The Bengals, after going 6-25-1 the past two seasons and finishing at the bottom of the A.F.C. North last season after Burrow tore knee ligaments in Week 11, seized on his unflappable nonchalance to rampage through the conference bracket. Afterward, he said he was more surprised that one of his favorite rappers, Kid Cudi, had contacted him — and that LeBron James, another Ohio native, had congratulated him in a Twitter post — than at Sunday’s outcome.
“That part is surreal,” Burrow said. “The football part, not so much.”
Burrow spoke about an hour after dealing Mahomes his first playoff loss to a team quarterbacked by someone other than Tom Brady. He wore all black and, oh yes, that pendant.
“They’re definitely real,” Burrow said, smiling, of the gemstones that spelled JB9 on his chest. “I make too much money to have fake ones, so these are real.”
And so was everything else that transpired over 3 hours and 14 minutes of unadulterated mayhem. Kansas City’s three touchdowns in three drives to start the game. The dexterous interception by the defensive tackle B.J. Hill that positioned the Bengals for the tying score late in the third quarter, Burrow’s 2-yard, back-shoulder pass to his former Louisiana State teammate Ja’Marr Chase. The throngs of Cincinnati fans, wearing Bengal-striped shawls and jerseys of heroes past and present, that congregated in the lower bowl to watch the presentation of the A.F.C. championship trophy, named for Lamar Hunt, the founder and original owner of the Kansas City franchise.
After an uneven beginning to the season, Kansas City had dropped only one game since Halloween — a 34-31 defeat to the Bengals in Cincinnati on Jan. 2 — and precedent suggested that Sunday would proffer the opposite result. Over the last three years, it had won all five rematches against teams it lost to earlier in the season, while scoring more than 39 points per game.
The most recent payback occurred at this same venue last week, when Kansas City kindled an absurd comeback — a three-play, 44-yard, 13-second field goal drive — to tie Buffalo at the end of regulation before winning the divisional-round game in overtime.