Confusion over late whistle in Chiefs-Bengals AFC title game
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Referees momentarily sunk the Chiefs’ 23-20 win over the Bengals in the AFC Championship game into wide-scale confusion and overshadowed what was otherwise a classic fourth quarters between two heavyweights.

Tied 20-20 with just under 11 minutes to play in the game and facing a 2nd-and-9 in their own territory, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw an incomplete pass intended for Jerick McKinnon. The clock incorrectly continued to run, however, as the Chiefs lined up for their third-down play.

Right as the Chiefs snapped the ball, one of the sideline referees began sprinting onto the field while waving his hands in the air, motioning that he was ruling the play dead in order to reset the clock. None of the players on the field seemingly saw the referee, though, and proceeded with the play as usual. Mahomes threw an incomplete pass, and the Bengals believed they had secured a pivotal third-down stop.

Cincinnati’s excitement was paused when it was announced the play was ruled dead before the ball was snapped, meaning the stop didn’t count. After the clock was reset, the Chiefs subsequently got another third-down play. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor could be seen berating an official on the sideline.

A sideline referee sprints onto the field to blow the play dead.
A sideline referee sprints onto the field to blow the play dead.

Zac Taylor berates an official during the Bengals' AFC Championship matchup with the Chiefs.
Zac Taylor berates an official during the Bengals’ AFC Championship matchup with the Chiefs.


Referee Ronald Torbert makes an announcement during the AFC Championship.
Referee Ronald Torbert makes an announcement during the AFC Championship.


The CBS broadcast was slow to show a replay of the referee entering the field and ruling the play dead, prompting rapid speculation as to why the Chiefs got a second chance.

On the Chiefs’ second third-down opportunity, Bengals defensive lineman B.J. Hill sacked Mahomes, but Eli Apple was called for defensive holding, awarding the Chiefs a new set of downs. But Cincinnati then forced a punt on the next set of downs.

The 20-20 score remained the same until Harrison Butker’s 45-yard field goal in the final seconds gave the Chiefs their decisive lead and a berth in Super Bowl 2023.

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