Joe Burrow is now one win away from sainthood in Ohio.
The Cincinnati Bengals star led his team to a 27-24 overtime upset of the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium.
Cincinnati is the AFC champion for the third time in franchise history and denied the Chiefs what would've been their third straight conference crown.
The Chiefs got the ball to open overtime, but a Vonn Bell interception of a Patrick Mahomes pass turned the tables. Cincinnati marched down the field to set up a 31-yard game-winning field goal by Evan McPherson.
Mahomes was electric in the first half, going 18-of-21 for 220 yards and three touchdowns, and the Chiefs were rolling. The Bengals exploded into life in the third quarter, turning what was shaping up to be a blowout into a dramatic affair.
A 52-yard field goal by McPherson put the Bengals ahead 24-21 with 6:07 left in the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs narrowly averted a disaster in the final seconds as Sam Hubbard sacked Mahomes and forced a fumble that was recovered by Joe Thuney. That allowed Harrison Butker to hit a game-tying 44-yard field goal to end regulation.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs: 26-of-39, 275 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions; three carries, 19 yards
Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs: seven receptions, 78 yards, one touchdown
Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs: 10 receptions, 95 yards, one touchdown
Joe Burrow, QB, Bengals: 23-of-38, 250 yards, two touchdowns, one interception
Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals: 21 carries, 88 yards; three receptions, 27 yards
Ja'Marr Chase, WR, Bengals: six receptions, 54 yards, one touchdown
These Aren't Your Parents' Cincinnati Bengals
The Chiefs were poised to effectively put away the Bengals for good when they had a 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard line with nine seconds left in the second quarter. Instead, Eli Apple tackled Tyreek Hill short of the goal line as time expired.
That call might haunt Chiefs head coach Andy Reid for a long time.
After forcing Kansas City to punt on the opening drive of the third quarter, Cincinnati was suddenly in a position to make the home fans a little uneasy and trim its deficit to one score. That was quite the contrast to the dire state of affairs for the AFC North champions earlier in the contest.
Will Brinson @WillBrinson
Chiefs were up 21-10, had 1st and goal from the 1 with 9 seconds left and were getting the ball back to start the 2nd half.<br><br>Not a Bengals fan on planet earth who'd believe you if you told them they'd get the ball back with 13 mins left in the third quarter down 21-10.
But a Burrow pass to Tee Higgins on third down fell incomplete, so the Bengals had to give the ball back to the Chiefs with nothing to show for it. Another trip into the red zone yielded just three points as McPherson made it a 21-13 game.
The third time was the charm after an interception by B.J. Hill set Cincinnati up at the KC 27-yard line. Burrow hit Ja'Marr Chase for a two-yard touchdown before successfully converting the two-point attempt to tie the score.
BURROW TO CHASE. TOUCHDOWN. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RuleTheJungle?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RuleTheJungle</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NFLPlayoffs?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NFLPlayoffs</a><br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CINvsKC?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CINvsKC</a> on CBS<br>📱: <a href="https://t.co/dKNUFkxkbU">https://t.co/dKNUFkxkbU</a> <a href="https://t.co/4oTvYaHBdM">pic.twitter.com/4oTvYaHBdM</a>
It's rare that a draft pick can immediately alter a franchise's trajectory within a few seasons in the way Burrow has. The confidence he exudes is infectious for the rest of the team.
Even when the Bengals were down 18 points, nobody was counting them out for good. No longer is this a franchise that shrinks when the lights turn the brightest in the playoffs, and it all starts with Burrow.
A Tale of 2 Halves for Kansas City
With almost three minutes off the clock in the second quarter, it was abundantly clear the Bengals were in big trouble. That's when Mahomes did this to help give the Chiefs a 14-3 lead:
Backyard football.<a href="https://twitter.com/PatrickMahomes?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@PatrickMahomes</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/tkelce?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TKelce</a> <br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CINvsKC?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CINvsKC</a> on CBS<br>📱: <a href="https://t.co/dKNUFkxkbU">https://t.co/dKNUFkxkbU</a> <a href="https://t.co/kO5ujlp8i7">pic.twitter.com/kO5ujlp8i7</a>
Next Gen Stats @NextGenStats
Patrick Mahomes & Travis Kelce (5-yd TD)<br><br>🔸 Time to Throw: 7.94 seconds*<br>🔸 Mahomes Speed: 15.44 mph<br>🔸 Scramble Distance: 29.6 yards<br><br>» Mahomes' longest time to throw on a TD pass of his career (including playoffs)<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CINvsKC?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CINvsKC</a> | Powered by <a href="https://twitter.com/awscloud?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@awscloud</a> <a href="https://t.co/16SjkJvPDI">pic.twitter.com/16SjkJvPDI</a>
How are you supposed to defend that?
Sunday's game didn't teach fans anything new about Mahomes, but it will never not be exhilarating to watch him do something no other quarterback in the league can pull off. His performance also highlighted the folly of all that early season handwringing about the Chiefs, which appeared to be justified at the time.
Things tightened up in the second half thanks in part to some liberal application of the rules by the officiating crew.
Kansas City also struggled to adapt to how Cincinnati changed its defensive approach. The Bengals began dropping their safeties deeper, which meant Mahomes was struggling to find an open receiver when he got flushed from the pocket.
The Chiefs' Jekyll and Hyde performance was jarring for a franchise that is so battle-tested in the playoffs. They scored three points in the second half of an elimination game after finding the end zone almost at will in the first 30 minutes.
Reid and his staff will be left with a lot of questions about how things unraveled so badly.
The Bengals can begin making plans for Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13 and await the winner of the NFC Championship Game between the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers to learn of their opponent. If the Niners pull through, then San Francisco and Cincinnati would face off in the Super Bowl for the third time.