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Kansas City — Von Bell stood in front of his locker, one leg on a stool, his arm on his thigh, his hand on his chin.

His voice trembled as 23-20 recounted the dream-tearing reality of life. Also.

This wasn’t supposed to end like this. Not this year. Not this team.

“It’s hard to talk about,” Bell said. “It still feels surreal, as if it never happened. This group of guys, it’s special. I’ve never been a part of anything like this.”

Bell knows all too well how fleeting these opportunities are, a ten-game winning streak in the AFC Championship game, the confidence that exudes from every player, and how unlikely a fateful season can appear in just one drive. He was just one play away from playing in the Lombardi Trophy, the first in franchise history.

After converting a third-and-16 that only needed a field goal for the win, Joe Burrow has the ball at the 1-minute mark.

The fact that Harrison Butker hit a 45-yarder in the final seconds instead felt surreal. The Bengals don’t lose like this. A team that had always found a way out suddenly surprisingly didn’t.


Zach Taylor leaves the field after the Bengals lost 23-20 to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. (Sam Green/USA Today)

The team laid the foundations for a bright future for Cincinnati football and managed to manage Burrow to win the championship, but again fell short of three points by three points and wondered if they would ever see another chance like this. I cut deep into the unknown. .

“It hurts,” Bell said. “It really hurts because I know the nature of this business. anything can happen “

Bell was part of the Saints team that lost the NFC Championship Game to bad pass interference no-call. He lost last year’s Super Bowl.

“Skeleton in the closet,” he calls it.

He should make another room. Seeing the only empty spot still in the trophy case adds a fresh set of moments that make you wonder what happened to this franchise.

A four-game streak of defense that held Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs without a touchdown in the final quarter returned the ball to Burrow twice and had a chance to lead the offense in the fourth quarter.

A deep ball to Tee Higgins ended in an interception a quarter later when he surfaced for a gravity-defying high-point TD. Then Bengals’ own goal he inevitably after he went down first at 33 with 56 seconds left after Hayden his third and his 16th behind the post He made an incredible conversion to Hurst felt like trying to do it again. Evan McPherson could kick the same goalpost as he did this time last year.

Embracing an uphill road all season, from a 0-2 start to Monday night football cancellation sentiment to the NFL, the team avoided the coin toss and headed into the Buffalo blizzard without a second thought in the divisional round. rice field. neutral field.

But each time they got to this point by finding a way out of the quagmire. On Sunday they did so again. With the taint of Mike Hilton’s “Barrowhead” comment, the mayor’s gaffe and retribution for last year’s loss, the Chiefs have loudly admitted to being a disrespectful frenzy.

Chris Jones napped off the Bengals’ game plan, cutting Alex Kappa’s injury into 5 quarterback hits, 3 tackles for losses, 2 sacks, 2 holding calls and 1 intentional strike. Each grounding hurt more.

Superman caped Patrick Mahomes mud wants his team and his body for 326 passing yards and two touchdowns.

Two first-half red zone chances ended in a chip-shot field goal against the 31st-ranked red zone defense in football, and included two blunders just before halftime with four seconds left on the 5-yard line. Head coach Zach Taylor said he would have played one more if five seconds had passed: one tick.

Mud that 3 downs by the Chiefs in the 4th quarter had to be stopped as the umpire ran into a stoppage of the clock and a defensive holding call.


Zach Taylor is talking to umpire Ronald Taubert after officials said the down would be replayed because the Chiefs’ third-down play was blown out by a whistle. (Kareem Elghazar/USA Today)

But on the bus to the stadium, Taylor was presented with a scenario in which Burrow stole the ball in a tie in a two-minute drill for the AFC title.

“There is no question,” said Taylor. “You go in there and think you’re going to win with no time left on a game-winning field goal.”

That feeling was passed on to the bystanders.

”Ten times out of 10, I think Joe can win if he has the ball,” Jermaine Pratt said.

Instead, short gains, imperfections and finally a stressed Jones sack planted momentum and dreams on the turf.

“These games never get pretty,” says Burrow. “We have to find a way. It felt like the tide had turned. It felt like we were trying to find a way to win this game. We didn’t play to the end.”

When Drue Chrisman’s punt was returned by Skyy Moore for a devastating 29 yards and Joseph Ossai pushed Mahomes out of bounds with a game-closing late hit, all the mistakes at this heavyweight slugfest meant the It filled the air of the sorrowful visitor’s locker room at Arrowhead Stadium.

Deeper

Deeper

Bengals brotherhood help Joseph Osai after pivotal AFC title game penalty

Cheers, war chants, and the faint sound of the Chiefs spewing victory trash talk on the field set as intolerable background noise.

“In football, you either win or you miser,” said Ted Karas. “We come to a tragic end tonight.”

Taylor called it “the closest team I’ve ever been on.” Chemistry’s championship level rarely reaches the brink of back-to-back Super Bowls and franchise history. After doing his media duties, he circled the locker room, hugged nearly every player, and quickly offered words of comfort.

“It hurts, believe me,” Taylor said. “Our goal was to win the Super Bowl. It’s scary to be seconds away to go back there again and watch them celebrate.

Tears welled up in the eyes of the Bengals’ locker room, especially veterans like Bell and Karas, because they know. they just know

They know the rarity of building and nurturing a truly special team.

These chances, these moments, are rarely seen in this league.

“You are not,” said the crow. “You have to take every opportunity. Appreciate every opportunity. It’s not going to break my spirit. There’s always a numbness at the end of the season unless you’re a champion. And we’re not.” is not.

The Bengals’ structure will change in the coming months. Free agents like Jesse Bates, Hurst, Pratt and Bell could leave. The veteran at the center of these two runs to the AFC Championship Game can give away his money free for the next shot. Burrow’s deal will ultimately change the dynamics of roster building.

The foundation established by the largest stretch of football in franchise history over the past three months will persist. The future is still dazzlingly bright.

“We’re building a legacy now. Everything is still in the process of being built,” said Jamar Chase, leaning over his rocker, showing emotion through the redness of his eyes. The man who was crying tears of joy last year went away in tears again. “As long as we are winning and moving forward, all is well for us.”

Chase was asked if this loss could help the legacy. he didn’t know why he? His 4th and his 6th leap, double his 35-yard grab with his team, may have been remembered as one of his greatest receptions in Bengals history. Hmm.


Ja’Marr Chase delivered a first-down 4-down catch against two Chiefs defenders in the fourth quarter. (Denny Medley/USA Today)

Instead, it’s a footnote. The remarkable growth of the young nucleus that grew up this season is difficult to see against that background.

“It’s positive,” Chase said. “But this is what I wanted”

DJ Reader didn’t want to talk about it any more. Calls, nuances, Ossai’s hits, Mahomes’ hero acts. He did everything he could to keep his focus on the big picture.

“It’s been a great season,” said Reeder. “I’m not going to take away from any of it. Great year. I will never let anyone else paint my reflection in the mirror. Will that take away from what we did this year? Nope.” It’s a pity to lose that trail at the end.Yeah.It stings.But it won’t kill us.It will make us stronger and we will be back to climb the mountain again next year.”

Yes, I will climb mountains again. You have to come down empty-handed from the cliff at the top of the mountain and start all over again from the valley. I don’t know how many of these men who helped you get to this point will be around for your next climb.

“I’m proud of this team,” said Taylor. “I’m proud of the character of these men. This is where character is tested the most in moments like this when they’re fresh. You won back-to-back AFC championships and you won the Super Bowl. A lot of obstacles have been thrown at this team, but they’ve beaten them all.We couldn’t get past the last one here.”

they couldn’t. The fact that they have to live together. indelible facts. It comes to mind from time to time during offseason training sessions, or watching his AFCCG in the future, or perhaps even in retirement. The visceral frustration of this moment is always there. A skeleton in the closet.

Bell knows. That’s why, when he turned his face to this special team’s locker room, his emotions were stirred again.

Until they actually get Lombardi, this will be a game of constantly looking back at these players, these coaches, this franchise and wondering if this was their shot. And then I saw it slip away.

“It will always be a burden on you,” said Bell. “Shelf life is very short. You never know what the next year will bring.”

(Top photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)



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