Conference championship weekend recap: Bengals and Rams emerge

L.A. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford looks to lead his team against the Bengals in the Super Bowl on Feb. 13.


L.A. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford looks to lead his team against the Bengals in the Super Bowl on Feb. 13.

DREW HILL, Opinion Columnist

With the Kansas City Chiefs leading 21-3 in the second quarter of the AFC Championship game last Sunday, it looked like the four-game streak of NFL playoff games being won on the final play might end. The Divisional Round held the previous week featured four games, three of which were won on game-winning field goals and one which was won by a touchdown in overtime. NFL fans were not sure whether the conference championship games would be as exciting, and during the first game, it seemed like the day might start with a blowout.

The AFC championship featured the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Chiefs had appeared in the previous two Super Bowls, defeating the San Francisco 49ers in 2020 and losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2021. The Bengals, on the other hand, had not made the playoffs since 2015 and had not made a Super Bowl since 1989. In fact, Cincinnati had not won a playoff game since 1990 until this season. They were led by a young cast of talent including second-year quarterback Joe Burrow and rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase and had already upset the AFC’s No.1-seeded Tennessee Titans. However, after falling behind 21-3 to the Chiefs, it looked like their magical season might come to an end.

That’s when the Bengals’ defense took over the game. After a Burrow touchdown pass, the Chiefs marched all the way down to the Bengals’ one-yard line, but were stopped short with no score just before the end of the half. In the second half, the Bengals’ defense forced four Chiefs punts and an interception. In the meantime, the Bengals picked up two field goals and a touchdown pass to Chase to take a 24-21 lead.

Kansas City got the ball one more time, with just over six minutes to go. They took it all the way to the Cincinnati four-yard line, but a sack by Sam Hubbard pushed the Chiefs back to the 26. Chief’s kicker Harrison Butker knocked in a field goal to tie it up at 24, and the game went into overtime. In overtime, the Chiefs got the ball first, but Patrick Mahomes threw an interception, and after a short drive into the red zone, rookie Evan McPherson kicked the game-winning field goal for the second straight week as the Bengals won 27-24 in overtime to advance to the Super Bowl.

While the NFC championship broke the streak of games being won on the final play, it was still an exciting game that featured a comeback. This game featured two teams from the state of California: the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers. The Rams struck first on a touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to star wide receiver Cooper Kupp to take a 7-0 lead, but the 49ers scored 17 unanswered points to take a 17-7 lead. The Rams weren’t done yet, as Stafford found Kupp for another touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Two stops and two field goals gave the Rams a 20-17 lead, but the 49ers still had one more chance to tie or win the game. However, San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw an interception, and the Rams were able to kneel out the game. The 49ers had won six straight games against the Rams, but the Rams snapped the streak to get to the Super Bowl.

It was an especially important game for Stafford, as he has the career stats to be a Hall of Famer, but never had great team success until now. A Super Bowl win would tie him up in Super Bowl wins with other great quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers.

On Feb. 13, either the Bengals or Rams will win the Super Bowl. With how the last two weeks of NFL playoff games have gone, we can be sure it will captivate the millions who watch.