KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Cincinnati Bengals aren't going to their second-straight Super Bowl.
Cincinnati fell to the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs 23-20 in the AFC championship. The game was a rematch of the 2022 championship game, with the Bengals hoping to pull off their fourth-straight win over Patrick Mahomes and company.
The first half felt almost like a copy and paste of last year, with the Bengals offense struggling to put points on the board while the Chiefs appeared to be rolling. Kansas City led 13-3 after Patrick Mahomes connected with his No. 1 target, Travis Kelce, on fourth-and-one. A last-second field goal from Evan McPherson cut the lead to 7 at the half.
Kansas City got the ball to start the second half, but a three-and-out gave the Bengals an opportunity to pounce. Joe Burrow connected with Tee Higgins on a 27-yard touchdown, tying the game.
Not to be outdone, Mahomes threw a touchdown to Marquez Valdes-Scantling to give the Chiefs a 20-13 lead. Rejuvenated by the crowd, Kansas City's defense forced a three-and-out from the Bengals to give the Chiefs the ball back. Cincinnati native Sam Hubbard recovered the first fumble of Mahomes' postseason career to give the Bengals the ball.
Cincinnati's offense looked like it had another three-and-out on its hands, but a 35-yard pass to Ja'Marr Chase on fourth down set up a Samaje Perine touchdown to tie the game at 20-20.
The Bengals defense thought they were coming off the field after a third-down stop in the fourth quarter, but the referees later said the play had already been called dead because the clock was running when it shouldn't have, allowing the Chiefs another shot at 3rd-and-9 and causing frustration on the Bengals' sideline.
Cincinnati sacked Mahomes, but a holding penalty on Eli Apple gave Kansas City an automatic first down. Still, the defense was able to stop the Chiefs on their side of the field.
Burrow and company looked like they were moving down the field, but UC alum Bryan Cook was able to tip a pass to Tee Higgins, forcing Burrow's second interception of the day. The Chiefs were not able to capitalize on the turnover.
With less than two minutes to go, Burrow was called for intentional grounding, forcing the Bengals into a 3rd-and-16 on their own 9. Burrow found Hayden Hurst for a first down with less than one minute left in the game.
Chris Jones sacked Burrow for the second time on another third down, putting Kansas City in position for a last-second win. Skyy Moore's 29-yard punt return put the Chiefs offense in midfield with just 40 seconds remaining. Mahomes ran for a first down, and Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai hit him late to put the ball even closer to the end zone.
Harrison Butker made a 45-yard field goal to give the Chiefs a 23-20 win.
Both teams struggled with injuries throughout the game. Cincinnati wide receiver Tyler Boyd was sidelined with a left thigh injury after a catch in the first half, while Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed was ruled out after suffering a concussion in the first quarter. Three KC wide receivers also left the field with injuries: Kadarius Toney, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman.
The Chiefs will take on NFC's top seed, the Philadelphia Eagles, in Super Bowl 57.