Kansas City Chiefs cheerleaders celebrate in the confetti after beating the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday. Photo by Kyle Rivas/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 29 (UPI) -- The Kansas City Chiefs have booked their spot in Super Bowl LVII, downing the Cincinnati Bengals at home 23-20 on Sunday night in a close AFC Championship game.
The Chiefs are to face the Philadelphia Eagles in Kansas City's third trip to the NFL final in four years -- a string of success that began with the franchise's second-ever Super Bowl win that capped off a strong 2019 season.
"They're a great football team. I've watched them all year long. Great quarterback, great entire team, man. It's going to be a great challenge for us," Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes told reporters from the field after the win about their upcoming opponents, "but I'm going to celebrate this one first.
"I don't think we have any cigars, but we're going to be ready to go at the Super Bowl."
Prior to the game, questions swirled around the quarterback's health as Mahomes was battling a high-ankle sprain sustained in the Chiefs' divisional round win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The issue was noticeable during the game Sunday, causing him to limp on at least one occasion, but it didn't stop him for throwing 29 of 43 for two touchdowns and 326 yards.
"I want to thank God, man. He healed my body this week, to battle through that," Mahomes said. "He gave me the strength to be out here."
Mahomes also gave a shout out to the team's assistant athletic trainer, Julie Frymyer, after the game, tweeting: "Julie WAS the reason I was the guy I was on the field today."
Though the Chiefs took an early lead that they held on to into the third quarter on Sunday, the Bengals appeared posed for a comeback, tying the game up 13-13 on a touchdown by wide receiver Tee Higgins and then again 20-20 on a short rush over the line by running back Samaje Perine in the fourth.
But it wasn't enough for the Bengals who were looking for their second consecutive appearance in the Super Bowl.
"I'm proud of this team. I'm proud of the character of these men and this is where your character is to be tested the most in moments like this when it's fresh and raw," Bengals coach Zac Taylor told reporters in a postgame news conference.
"You were so close to winning AFC championships 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 they've knocked them all down and we couldn't just get passed this last one here," he said.
"We got great character and we want to represent our team and our city the right way."
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow threw 26 for 41 for one touchdown and 270 yards in the loss.
"Tough loss," Burrow said in the press conference. "We didn't make the plays we needed to to win this game and they did down the stretch, and that's what it came down to."
"These games are never going to be pretty. You just got to find ways and it felt like the tide was turning our way. It felt like we were going to just find a way to win this game but, like I said, didn't make the plays down the stretch."
The first quarter was slow-going for the Bengals, during which Borrow was sacked three times on two scoreless possessions.
The Chiefs would exit the frame up 3-0 off an early 43-yard field goal from kicker Harrison Butker during their only possession of the frame.
Butker then extend the Chiefs' lead in the second with his second field goal, this time from 24 yards out at fourth and sixth that followed a 10-yard penalty called on Kansas City for offensive holding during a 9-yard touchdown rush by Isiah Pacheco that was nullified.
Kansas City's 6-point lead was then cut in half by a 30-yard Cincinnati field goal from kicker Evan McPherson.
The Chiefs followed that up with the game's first touchdown from Travis Kelce off a short pass from Mahomes, which gave Kansas City a 13-3 lead with Butker making good on the extra point.
The Bengals, though, kept chipping away at the scoreboard, with McPherson netting another field goal, this time from 23 yards out, which narrowed the Chiefs' lead to 13-6, and that is how they would go into halftime.
In the third, Cincinnati tied it up with Burrow in the shotgun launching a pass to Higgins for the 27-yard touchdown, though Mahomes responded for the Chiefs throwing a pass deep middle to wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, which gave the home team a 20-13 lead into the final frame.
In the fourth, Perine tied it at 20 with a 2-yard run up the middle into the end zone, but Butker sealed the game with a late 45-yard field goal.
The victory means the Chiefs will square off Feb. 12 in Glendale, Ariz., at Super Bowl LVII against the Eagles, who trounced the San Francisco 49ers 31-7 earlier Sunday in the NFC Championship game.