Rams and Bengals advance to Super Bowl LVI

By Mike Hayes, Jason Kurtz and Karl de Vries, CNN

Updated 10:49 p.m. ET, January 30, 2022
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3:57 p.m. ET, January 30, 2022

Bengals TE C.J. Uzomah 'doubtful' to return

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

Cincinnati Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah (87) holds a towel to his face as he is carted off the field on January 30, in Kansas City, Mo.
Cincinnati Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah (87) holds a towel to his face as he is carted off the field on January 30, in Kansas City, Mo. (Eric Gay/AP)

Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah is listed as "doubtful" to return in today's AFC Championship Game.

The 29-year-old was visibly distraught leaving the field of play, as tears dotted his face following a first-quarter injury to his left knee.

A favorite target of quarterback Joe Burrow, Uzomah had caught 13 passes and found the end zone once in the playoffs prior to the injury. In the regular season, Uzomah caught 49 balls for 493 yards and five touchdowns.

3:39 p.m. ET, January 30, 2022

Cincinnati field goal makes it 7-3 late in the first quarter

From CNN's Mike Hayes

Quarterback Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals hands off the ball in the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 30, in Kansas City, Missouri.
Quarterback Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals hands off the ball in the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 30, in Kansas City, Missouri. (David Eulitt/Getty Images)

The Bengals answered the Chiefs' touchdown with a field goal on the very next drive.

Cincinnati converted three 3rd downs but couldn't do it a fourth time as they were stalled at the KC 14-yard line. The Chiefs' defense forced key incompletions to Cincinnati wide receivers Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase.

Bengals kicker Evan McPherson then connected from 32 yards to get the visitors on the board late in the 1st quarter.

7-3 Chiefs as the second quarter begins.

3:27 p.m. ET, January 30, 2022

Chiefs strike first, lead Bengals 7-0

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

The Kansas City Chiefs have scored first in the AFC Championship Game.

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes connected with his top target, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, on a beautiful throw and catch in the back corner of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown.

The scoring play capped an 11-play, 84-yard drive which ate up 6:09 of game clock, and gives Kansas City the lead as the team seeks a third-straight trip to the Super Bowl.

3:17 p.m. ET, January 30, 2022

Bengals go 3-and-out on opening possession, still 0-0 from KC

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow #9 warms up before the AFC championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, on January 30, in Kansas City, Missouri.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow #9 warms up before the AFC championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, on January 30, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

For the first time this postseason, the Bengals fail to score on their opening possession of a half.

Entering today's tilt in Kansas City, Cincinnati had found the scoreboard to open both halves versus the Raiders in the Wild Card round and a week ago in the divisional round against top-seeded Tennessee.

However, in the AFC Championship Game versus the Chiefs, the Bengals failed to pick up a first down, went three and out, and punted the ball away.

It's still 0-0 in the first quarter.

3:09 p.m. ET, January 30, 2022

How we got here: Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers completed stunning NFL playoff upsets

From CNN's Ben Morse

Tee Higgins #85 of the Cincinnati Bengals against the Tennessee Titans during the AFC Divisional Playoff at Nissan Stadium on January 22, in Nashville, Tennessee.
Tee Higgins #85 of the Cincinnati Bengals against the Tennessee Titans during the AFC Divisional Playoff at Nissan Stadium on January 22, in Nashville, Tennessee. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers both claimed shock wins last Saturday thanks to field-goals as time expired despite both coming into their NFL divisional round clashes in the playoffs as underdogs.

Rookie kicker Evan McPherson drilled a 52-yard field-goal to give the Bengals a 19-16 win over the No. 1 seed Tennessee Titans and advance to their first AFC Championship game since the 1988 season.

Later on, in a snowy Lambeau Field, Robbie Gould kicked a 45-yard field-goal to claim a stunning comeback 13-10 win over the Green Bay Packers to advance them to the NFC Championship game.

The two teams are now one win away from Super Bowl LVI. The Bengals will visit the Kansas City Chiefs, while the 49ers will take on to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.

For the Bengals, the 2021 season has been a time of growing on the biggest stage.

A franchise that has had such little success -- last weekend's win against the Las Vegas Raiders was their first playoff win for 31 years -- this is a dream run.

Behind second-year quarterback Joe Burrow, rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase and rookie kicker McPherson, Cincinnati have developed one of the most potent offenses in the league.

After the Titans win, the Bengals players were full of praise for their kicker's nerves, with Burrow saying he had "ice in his veins."

Burrow told reporters that before going out for the game-winning kick, McPherson said to him: "Well, looks like we're going to the AFC Championship Game."

Moments later, he was being swarmed by his teammates after fulfilling his promise.

With temperatures dropping to below freezing and the snow falling, traveling from California to Wisconsin to face Green Bay can be a daunting task.

And the Packers set the tone early at home, an impressive opening drive ending in an AJ Dillion touchdown to give them a lead.

While the 49ers offense struggled, so did the Packers after that, with a blocked field-goal their only other real chance to score in the first half.

San Francisco got their own field-goal shortly after, before the Packers replied with their own in the second half.

But it was a mistake on special teams which changed the momentum in the 49ers favor, a blocked punt allowing Talanoa Hufanga to pick up the loose ball and run in a touchdown with less than five minutes remaining.

After stopping Green Bay's offense again, the 49ers were able to get in position to allow Gould to kick the game-winning kick and advance to their second NFC Championship game in three years.

While it was jubilation for the 49ers, the defeat begins an offseason of questions about the future of superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.

The 37-year-old, the NFL's reigning MVP, is tipped to win the award this season but said he was a "little numb" after the defeat.

Read more about the Bengals and Niners' underdog wins here.

3:09 p.m. ET, January 30, 2022

How we got here: The Rams survived a Tom Brady-inspired comeback to advance to the NFC Championship

Matthew Stafford #9 of the Los Angeles Rams throws the ball in the second quarter of the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Raymond James Stadium on January 23, in Tampa, Florida.
Matthew Stafford #9 of the Los Angeles Rams throws the ball in the second quarter of the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Raymond James Stadium on January 23, in Tampa, Florida. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Rams survived a Tom Brady-inspired Tampa Bay Buccaneers fightback to edge a pulsating 30-27 NFL playoff contest on Sunday.

Having seen his team steamrolled to a 27-3 deficit with just over three minutes of the third quarter remaining, Brady looked set to write another fabled chapter in his legendary career as the 44-year-old quarterback helped drag his team to level scoring.

Yet his dreams of completing a famous comeback in overtime -- as well as a shot at an eighth Super Bowl ring -- were dashed by Matt Gay's 30-yard field goal as the clock expired following a frenetic final few minutes.

Incredibly, it meant that the first three divisional round games were all decided by last second field goals.

And after the Green Bay Packers' defeat to the San Francisco 49ers, it also means this year will be the first time since 2009 that neither Aaron Rodgers or Brady will feature in a conference championship game, according ESPN Stats and Info.

Already history makers as the first venue to host a conference championship game and Super Bowl in the same season, a win for the Rams at the SoFi Stadium against the 49ers will see them become the second team in NFL history to play at home for the Super Bowl.

The only other team to have played at home for the NFL's showpiece occasion was Brady's Tampa Bay at last year's Super Bowl 55, which swept aside the Kansas City Chiefs in Florida.

Having gone 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions without a playoff win, quarterback Matthew Stafford now has two in his first season with the Rams.

The 33-year-old went 28-for-38 for 366 passing yards without an interception, throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for one more as the Rams roared towards a seemingly inevitable victory across the first three quarters.

A stunning, 70-yard touchdown throw to Cooper Kupp in the closing stages of the second quarter -- just moments after being sacked -- proved the pick of the bunch on a landmark night for the Rams' number nine.

Read more about the Rams' triumph over the Bucs here.

3:08 p.m. ET, January 30, 2022

Here's why some fans want the NFL to change its overtime rules

From CNN's Ben Morse

Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs past Matt Milano #58 and Taron Johnson #24 of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 23, in Kansas City, Missouri.
Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs past Matt Milano #58 and Taron Johnson #24 of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 23, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Kansas City Chiefs 42, Buffalo Bills 36 — an instant classic that'll be remembered for years to come.

Whether it be for the big-name players, the remarkable quarterback play or for the dramatic back-and-forth nature of it, their playoff encounter will live long in the memory.

However, for some, the game's ending did leave somewhat of a sour taste.

Having won the coin toss at the beginning of overtime, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes connected with Travis Kelce for a walk-off touchdown on the first possession of extra time.

Such are the rules of overtime in the NFL, Josh Allen and his red-hot offense never got the chance to reply, annoying many neutral spectators.

Some called it the "worst rule in sports," while others jokingly called for US President Biden step in and fix the rule.

And while Allen, shortly after suffering the crushing defeat, was magnanimous about the current overtime rules, it's raised the question: should they be changed to allow both teams the opportunity to score?

Read more about NFL overtime here.

3:06 p.m. ET, January 30, 2022

Last weekend's 4 NFL divisional playoff games averaged 37 million viewers

From CNN's Brian Stelter

Mecole Hardman #17 of the Kansas City Chiefs dives to score a 25 yard touchdown against Micah Hyde #23 of the Buffalo Bills during the third quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 23, in Kansas City, Missouri.
Mecole Hardman #17 of the Kansas City Chiefs dives to score a 25 yard touchdown against Micah Hyde #23 of the Buffalo Bills during the third quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 23, in Kansas City, Missouri. (David Eulitt/Getty Images)

None of the headwinds facing legacy broadcast television are strong enough to stop the NFL right now.

Last weekend's four divisional games averaged 37 million viewers at any given time. That's 20% higher than the audience size for the equivalent games last year.

The totals now count some streaming and out-of-home viewing, but that alone can't account for the huge year-over-year growth. All of the dour predictions about the future performance of the NFL are being challenged by this winter's action.

Competitive and high-scoring games always help. So do compelling storylines. But even beyond that, football is in a league of its own in the US.

The most-watched of the four games was Sunday night's Bills-Chiefs nailbiter on CBS. It averaged 43 million viewers for the four quarters and overtime and peaked with nearly 52 million viewers.

Overall, the game was the most-watched event on American TV since last year's Super Bowl.

Read more about the NFL's big TV ratings here.

2:53 p.m. ET, January 30, 2022

How we got here: Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs defeated the Buffalo Bills in an epic back-and-forth battle

From CNN's Ben Morse

Patrick Mahomes runs toward the end zone while celebrating a touchdown scored by Tyreek Hill during the fourth quarter of the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium on January 23, in Kansas City, Missouri.
Patrick Mahomes runs toward the end zone while celebrating a touchdown scored by Tyreek Hill during the fourth quarter of the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium on January 23, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Did we watch one of the best games in NFL history last week?

We definitely saw two great next-generation quarterbacks on display at Arrowhead Stadium as Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen put on an absolute clinic last Sunday night in an epic AFC divisional round clash in the NFL playoffs.

Mahomes threw a walk-off touchdown to Travis Kelce in overtime as the Chiefs finally beat the Bills 42-36 after an all-time encounter that saw twists and turns throughout.

The game culminated in a wild ending, which saw an extraordinary 25 points scored in the final 1:54 of regulation time.

With just 13 seconds left and the Chiefs trailing by three points, it seemed implausible that Kansas City could find a way back into the game.

But Chiefs head coach Andy Reid had some words of inspiration for Mahomes.

"When it's grim, be the Grim Reaper and go get it," Reid said he told Mahomes before the final drive of regulation. "So he did that. He made everybody around him better which he is great at and, you know, he just does it effortlessly. When it gets tough, he's gonna be there battling and players appreciate that."

And with the words ringing in his ears, the 26-year-old was able to get his team into position for a game-tying, 49-yard field goal from Harrison Butker.

In overtime, the coin toss became the deciding factor as the Bills and Allen never got back onto the field, the Chiefs driving all the way down the field before Kelce's walk-off touchdown.

But the game will be remembered as one of the greatest in NFL history, and with two of the league's best young quarterbacks at the helm, it could be a clash we see multiple times in the years to come.

"It was a heck of a game," Mahomes told CBS' Tracy Wolfson afterwards. "I mean, 17, Josh (Allen), played his a** off, pardon my language. I mean, it was a great game between two great football teams and, at the end of the day, guys like Tyreek (Hill) and Travis (Kelce) made the plays that won us the game."

Read more about the Chiefs' incredible win over the Bills here.