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The Cincinnati Bengals are in a familiar spot. On Sunday, they'll enter Arrowhead Stadium with the task of slaying the Kansas City Chiefs for the second year in a row to advance to the Super Bowl. While all eyes will be on Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes as these two quarterbacks duel on the AFC Championship stage yet again, the secret sauce and underrated X-factor that could lead to Cincinnati punching a ticket to Arizona for Super Bowl LVII comes on the defensive side of the ball. Specifically, the unit's knack for slamming the door shut on teams late in games. 

Trivia time! Do you know how many points the Bengals have allowed in the fourth quarter this postseason? Zero. Zilch. A big goose egg.That's not a fluke either. During the regular season, they allowed the third-fewest fourth-quarter points per game (4.2). When you  add in the two fourth-quarter shutouts in the postseason, they rank second in the league overall, allowing an average of just 3.7 points per game during the final quarter of play. 

While this could potentially be lost in the star-studded shadow of Cincinnati's offense headlined by Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase, the Chiefs know this about the Bengals' defense firsthand. In each of their three previous head-to-head matchups, including the AFC Championship a year ago, the Bengals were either tied with the Chiefs or trailing entering the fourth quarter. Not only did Cincinnati proceed to win each of those games, but has outscored Kansas City 26-6 over the fourth quarter and overtime.

Bengals' previous three games vs. Chiefs

GameScore entering 4QFinal Score

2021 -- Week 17

Chiefs, 28-24

Bengals, 34-31

2021 -- AFC Championship

Tied, 21-21

Bengals, 27-24 (OT)

2022 -- Week 13

Chiefs, 24-17

Bengals 27-24

Cincinnati has done a stellar job at neutralizing Patrick Mahomes over this stretch as well. In those three games, the Bengals defense has held Mahomes to 111 total passing yards, zero touchdown passes and have picked him off once during the fourth quarter and overtime. All that results to a 63.8 passer rating. 

The fourth quarter has also been an area where Mahomes has seen a dip in his production this season. In 2021, Mahomes' 115.0 passer rating in the fourth quarter was his highest mark of any individual quarter during regulation. This year, his 87.7 fourth-quarter passer rating is the lowest of any individual quarter during regulation and the lowest fourth-quarter passer rating since he became the full-time starter in Kansas City. Mahomes also has a 1/1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the fourth quarter this year, which is a pretty dramatic drop-off from when he had 11 passing touchdowns and just two picks in the fourth quarter a season ago.

So, we have one team that is thriving defensively in the fourth quarter this year, while the Kryptonite to the MVP quarterback they're set to face this weekend has been his inefficiency over that same stretch? Seems like an X-factor that isn't getting enough attention and could rear its head on Sunday as it's done throughout the year.