NFL Conference Championship Recap

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Joe Burrow is hoisted up by his teammates after leading his team to an AFC Championship victory. (Photo by Albert Cesare/The Enquirer)

Coming off of a divisional weekend which was arguably the greatest weekend of football ever, fans had high expectations for this weekend. The NFL made good on those expectations, delivering two thrilling conference championship games. But who is headed to Los Angeles to play in the Super Bowl?

Cincinnati Bengals def. Kansas City Chiefs 27-24

The AFC championship matchup was a classic underdog story. The heavy favorite, the Kansas City Chiefs, who represented the AFC in the last two Super Bowls, taking on the Cincinnati Bengals in their first conference championship since the 1988 season.

Kansas City forced an early punt from the Bengals, and on their first drive, went 84 yards downfield, capping the drive off with a ten-yard Tyreek Hill touchdown. Patrick Mahomes was a perfect five-for-five on the drive.

The Bengals responded with a 14 play drive that ended in an Evan McPherson 32-yard field goal. However, the Chiefs would come back with yet another long drive, going 75 yards on this one. The highlights were a 44-yard pass from Mahomes to Mecole Hardman and a five-yard touchdown catch from Kansas City’s star tight end Travis Kelce, with a hint of Mahomes magic.

The Bengals would be forced to punt, leading to a 72-yard drive by the Chiefs. Mecole Hardman would score this touchdown, creating a 21-3 deficit for the visiting Bengals, who were already heavy underdogs coming in.

This time, the Bengals knew they needed to respond. And respond they did. The Bengals held the ball inside the two-minute warning and capped off the drive with a 41-yard screen pass touchdown for Samaje Perine from Joe Burrow.

At this point, the Chiefs had grown confident, and you could see it in their body language. Kansas Coty had every right to be confident, as they had scored a touchdown on all of their previous drives. But this is where the game changed. Kansas City had driven 80 yards downfield but was stuffed at the goal line, preventing Kansas City from adding any points at the half.

The second half looked like a completely different game. The teams exchanged punts to begin the half before the Bengals kicked a field goal. On the next Chiefs drive, Patrick Mahomes would throw a big man interception to BJ Hill.

The Bengals would respond, as the man they call Joe Brrrr would throw a touchdown pass to Ja’Marr Chase, and then the two-point conversion to Trent Taylor to miraculously tie the game at 21.

The game would get a bit hectic from here, as the teams would exchange punts, and Joe Burrow would throw an interception to L’Jarius Sneed. Nothing would come from the pick, and the Bengals would score a field goal to make it 24-21. Kansas City would get it inside the five but get pushed way back after Mahomes took a bad sack and fumbled, forcing a 44-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.

Kansas City, after last week’s overtime win over the Bills, won the coin toss, and the team was confident after that.

However, this overtime didn’t go half as well as the last one, as 13 seconds into the overtime period, the magic number for the Chiefs last week, Patrick Mahomes threw an interception, meaning the Bengals would only need a field goal to go to the Super Bowl.

And that’s exactly what they’d get, as Evan McPherson, the Bengals’ rookie kicker, would send them to the Super Bowl.

It was a story of two halves for the Chiefs, as Patrick Mahomes had two very different-looking stat lines in the first and second halves.

Nonetheless, it will be the Cincinnati Bengals(!) representing the AFC in Super Bowl 56.

Los Angeles Rams def. San Francisco 49ers 20-17

With the AFC decided, we now need an NFC champion to oppose them in the Super Bowl. That would be decided between the Rams and 49ers.

The game started a bit slow, as neither team could get on the board early. The Rams looked like they were going to score, but Matthew Stafford threw an interception at the three-yard line to keep the Rams off the board.

After the first quarter, there was a touchdown blitz, as the Rams got it started with Cooper Kupp from 16 yards out. It capped off a nine-minute 33-second drive, which went 97 yards.

The 49ers responded fast, as 49ers all-pro utility player Deebo Samuel would take a 44-yard screen pass to the house, as it only took San Fran four plays to respond to LA’s nine and a half minute drive.

On their next drive, the Rams would send out their Pro Bowl kicker Matt Gay for a 54-yard field goal try, but Gay could not make the kick, giving the ball to the 49ers at their 44-yard line with 1:50 left in the half. They would settle for a Robbie Gould 38-yard field goal to lead 10-7 at halftime.

San Francisco would punt on their first drive of the second half before forcing a turnover on downs on the Rams’ first drive. Sean McVay would challenge the spot on the 4th down but would fail, using his first timeout of the second half early. San Francisco would respond with a George Kittle touchdown to go up 17-7.

Down by two possessions, the Rams’ offense would answer the call, as Matthew Stafford once again found Cooper Kupp for the touchdown, bringing it to a three-point game.

The 49ers would once again be forced to punt, giving the ball back to the Rams with a chance to either tie it or take the lead. Matt Stafford tried to throw it right back to the 49ers, but Jaquiski Tartt could not haul in the easy interception.

The drop by Tartt would be costly, as the Rams would finish the drive with a field goal, tying the game at 17 apiece. San Francisco would go backward on their next drive, going three-and-out. The Rams would add another field goal on their next drive, going up 20-17 with 1:46 left in the game, putting the game in Jimmy Garopollo’s hands.

And in his likely final drive as a 49er, Jimmy G would only go backward before throwing the game-sealing interception, sending the Rams back to the Super Bowl, their first since Super Bowl 53, where they fell 13-3 to the Patriots.

And thus, we have our Super Bowl matchup. The underdog Bengals, who have a mostly homegrown roster vs the all-in Rams, who mortgaged their future to trade for the likes of Matthew Stafford, Jalen Ramsey, and Von Miller, as well as signing Odell Beckham Jr during the season. The Rams enter the game as 4.5 point favorites, but the Bengals have been defying the odds all season long. This one has all the makings for an instant classic Super Bowl matchup.