Eagles top 49ers, Chiefs squeak by Bengals to set up Super Bowl matchup
Jalen Hurts had one of Philadelphia's four rushing touchdowns and the Eagles soared into the Super Bowl, forcing both of San Francisco's quarterbacks out of the game with injuries and beating the wounded 49ers 31-7 in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. The Chiefs later on Sunday got a three-point victory on a last-second field goal in the AFC Championship game, ending the Cincinnati Bengals' run through the playoffs.
The Eagles, who won the Super Bowl five years ago with a different coach and quarterback, will try to do it again behind the formidable duo of Hurts and coach Nick Sirianni. The Chiefs made it to the Super Bowl last year, but were defeated by the Los Angeles Rams.
The city of Philadelphia was already celebrating Sunday night, with police having set up barricades around City Hall and greasing light poles throughout the week in preparation.
"This has been an energizing season from the start, and we are excited that the Eagles are going to fly all the way to the Super Bowl," Mayor Jim Kenney said. "As a lifelong Philadelphian and the Mayor of this great city I am thrilled to see fans of all ages and from every neighborhood celebrating side by side, full of pride and excitement. This is a wonderful night and I ask Philadelphians to celebrate joyously, safely, and respectfully. And remember: It's a Philly thing."
Eagles Coach Nick Sirianni said after the game "obviously this is something you dream about as a kid" and "all these guys on the team have dreamt about this their entire lives, too."
"Just to be able to do this together with a bunch of men that love each other, that are connected to each other, that will do anything for each other is pretty sweet," Sirianni added.
At Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Patrick Mahomes scrambled for a first down on his badly sprained right ankle, then was shoved late out of bounds by Joseph Ossai, giving Harrison Butker a chance to kick a 45-yard field goal with 3 seconds left that gave the Kansas City Chiefs a 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC title game Sunday night.
"I've watched them all year long, great quarterback, great entire team," Mahomes said of the Eagles. "It's going to be a great challenge for us, but I'm going to celebrate this one first.
"I don't think we have any cigars, but we'll be ready to go in the Super Bowl."
Mahomes, who hurt his ankle against Jacksonville in the divisional round, threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns, even though he was missing three of his wide receivers to injuries by the end. Marquez Valdes-Scantling led the way with 116 yards and a touchdown, while Travis Kelce — bad back and all — had seven catches for 78 yards and a score.
Yet it was Mahomes on his balky right ankle, rather than with his strong right arm, that rescued the Chiefs.
"At some points in games, you've gotta just put it all on the line," Mahomes said. "The defense gave us a couple chances to get in field goal range, we didn't get there. The defense got another stop for us and I knew I was going to get there somehow.
"So I just put it all on the line and we got in field goal range, and we're at Arrowhead now and we're in."
The Chiefs got a crucial sack from Chris Jones to force a punt with 39 seconds left, and shaky return man Skyy Moore broke free for 29 yards on the return. On third-and-4 at the Bengals 47, Mahomes eluded pressure and scrambled toward the Bengals sideline, barely picking up the first down before Ossai gave him a shove from behind.
The penalty flags flew, the ball moved 15 yards closer and Butker's kick barely had enough to get over the crossbar.
Joe Burrow, who was sacked five times and wobbly by the end, finished with 270 yards passing to go with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Bengals. Tee Higgins had six catches for 83 yards and the score.
In Philadelphia, Miles Sanders ran for two touchdowns and linebacker Haason Reddick made the hit that forced 49ers rookie quarterback Brock Purdy out of the game with an elbow injury. Reddick also recovered a fumble by Purdy's replacement, Josh Johnson, who later suffered a concussion.
That forced Purdy back into the game, but his injury was clearly a factor as the 49ers all but gave up on throwing the ball, even while trailing by multiple scores.
San Francisco's bad luck at quarterback was finally too much to overcome as its 12-game win streak ended. The Niners lost both Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo to season-ending injuries, and Purdy — the final pick in April's draft — lost as a starter for the first time.
Philadelphia police greased traffic and light poles in what has often proved a futile attempt to slow the revelry ahead. But a city that has been starved for a championship now has its beloved Birds in the Super Bowl just three months after the Philadelphia Phillies reached the World Series.
"You see this city and the passion they have for this team. We're so appreciative of these fans," Sirianni said. "Look at this place. There's no place like this in the NFL. It's a hard-working city, it's a blue-collar city. We think that's the type of team we have."
The game disintegrated in the waning minutes and Philadelphia's K'Von Wallace and San Francisco's Trent Williams were ejected for their roles in a brawl. Williams yanked Wallace from behind and slammed him to the ground.
At that point, who cared? Eagles fans waved their green towels and went wild as confetti fluttered around them. They sang the fight song — one more emphatic "E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles!" — in celebration of a franchise that advanced to its fourth Super Bowl.
The Eagles broke the game open in the final two minutes of the first half, getting a rise out of a crowd that had been quiet with nervous energy since a touchdown on the opening drive.
Sanders broke free for a 13-yard run for a 14-7 lead, concluding a 14-play, 75-yard drive extended by three 49ers penalties.
Johnson bobbled a shotgun snap and fumbled on the next drive, and Reddick — the free-agent pickup from Carolina having one of the great defensive seasons in franchise history — recovered at the San Francisco 30. Boston Scott scooted 10 yards for a touchdown and 21-7 lead.
Even with Hurts almost a non-factor — he had 97 yards passing in the first half — the Eagles were firmly in control. Hurts finished 15 of 25 for 121 yards. His 1-yard rushing touchdown on Philadelphia's signature rugby-style QB sneak made it 28-7.
"It's been a lot. I'm not going to make this about me," Hurts said. "This city is a special city. They deserve everything, It's a special city. We have one more."
Purdy left the game with an elbow injury after he was drilled in the arm by Reddick on San Francisco's first drive, leading to a fumble. The 23-year-old Purdy's improbable rise from "Mr. Irrelevant" to playoff starter ended with a whimper as he failed to become the first rookie QB to lead a team to the Super Bowl.
He was improbably needed again in the third quarter after Johnson, a journeyman backup signed in December, was also hurt.
The Eagles used quick thinking as they scored on their opening drive for the second straight playoff game. DeVonta Smith made a sensational one-handed grab for 29 yards, but replays showed he appeared to lose control of the ball as he hit the ground. Smith popped up and frantically waved the Eagles to the line. Niners coach Kyle Shanahan did not challenge the call and the Eagles got off the next play. Sanders scored on a 6-yard run.
With little hope they could get anything going behind Johnson, the 49ers turned to Christian McCaffrey to get on the board. He broke three tackles on a 23-yard touchdown run that made it 7-7 in the second quarter.
With no quarterbacks who could throw, that was about the end for Shanahan's Niners, who managed 164 yards of offense and 11 first downs.
The Chiefs were able to do early what the Buffalo Bills could not in last week's divisional round: They ran roughshod over an ailing Bengals offensive line missing two starters to injury with another bothered by a sore knee.
Burrow was sacked three times in the first quarter alone and the Bengals offense did not gain a single yard.
Mahomes, whose ankle had been the subject of speculation all week, looked just fine leading Kansas City to a field goal on its opening possession. And when the Chiefs got the ball back, Mahomes did it again, but only after Kadarius Toney failed to pull in a nifty throw for a would-be touchdown — the incompletion was upheld upon review.
Cincinnati finally moved the ball in the second quarter, but it also had to settle for Evan McPherson's chip-shot field goal.
So much for two of the league's highest-scoring offenses.
The Chiefs finally reached the end zone late in the second quarter, moving briskly downfield behind a couple of nice grabs by Valdes-Scantling. The Bengals held on third-and-1 at their 14-yard line, but the Chiefs went for it and Mahomes hit Kelce loosely covered by Jessie Bates III for the touchdown.
The Bengals drove 90 yards in the closing minutes, but only added a field goal to get within 13-6 at the break.
Turns out their offense was just hitting its stride — and another classic was brewing.
After the Chiefs went three-and-out to start the second half, Burrow led the Bengals downfield, bolting through a yawning hole in the defense for a third-down conversion before hitting Higgins from 27 yards out to knot the game 13-all.
Mahomes, suddenly down three wide receivers to injuries and beginning to limp, gamely pressed on. He answered Burrow with a touchdown drive of his own, capped by a third-down throw to Valdes-Scantling to regain the lead.
The Chiefs had a chance to gain some breathing room later in the third quarter, but Mahomes somehow lost control of the ball before throwing a pass and the Bengals pounced on the fumble. Six players later — including an audacious fourth-down throw from Burrow to Ja'Marr Chase — Samaje Perine ran into the end zone to tie it at 20.
Burrow gave the Chiefs a chance when his deep throw to Higgins on third down was batted into the air and picked by rookie cornerback Josh Williams. Mahomes managed to move the Chiefs past midfield, but two runs went nowhere and his third-down throw to Jerick McKinnon was well short, forcing them to punt in Bengals territory.
The Chiefs defense held, though, giving Mahomes and their offense one more try.
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