Patrick Mahomes can't pass up chance to finally beat Joe Burrow's Bengals in AFC Championship Game
Patrick Mahomes will lead Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game for the fifth straight year, but he may be a little hobbled from a right high ankle sprain and will be facing a quarterback he’s never beaten.
Mahomes’ magic seems to disappear against the Joe Burrow-led Bengals. They’ve met three times and the Bengals won all three. That’s enough motivation for Mahomes heading into Sunday’s rematch of last year’s AFC title game at Arrowhead Stadium.
“If you’re not fired up to play a team that’s beat you three times in a row — in the AFC Championship Game — then you’re not going to be fired up for any game,” Mahomes said.
Top-seeded Kansas City has hosted the AFC Championship Game all five years that Mahomes has been the starting quarterback. That won’t mean much if Mahomes can’t beat Cincinnati and lead Kansas City to its third Super Bowl appearance in four years.
Kansas City has won 25 of its last 30 games, playoffs included. Three losses came against Cincinnati. K.C.’s lone defeat in its last 12 games was to — guess who? — Cincinnati, a 27-24 road loss in Week 13.
This will be their fourth meeting in 13 months. Cincinnati won each game by three points, with Burrow throwing eight touchdown passes and one interception and recording a 121.0 passer rating.
In last year’s AFC Championship Game, Burrow led a rally from 21-3 down in the second quarter for a 27-24 overtime victory. Evan McPherson kicked the winning 31-yard field goal after Mahomes was intercepted.
“We know we’re playing a great football team that’s beaten us the last three times,” Mahomes said. “We have to learn from our mistakes and be better in order to win.”
The Bengals are the only team that Mahomes has lost to three consecutive times. If the streak extends to four, his stranglehold on being the best quarterback in the NFL could loosen.
No, it’s not a one-on-one tennis match, but that’s how great players, particularly quarterbacks, are measured and legacies are made. Tom Brady is considered the Greatest of All Time because of his seven Super Bowl victories.
Mahomes is a special, singular talent who lifts the players around him. Even after Kansas City traded top receiver Tyreek Hill to Miami in the offseason, Mahomes had one of the best years of his already accolade-filled career.
He’s the favorite to win the NFL MVP award after throwing for an NFL-record 5,250 yards along with 41 touchdowns. Winning Sunday is more important to Mahomes, though.
Burrow has different strengths, but he’s constantly improving, is never rattled and knows how to lead. He is 5-0 in the AFC playoffs and could be narrowing the gap in the debate about who’s the best quarterback. The Bengals also have hurt Kansas City’s reign.
They certainly have Mahomes and Kansas City on high alert.
“You won’t relax,” Mahomes said. “You’ll focus in even more on the details. We’ll be ready to go, and I’ll be ready to go for sure.”
Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain in last week’s win over the Jaguars. He left for a series in the second quarter but returned to start the second half and finished the game.
He suffered a similar injury to his left ankle in Week 1 of the 2019 season but played the following week and threw four touchdown passes.
The focus this week has been on Mahomes, who participated fully in practice all week. It will take something more serious to keep him from playing Sunday and trying to lead Kansas City back to the Super Bowl.
“A lot of greats have done it,” he said. “You want to be out there, and especially in these games.”
The Bengals come in rolling after a slow start to the season. They lost their first two games and were 4-4 after a Monday Night Football loss at Cleveland on Halloween. They have since won 10 in a row. “We’re clicking more than ever right now,” running back Joe Mixon said.
Burrow, an MVP finalist, has thrown 21 touchdown passes to six interceptions in those 10 wins.
“When you watch him, he just is — the word I come up with is nifty,” Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “He never panics in the pocket. It feels like he’s got like six eyeballs around his head.”
Mahomes and Burrow are two of the best quarterbacks in the league and have strong supporting casts. Burrow’s team has a little more balance, but it’s difficult to doubt Mahomes, bum ankle and all.
“He just refuses to accept that he’s not going to put himself out there to be with his teammates,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “The thing that I appreciate about him is just his competitive nature, his will to be the best whenever he can prove that.”
Mahomes will remind everyone he is the best if he finally beats Burrow and the Bengals.