KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The ankle was a problem. So did a fast, hard-hitting, opportunistic Cincinnati defense and a Bengals team that just wouldn’t leave.
In the end, Patrick Mahomes was Patrick Mahomes and that was enough to get Kansas City into the Super Bowl.
Mahomes, hampered by a sprained ankle but still capable of a bit of magic, led the Chiefs on a winning run of four plays, 26 yards and 27 seconds in the final minute to send Kansas City past the Bengals, 23- 20, in front of a delirious, red-clad Arrowhead Stadium here.
He snapped a three-game losing streak against the Bengals, including a loss in that same AFC Championship game a year ago. Kansas City takes on Philadelphia on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona, in a bid to win its second Super Bowl title in its third appearance in four years.
It will mark a reunion of sorts for Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who coached Philadelphia for 14 seasons, including a trip to the Super Bowl, before coming to KC.
Mahomes threw 29 of 43 for 326 yards and two touchdowns. His greatest games, however, came in the end, thanks to his feet, not his arm.
Starting alone 47 with just 30 seconds left, Mahomes swung the ball at Isiah Pacheco from six yards out. He then ran nine yards and a first down and took an unnecessary roughness penalty on Joseph Ossai.
It was enough to set up a 45-yard field goal by Harrison Buckner who just crossed the bar to win it.
Neither the game nor Mahomes was perfect, but that’s often the case on a cold January night this far into the playoffs. After losing a year ago to those same Bengals in that same game at that same stadium, only winning mattered.
Mahomes finished 29 of 43 for 326 yards and two touchdowns. He and Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow had multiple opportunities to lead practices to win it, but were stuffed with excellent and inspired defensive play.
At least until the last practice, in the race for the season, Mahomes was able to forget the sprained ankle he suffered a week ago against Jacksonville and make a play and draw a heartbreaking error from Cincinnati.
Burrow finished 26 of 41 for 270 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He was dogged all night by a ferocious pass rush from the Chiefs, including Frank Clark and Chris Jones.
The Chiefs seemed to take control of the game midway through the third quarter. After the Bengals tied the game at 13, Mahomes led an 11-play, 77-yard drive culminating in a 19-yard drive from a touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
The KC defense then flexed its own muscles, holding Burrow and the Bengals at three-and-out, then stuffing them at fourth-and-six to start the fourth quarter. A fumble from Mahomes, however, gave Cincy life and Joe Burrow led in a game-tying touchdown.
Neither team could break through until the dying seconds, when Mahomes fired the penalty that sent Kansas City past their nemesis and back to the big game.