Cincinnati Bengals Playing In 4th AFC Title Game On Sunday, Eyeing First Super Bowl Victory

The Cincinnati Bengals are in an unusual situation.

On Sunday, the team will face the Kansas City Chiefs for the second consecutive year in the AFC Championship game. It is just the fourth time in franchise history the Bengals are playing in a conference title game. They won the previous three appearances in this round and advanced to the Super Bowl, where they lost each time.

Still, for much of the franchise’s history, the Bengals were among the league’s least successful franchises.

Until last January, they had not won a playoff game in 31 years, losing seven Wild Card round games during that span, including five in a row from 2011 to 2015. And save for the three seasons in which they made Super Bowl appearances, they have only one playoff victory. That occurred on Jan. 6. 1991 when the Bengals defeated the Houston Oilers, 41-14, in a Wild Card game as quarterback Boomer Esiason threw two touchdown passes and ran for another.

The next week, they lost, 20-10, to the Los Angeles Raiders, the start of a playoff victory drought that wouldn’t end until Jan. 15, 2022.

Now, with quarterback Joe Burrow at the helm, the Bengals are playing in back-to-back AFC title games for the first time. Cincinnati is an underdog against the Chiefs and playing in a difficult road environment, but the Bengals have defeated the Chiefs in their last three matchups, all of which were decided by three points, including a 27-24 victory on Dec. 4 in Cincinnati.

Here is a look at the Bengals’ other three AFC title game appearances:

Jan. 10, 1981 – Bengals defeat San Diego Chargers, 27-7, in Cincinnati

The Bengals entered the 1981 season having finished last in their division for three consecutive seasons. And they had only made the playoffs three times, losing in the first round each time.

Still, Cincinnati had a breakthrough season, going 12-4, winning the AFC Central and clinching the conference’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The Bengals opened the postseason with a 28-21 victory over the Buffalo Bills as quarterback Ken Anderson threw the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter to rookie receiver Cris Collinsworth, who is now NBC’s lead game analyst.

The next weekend, the Bengals defeated the Chargers by 20 points in what was known as the “Freezer Bowl” due to the cold conditions: the temperate was -9 degrees, while the wind chill was -59 degrees. Anderson threw for two touchdowns, while the defense pressured Chargers All-Pro quarterback Dan Fouts, who went 15-of-28 for one touchdown and two interceptions and was sacked twice.

In the Super Bowl on Jan. 24 in Detroit, the Bengals lost26-21, to the San Francisco 49ers, who won their first title. San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after going 14-of-22 for 157 yards and a touchdown and rushing for another touchdown.

Jan. 8, 1989 – Bengals defeat the Buffalo Bills, 21-10, in Cincinnati

The Bengals won their division and entered the playoffs as the AFC’s No. 1 seed with a 12-4 record. They had the largest point differential (119 points) in the league and averaged an NFL-best 28 points per game.

After earning a bye, Cincinnati opened the playoffs on New Year’s Eve against the Seattle Seahawks, the AFC West champions. At halftime, the Bengals were ahead21-0, on three rushing touchdowns. The Seahawks then scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make it 21-13 and got the ball back with about two minutes remaining, but they didn’t score.

The AFC title game featured the top two seeds and a rematch of a regular season matchup in which the Bengals defeated the Bills, 35-21, at home on Nov. 27. The Bengals won again in the playoffs as they ran the ball 50 times for 175 yards and two touchdowns and had a 39:29 to 20:31 advantage in time of possession. Bills quarterback Jim Kelly threw three interceptions and completed only 14-of-30 passes.

The Super Bowl was a rematch of the game seven years earlier and had the same outcome. This time, the 49ers won. 20-16, culminating with Montana’s 10-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds remaining. That was ranked as the 21st greatest play in NFL history and was a heartbreaker for the Bengals, who were ahead despite Esiason only completing 11-of-25 passes and throwing an interception.

Jan. 30, 2022 – Bengals defeat the Chiefs, 27-24, in overtime in Kansas City

The Bengals were one of the surprise teams of last year. They had finished last in the division for three consecutive years and hadn’t made the playoffs since 2015.

Still, Cincinnati won three of their final four regular season games, won the AFC North and entered the playoffs as the No. 4 seed. They won the wild card game, 26-19, over the Las Vegas Raiders, their first playoff victory since January 1991. The next week, the Bengals traveled to Tennessee and defeated the No. 1 seed Titans, 19-16, as kicker Evan McPherson made a 52-yard field goal as time expired.

The Bengals traveled again for the AFC title game. The Chiefs were the No. 2 seed and favorites, having made the conference championship game for the fourth consecutive season.

At halftime, the Chiefs led, 21-10, although the game was far from over. The Bengals scored the next 14 points, including a 52-yard field goal from McPherson that gave Cincinnati a 24-21 lead with just more than six minutes remaining.

On the next drive, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes completed five consecutive passes, including a two-yarder to tight end Travis Kelce that gave Kansas City a first and goal on the 5-yard line with 1:30 remaining. But on third down from the 9-yard line, Mahomes was sacked and fumbled, but Kansas City recovered at the 26-yard line.

The Chiefs then turned to kicker Harrison Butker, who made a 44-yard field goal as time expired to send the game to overtime. Kansas City won the coin toss and gained the first overtime possession, but the Chiefs went three-and-out. On the next possession, McPherson came through again, making a 31-yard field goal and sending the Bengals to their first Super Bowl in 33 years.

As the Bengals did in the January 1989 Super Bowl, they took a second half lead. Cincinnati led the Los Angeles Rams, 20-13, on McPherson’s field goal with 10:15 remaining in the third quarter. But they didn’t score again and lost23-20, when Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp with 1:25 left. Kupp had eight catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns and was named the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player.

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