KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Canceled.
That’s what about 20 of my sportswriter colleagues did in the press box moments after the Bengals lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-20 in the AFC Championship at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday night.
They canceled their flights to Phoenix, Arizona — home of Super Bowl LVII.
The hand-wringing game was like last year’s contest — when Cincinnati knocked off the Chiefs on a last-second field goal from Evan McPherson.
This year, however, it was Kansas City’s turn to boot themselves to Arizona.
Harrison Butker’s 45-yard field goal with three seconds left gave Kansas City the win over Cincinnati at Arrowhead Stadium, ending the Bengals’ hopes of returning to the big show — and stopping their 10-game winning streak.
But that wasn’t the play most people will talk about when fans discuss this classic AFC Championship game.
Some fans might chat about the personal foul called on Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai when he hit Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes out of bounds after a nine-yard scramble for a first down.
The personal foul put the ball on the Bengals’ 23-yard line with the game tied at 20-20 — and with only eight seconds left in the game.
That set the stage for Butker’s heroics.
“It’s a tough play,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said about the late hit. “But there were a lot of other plays that also came into factor. This is an emotional game. We worked really hard to get here. We want guys like (Ossai) on this team. Guys that this means a lot to and care about it. Joseph comes to work every day. He loves this game and loves being a part of this team.”
Perhaps they will talk about the last two drives the Bengals had late in the game.
Cincinnati (14-5) looked like it was in control — after Joe Burrow scrambled for 14 yards to the KC 29-yard line and a first down.
Two plays later, Burrow’s pass to Tee Higgins was defected and picked off at the 14-yard line.
The Bengals forced the Chiefs to punt, and it looked like a McPherson déjà vu all over again.
But the drive stalled when Burrow was sacked for the sixth time.
“I thought the tide was turning,” Burrow said. “I felt like we would find a way to win like we’ve done all season, but we just didn’t make the plays we needed to.”
Burrow threw for 270 yards and completed 26 of 41 passes with one TD and two interceptions.
“He played awesome,” Taylor said of his QB. “He extended plays when he needed to and gave us chances to win the game. We just came up short.”
This was the first time Kansas City has defeated the Bengals in the past four games, and it was Burrow’s first loss to Mahomes.
“At the end of the day, we respect each other,” Burrow added. “It’s an intense and emotional game. You always expect to win. You never expect to lose.”
Or maybe, fans will talk about the Chiefs’ replayed third down, when the Bengals stopped Kansas City – or so it appeared.
The game was tied 20-20 when the Bengals’ defense forced a fourth-down.
But there was some confusion with the clock, and the referees tried to stop the play before it started.
They ruled the play was dead and would be replayed.
The Chiefs got another shot at third down, and Bengals cornerback Eli Apple was called for defensive holding, thus awarding Kansas City a first down.
“They told me the play was dead and would be replayed,” Taylor said. “That’s what they told me.”
Those were just a few of the moments fans may talk about around the water cooler or on Facebook or on Twitter.
But at the end of the day, the Bengals’ shot at returning to the Super Bowl was canceled.
Taylor added that he expected to win and advance to the Super Bowl, more so than last year.
“To be this close, it hurts,” he said. “Our goal is to win the Super Bowl. So to be seconds away from getting back there — and watching (Kansas City) celebrate — it’s horrible. This team has invested so much in each other.”
The end of the 2022 season was disappointing, but it culminated a remarkable campaign.
The Bengals lost to teams I never expected — like Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
But then they went on a 10-game winning streak, and marched into Buffalo and upset the Bills last week.
For a few decades, the Who Dey faithful has been used to losing.
But the tide is indeed changing.
I believe they will see several years of quality professional football in the Queen City.
“I appreciate (the moment) now,” Taylor added. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be in two Super Bowls. And you try to live in the moment. Last year just happened so fast and this year it was an expectation. But you can appreciate it every step of the way.”