Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow celebrates after the Bengals defeated Kansas...

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow celebrates after the Bengals defeated Kansas City 34-31 in an NFL game on Jan. 2 in Cincinnati. Credit: AP/Jeff Dean

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Don’t count out Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City. This season and the playoffs have taught everyone that.

Kansas City looked pedestrian in losing to Tampa Bay in last year’s Super Bowl. Defenses changed how they played Mahomes after that and he needed some time to adjust.

Kansas City fell to 3-4 in October after Mahomes didn’t lead a single touchdown drive in a lopsided loss to Tennessee. Hall of Famer and NFL analyst Michael Irvin declared Kansas City’s dynasty over and said they wouldn’t make the playoffs. KC is 11-1 since then, playoffs included.

On Sunday, Mahomes and Kansas City will host the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game. KC is the first team to host four consecutive conference championship games as it seeks a third straight Super Bowl berth.

Mahomes made it possible with a brilliant performance in an absolutely riveting end to last week’s divisional-round game against Buffalo when the two teams totaled 31 points in the final 6:09 of regulation and overtime. Mahomes narrowly outdueled Josh Allen for the 42-36 victory.

It will be talked about for years — it’s a game Mahomes said he will remember forever — but he doesn’t want that to be his team’s biggest win this season.

"We’re not done," he said. "We’re trying to go out there and win the AFC championship and then try to get to the Super Bowl. We understand that this is a great football team we’re going up against."

The upstart Bengals have second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase and talented playmakers all over on offense.

Kansas City saw that firsthand in Week 17 when the Bengals erased a 14-point deficit and beat KC, 34-31, behind Burrow’s four touchdown passes, three of them to Chase.

"It’s one of the biggest challenges that we’ve had, playing this team," Kansas City linebacker Nick Bolton said.

The Bengals are the only team to beat Kansas City since Irvin said the dynasty is dead. The challenge for Cincinnati will be to do it again in the playoffs and at Arrowhead Stadium, where Mahomes and Kansas City are nearly unbeatable.

"If you want to do the things that we want to do, that’s a team that you’re going to have to beat every single year," Burrow said. "The AFC has run through them for four straight years."

Mahomes is 7-1 in the playoffs at home. He has thrown 23 touchdown passes and one interception.

His only loss was to Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC title game four years ago. In fact, Brady is the only quarterback to beat Mahomes in the playoffs. He’s 8-2, and Brady was responsible for both losses.

Brady also is the only quarterback that Mahomes has lost to twice in the same season. In 2018, the Patriots beat Kansas City in the regular season and the playoffs. Mahomes and Kansas City avenged a regular-season loss to Buffalo last week and now will try to do the same against Burrow and Cincinnati.

Burrow said he will have to have a "near-perfect" game to lead Cincinnati into the Super Bowl for the first time since 1988.

"Patrick Mahomes has been near-perfect for four years," Burrow said. "That’s what it’s going to take for me."

Mahomes is 26, Burrow 25 and Allen 25. You can expect to see a lot of them in the playoffs, which isn’t great news for the Jets unless Zach Wilson quickly joins that upper echelon of quarterbacks.

Burrow, the No. 1 pick in 2020, has been pretty special in lifting the Bengals after some dark times that included two wins two seasons ago and four last season.

He led the Bengals to their first division title since 2015, their first playoff victory in 31 years and their first AFC Championship Game since the 1988 season.

Now Burrow will try to join Brady as the only other quarterback to lead his team over Mahomes and Kansas City at home in the playoffs and get the Bengals to the Super Bowl for the first time since Boomer Esiason was under center.

"He’s a winner," Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. "He’s won at every level. He’s always competed for championships. We knew when we were taking him with the No. 1 pick, if we do everything the right way, he’d be able to put us in position to do something like that."

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