The game was a tale of two halves, that ended in a nightmarish loss for the Kansas City Chiefs. At the end of the day, the Chiefs have only themselves to blame, and they must re-evaluate themselves this offseason.
A devastating 27-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFCCG has left the Kansas City Chiefs with more questions than answers. The team had a noticeable lead heading into halftime and had looked almost perfect during the first half of the game in all phases.
The second half was much different, and it saw the Chiefs blow another prime chance to win the AFC and take another trip to the Super Bowl.
Abandoning the run game when it was still available
The Chiefs’ offensive line and running backs turned in a dominant performance, and it was wasted by poor play-calling and bad game management. Much like they did in the first meeting with the Bengals the Chiefs were able to physically beat up and create massive amounts of movement in the rung game, which allowed Jerick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire to feast.
The Chiefs used inside zone, and variations of counter to move the ball consistently, and they did so early and often. The game’s opening drive saw rips of nearly seven to ten yards a carry from McKinnon, and most of those yards he was following his linemen.
It wasn’t just that the Chiefs’ offensive line was winning blocks, they were mauling the Bengals front, crushing their spirit and it was opening up the offense to its full potential.
That was the case in the first half, Edwards-Helaire and McKinnon combined for ten carries and 60 yards rushing. This was total domination, and at times it seemed the Chiefs should have even gone back to it more often. Mahomes had played well enough that it was clear the Bengals would sell out to stop the pass, which should have led to more second-half carries for both backs.
Instead, it lead to only eight carries for the RB’s, where they accumulated 41 yards for averaging just over five a touch. The Bengals proved they could do nothing to stop it. The second half also included a stretch where the Chiefs passed the ball on seven of nine plays. The drives ended in a punt, interception, and another punt. Unacceptable.
Even late in the game when the Bengals went all out and showed things no one had seen all year pure physicality was enough to create plays in the run game. Trey Smith, Joe Thuney, and Creed Humphrey played particularly well along with the interior. The Chiefs would run the ball just once inside the five one this game-tying drive and did not look to run one time in overtime. The Bengals were battered by the end of the game, could not hold the LOS, and the Chiefs let them off the hook.
The defense made stops when they needed to
The Chiefs defense had a ton of issues this season, they had high-dollar players not living up to expectations, they had players who had no business being on the field playing huge amounts of time, and coaches who were late to react. All that said, if anyone said the Chiefs defense would only give up two touchdowns in the AFCCG and find a way to lose no one would believe it.
Despite the issues, the Bengals ended the majority of their drives with field goals and punts, and one touchdown drive came on a short field after a Patrick Mahomes interception.
“You can’t beat the Chiefs kicking field goals” has been a phrase that I and many others have thrown around a lot of the course of the last four seasons, and for the most part, it has been true. This week it was not even if it did display the epitome of bend but don’t break defense with several key RedZone stands.
Late in the game, the defense even forced an interception on a bad throw-off of Joe Burrow. L’Jarius Sneed played perfect coverage on Jamar Chase, who had a very quiet game, and forced the turnover. The offense could not capitalize, punting after just three plays.
The Chiefs defense has faced criticism after the poor start to the season, but when the offense sputtered at the midway point it was the defense that stepped up to help save the season. In 2018 many people said if the Chiefs defense could be close to average or even mediocre they could win any game they played in. This week that wasn’t the case.
Mahomes drastic shift in play from the first half to the second.
The hardest thing to stomach from the game was the play from Patrick Mahomes. It was something we had not seen since he stepped forward as the team’s franchise quarterback, and the drastic contrast from an MVP championship level first half to a second-half so terrible it left everyone scratching their heads was unfathomable.
Fresh off of playing the best game of his career in the dramatic win over Buffalo, and another dominating Wild Card round game vs the Steelers Mahomes had thrown 11 touchdown passes, which tied Joe Montana for first all-time.
He could do no wrong, and the ball was soaring out of his hand.
We will never know how much the end of the first half weighed on the Chiefs as they headed into the locker room, but it was the beginning of the end.
Mahomes was inconsistent and seemed to be pressing in the second half of the game. His first-half dominance vanished, as the Bengals seemed to know the Chiefs could not help themselves when it came to throwing the football. It wasn’t working, the Bengals were even dropping eight back into coverage, remaining patient, waiting for mistakes, and the Chiefs made them.
Andy Reid kept allowing the pass game woes to continue late into the game, where a rattled Mahomes missed a throw to Kelce and proceeded to nearly lose the football after taking a horrendous sack.
The three plays of overtime felt forced like Mahomes was trying to throw the Chiefs back to the Super Bowl instead of flow with the game. The team didn’t attempt one run, and after two bad incomplete attempts to Demarcus Robinson, Mahomes tried to force the ball deep downfield to Tyreek Hill. The coverage closed on Hill quickly and it would be an interception. A short field for the Bengals and a field goal would end the game.
This was a brutal loss, maybe the most unforgivable of the Mahomes era. Both Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid must shoulder the loss for this game. They fell right into the Bengals trap, and it was their aggression and greed that caught them in the end. It was the same thing they struggled with within the middle of the season, instead of trying to stay balanced and remaining patient they started to press, one relying on a magic throw and one relying on a magic play call. Neither came. This loss will sting for a while, as it should, but it should lead to some serious internal evaluation from a play-calling and roster-building perspective. The Chiefs head into the offseason with more questions than answers.