Bengals stage furious rally, stun Chiefs 27-24 in OT to win AFC title game, advance to Super Bowl

Jori Epstein

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Again, it went to overtime.

And again, the Chiefs won the coin toss.

But the Chiefs will not, again, defend their AFC title.

Credit a gutsy Bengals comeback and another perfect day from Bengals rookie kicker Evan McPherson, who drilled the game-winner – and his fourth kick of the day – for the 27-24 overtime victory at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

For the first time in 33 years, the Bengals are going to the Super Bowl.

The upset seemed improbable midway through the second quarter, when the Chiefs had built a 21-3 lead against the intruders who had rebounded to beat them in Cincinnati last month.

But that was before the Bengals' defense came out in the second half humming to the tune of four sacks and a big-man interception at the line of scrimmage. That happened before the Chiefs kicked a field goal as time expired to force overtime, with Patrick Mahomes heaving a ball downfield to receiver Tyreek Hill on third-and-10. Bengals safety Jessie Bates instead tipped the ball away from Hill and into the hands of fellow safety Vonn Bell for an interception.

Bengals defensive end B.J. Hill (92) celebrates after intercepting a pass from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the fourth quarter.

“Our defense was unbelievable,” Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow told CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson on the field in the aftermath. “Usually when you lose the coin flip to those guys, you’re going home. But our defense really stepped up and made plays in the second half. And on offense, we made plays when we had to.”

In the second half, the Bengals had to.

Because early on, the Chiefs' offense seemed unstoppable. Mahomes found three different teammates for a trio of first-half touchdowns and control of the game. A 10-yarder on the run? Receiver Hill streaked across the back of the end zone and grabbed Mahomes’ first touchdown before falling out of bounds.

A pump-fake left before spinning out of a collapsing pocket and to the right? Again, Mahomes was extending a play on his second touchdown attempt. After 7.94 seconds, he threw effortlessly to that coveted right side of the end zone, where tight end Travis Kelce did the honors of securing the 6-pointer in bounds. And Mahomes was so ecstatic after receiver Mecole Hardman slipped inside the pylon for TD No. 3 that he lifted the receiver in the air in celebration.

Perhaps the momentum began swerving when Bengals running back Samaje Perine slipped upfield after a screen pass and traveled 41 yards to the end zone. The Chiefs received the ball back with 1:05 to play in the second quarter and traveled 80 yards – but, opting for a touchdown rather than a field goal, the Bengals' defense thwarted them at the 1-yard line.

Kansas City emerged from the locker room languishing, managing just two first downs in their next five drives. Four times, Kansas City punted, Mahomes now the victim of Bengals sacks rather than the magician spinning out of them. And once, Mahomes pump-faked before flicking a pass upfield. Bengals defensive tackle B.J. Hill tipped it at the line of scrimmage and intercepted it.

Burrow found star receiver Ja’Marr Chase for a touchdown off the turnover.

The Bengals took their first lead of the game with 6:07 to play, rookie fifth-round kicker McPherson knocking through yet another of his clutch kicks. The Chiefs sent the game to overtime but suffered an interception on their first drive. The Bengals, and McPherson, capitalized.

Burrow finished the gas. Bengals running back Joe Mixon powered 21 carries to a game-high 88 rushing yards, while Cincinnati receiver Tee Higgins caught six passes for a game-high 103 yards. Chase finished with 54 yards and a touchdown.

Mahomes completed 26-of-39 pass attempts for 275 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. After halftime, he was 8-of-18 for no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Kelce caught 10-of-11 targets for 95 yards and a touchdown.

The Bengals continue a remarkable road in head coach Zac Taylor’s third season, two years removed from a 2-14 campaign and one season removed from a 4-11 campaign marred by Burrow’s season-ending ACL and MCL tears.

“It’s special,” Taylor said. “Something we’ll never forget.”

Burrow acknowledged the extra level of meaning for an Ohio native to carry a franchise to a stage that had eluded their grasp for decades. His Bengals will take on the Rams or 49ers on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.

Burrow celebrated amid a Bengals fan contingent loudly chanting, “Who Dey, Who Dey, Who Dey.”

Then Wolfson asked the quarterback: How does a Super Bowl berth sound?

“Sounds great,” Burrow said.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein