The Chiefs have been battling back ever since their early-season woes to grab the number one overall seed in the AFC playoff picture, but it took one half for the Cincinnati Bengals to undo all that work, as the surging young squad fought their way back into Sunday afternoon’s game, outscoring KC 17-3 in the second half to earn a last-second 34-31 win. The loss pushed Kansas City back into the second seed, by virtue of a tiebreaker with the Tennessee Titans, and locked up a division title for Cincy.
The Bengals remind me very much what Kansas City looked like three years ago, when the young offense was setting the league on fire. There is so much talent among the skill players, and yet the Chiefs matched up fairly well, if it weren’t for the play of Ja’Marr Chase, who obliterated the Kansas City secondary, despite being covered well most of the day by Charvarius Ward. Chase and Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow were just on a different level on Sunday, keeping their team’s head above water time and again, before doing just enough to get the W as time expired.
I don’t have a ton to say about this game, other than that I would love to see a rematch in the playoffs. The Chiefs played well in the game, and finished just a few questionable coaching decisions, a few mistakes and a few mistakes away from the win. Let’s take a quick look at a few of those key moments that turned the tide, and then we’ll move on to the team’s current playoff position and what the season looks like going forward.
I want to look at miscues that Kansas City made, to start with, and particularly one stretch of football that could have changed the outcome of the game. Just before the first half would conclude, Byron Pringle ripped off a response to the Bengals’ comeback attempt, taking a kick return to the house, which would have given Kansas City a 35-17 lead heading into the break if it had not been called back on a hold. Moments later, the Chiefs had another chance to move the ball into scoring territory, as Patrick Mahomes launched the ball 64 yards to Tyreek Hill, who just plain dropped it. I’m not saying it was an easy play, but it was not half as difficult as some of the catches Chase made on the opposite side, and it was the type of play you need to convert if you want to win in the playoffs. Those two mishaps took at least 3 points off the board, and very possibly 7, which in a 3-point loss would clearly have made a difference in the outcome.
I don’t want to be the guy who complains about officiating, but I’m going to mention a couple late reffing miscues that likely altered the outcome of the game, and that would the pass interference call on L’Jarius Sneed and the personal foul on Ward. You could also make an argument that there were misses on false starts on the Bengals’ final drive. Referees are human, and you can’t really be that upset—though it would be a little less upsetting if it didn’t all happen late in the game.
In reality, the must frustrating part of this game were on the coaching side. The Chiefs did not have an answer for the Burrow-to-Chase connection all afternoon, but it also seems like the Chiefs never tried any alternative solutions. It’s not secret that Steve Spagnuolo prefers man-to-man coverage, allowing his safeties to roam the field. But already having ceded over 200 yards to the rookie standout, maybe it was not a good idea to leave him one-on-one with Ward on an all-out blitz on a third and 27. The insistence on running out a failing strategy is mystifying. What’s worse, the Cheifs had Ward playing Chase inside, to take away the slant, just asking for the unassisted deep shot to the kid who had already proven he could hit that play over and over again. Frustrating to say the least.
All that said, the Chiefs have fallen to the two-spot in the AFC bracket, so let’s look at what that might mean. First off, that puts the Titans in the driver’s seat in the conference, and how they hold up will mostly rely on whether or not Derrick Henry returns to a significant role. From there, it looks like the Chiefs will take on the winner of the Chargers-Raiders week 17 match up in the first round of the playoffs, and if they move on, they will probably see a rematch with this same Bengals team with a trip to the AFC Championship game on the line. Should be an exciting road to the Super Bowl—here’s the hoping that Kansas City finds their way through.