KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Joe Cool’s calm demeanor for the Cincinnati Bengals melted on a frigid night against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The brilliant Bengals quarterback was sacked five times, threw two interceptions and was unable to drive his team downfield late in the fourth quarter of the AFC title game. That gave the Chiefs a chance in the closing seconds, and Patrick Mahomes made the Bengals pay, setting up Harrison Butker’s last-second field goal for a 23-20 victory Sunday night.
The Bengals came in having beaten the Chiefs by three points three straight times, including last year’s AFC title game.
Burrow finished with 270 yards passing and a touchdown, though the two picks were costly. He also was penalized for intentional grounding on the Bengals’ last possession, then was sacked by Chris Jones on third down. Cincinnati was forced to punt with 41 seconds to go — plenty of time for Mahomes.
The All-Pro quarterback scrambled for a first down with 8 seconds left, and was pushed late out of bounds by Bengals linebacker Joseph Ossai. That was enough to give Butker an opportunity to kick the winning field goal.
“This is emotional. We worked really hard to get here,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “Any play that people feel like was left out there, you’re going to take it hard. We want guys like that, that this means a lot to, they care about it, care about their teammates. Joseph comes to work every day; he loves being a part of this team.”
So much for “Burrowhead Stadium” — the name some Bengals had taken to calling the home of the Chiefs. Theirs was the only QB to beat Mahomes three straight times, and in fact, Burrow was 3-0 against the mighty AFC West champs.
“We’ve always got belief that we’re going to win the game,” Cincinnati’s Sam Hubbard said. “Sometimes you don’t get it.”
Burrow had been exceptional all season, setting Cincinnati records for pass attempts and completions along with his 35 touchdown passes. And his performance against the Chiefs in early December was vintage: Joe Cool was 25 of 31 for 286 yards passing, two touchdowns and no picks in his third straight triumph over them.
Perhaps most important, the Chiefs only sacked him once in Cincinnati.
But after putting together three failed game plans trying to stop Burrow and the Bengals, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo changed things up Sunday night. He knew they were missing two starting offensive linemen, and that center Ted Karras was dealing with a bum knee, so he began to blitz almost from the opening snap.
Frank Clark was the first to bring Burrow down on the game’s fifth play, forcing the Bengals to punt. Clark combined with Willie Gay Jr. for a sack on the second play of their next possession, then Jones got to Burrow — the first postseason sack of his superlative career — to force a second consecutive punt.
Burrow was rattled and it was evident. He had minus-9 yards passing in the first quarter.
“Their quarterback is a heck of a player,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “For our guys to grit up like that, it was beautiful.”
Burrow mostly settled down in the second quarter, though, leading the Bengals on a 63-yard drive that ended with a field goal to get within 6-3. And Burrow added a near-flawless 90-yard drive to end the half, though that also netted just a field goal, and the AFC North champions headed to the locker room trailing 13-6.
Burrow regained his cool in the second half. And quickly went to work.
After the Bengals forced a three-and-out, he led them on a 62-yard scoring drive to tie the game 13-all. It included a nifty draw through a huge hole in the Kansas City defense to convert on third down and a tough TD throw to Tee Higgins.
When the Chiefs answered with a 77-yard scoring drive to regain the lead, Burrow fought right back. He connected with Ja’Marr Chase for 35 yards on fourth-and-6 for a first down before Samaje Perine’s TD tied the game again.
Burrow simply couldn’t keep making plays when the Bengals needed them down the stretch.
The Chiefs’ defense had a lot to do with it, too.
“I’m just proud of this team,” Taylor said. “This is where character is going to be tested the most, in moments like this, where it’s fresh and it’s raw. You’re so close to winning an AFC championship back-to-back, going to the Super Bowl, on the road. There’s been a lot of obstacles thrown in front of this team and we knocked them all down.
“We just couldn’t get past this last one here.”