzomah has an MCL sprain and the outlook is “encouraging.”

KEY NUMBER

12 — field goals made without a miss through three postseason games for McPherson, a rookie out of Florida.

NEXT STEPS

Stay focused amid the hysteria in Cincinnati and the avalanche of extra national attention the Bengals are about to get in the two-week run-up to the Feb. 13 Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams. Taylor said travel plans haven’t been finalized.

___

More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Floyd Mayweather Jr. stands in the ring before an exhibition boxing match against Logan Paul...
Associated Press

Mayweather says Japanese fans will ‘see the old pretty boy’

TOKYO (AP) — The undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr. says Japanese fans will be able to “see a glimpse of the old pretty boy” when he fights the Manny Pacquiao-trained Mikuru Asakura in a three-round exhibition on Sunday. The 45-year-old Mayweather told reporters on Saturday that he is in good condition for the clash with Asakura, […]
1 day ago
South Korea's Kang Leeseul looks to pass the ball past Bosnia and Herzegovina's Andela Delic during...
Associated Press

Kang helps South Korea wins 1st World Cup game in 12 years

SYDNEY (AP) — Leesuel Kang scored 37 points to help South Korea rout Bosnia and Herzegovina 99-66 on Saturday, giving the Asian country its first win in the women’s World Cup in 12 years. South Korea (1-2), which has played in 16 consecutive World Cups — tied with the U.S. for most ever — hadn’t […]
1 day ago
United States players are congratulated by China following their game at the women's Basketball Wor...
Associated Press

Wilson, Gray lead US to 77-63 win over China in World Cup

SYDNEY (AP) — A’ja Wilson admitted she was tired. The WNBA MVP had just gotten to Australia less than 24 hours ago, fresh off a championship and the U.S. was playing its toughest opponent of the World Cup. After a slow start, Wilson was clutch in the fourth quarter, finishing with 20 points to help […]
1 day ago
St. Louis Cardinals designated hitter Albert Pujols, center, is surrounded by his family while spea...
Associated Press

Cards’ Pujols hits 700th home run, 4th player to reach mark

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Albert Pujols seemed like a long shot in early August to reach 700 home runs, still more than a dozen swings from the hallowed mark and his power stroke all but gone. Or so it appeared. Now showing the pop of his youth in the final weeks of his career, the […]
1 day ago
San Francisco Giants' David Villar celebrates with Austin Wynns (14) after hitting a two-run home r...
Associated Press

Davis hits go-ahead double in 9th, Giants beat D-backs 6-5

PHOENIX (AP) — J.D. Davis had the go-ahead RBI double in the ninth, Shelby Miller pitched 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in his season debut and the San Francisco Giants beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 6-5 on Friday night. The Giants rallied with two outs in the ninth off reliever Caleb Smith (1-3), who gave […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

UTEP grinds out 27-10 victory over heavily favored Boise St.

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Gavin Hardison threw for one touchdown, Marcus Bellon returned a punt for another score and UTEP defeated Boise State 27-10 on Friday night. Bellon’s 47-yard punt return gave a Miners a 20-10 lead late in the third quarter. The Miners iced the game with a 14-play, 80-yard drive that took […]
1 day ago
Believe it or not: Burrow, Bengals are Super Bowl bound