Week 17 Reactions : Chiefs Lose a Heartbreaker in Cincinnati, Bengals Clinch AFC North

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A 34-31 loss to the AFC North champion Bengals leaves Kansas City with the AFC’s second seed, and more questions than anticipated going into the final week of the regular season. 

Chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769

News & Notes

  • Bengals 34, Chiefs 31 – Patrick Mahomes 26/35, 259 yards, 2 TD 
  • The loss snaps an 8 game winning streak for the Chiefs 
  • Tennessee’s win over the Miami Dolphins propels them into the 1 seed in the AFC 
  • The Chiefs will face division rival Denver Saturday at 3:30 Central; Tennessee will travel to Houston to play the Texans Sunday at noon.
  • Orlando Brown (calf strain) could be back for the Chiefs game against Denver. RT Lucas Niang tore his patellar tendon and will be out for the remainder of the season. 

What was that? Clearly that’s a hypothetical question, but in all reality the Kingdom has to travel all the way back to week 7 in our minds to recall what a loss feels like. There’s anger involved. Searching for answers to questions that none of us really have, but want nonetheless. This is certainly less jarring than the last time the Chiefs lost – a 27-3 drubbing at the hands of the Tennessee Titans in late October- but the sting is still there nonetheless. This game was in KC’s grasp until the final 3:19. We all know what happened at that point. 

From the beginning of this game, Mahomes and the Chiefs offense had it clicking. A rare 3 and out on the opening drive was followed by 4 consecutive touchdown drives – 5 plays, 72 yards (2:38); 7 plays, 63 yards (3:50); 9 plays, 75 yards (4:05); and 9 plays, 73 yards (5:24). Touchdown strikes from Mahomes to Demarcus Robinson and Travis Kelce sealed the first two Chiefs scores, and Darrell Williams punched in touchdown runs for the last two. In spite of losing LT Orlando Brown before the game even began to a calf strain and Lucas Niang to a torn patellar tendon on the second drive of the game. Joe Thuney stepped up in a huge way, sliding from his left guard spot to anchor the offensive line at left tackle (allowing 0 sacks while drawing the assignment of block Trey Hendrickson all day long), and Nick Allegretti filled in for Thuney at left guard not missing a beat. Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, and Andrew Wylie also played incredible games as Cincinnati was unable to get to Mahomes at all on Sunday, and the offensive line spearheaded a 155 yard rushing performance for the Chiefs against the Bengals 4th ranked rushing defense. Darrell Williams played arguably the best game of his career, rushing 14 times for 88 yards and 2 scores and hauling in 3 passes for 19 yards. His 17 touches for 107 yards and 2 TD looked a lot like a starting running back, and Derrick Gore added 3 runs and a reception for a total of 45 yards. While Clyde Edwards-Helaire certainly bring a lot to the table, it’s impossible to ignore how good this offense looks with Williams on the field. No one should ever lose their job to injury, but Darrell has proven during his time in KC that he is worthy of RB1 distinction. He runs with authority, is exceptional catching the ball out of the backfield, and is and unbelievably huge help in pass protection both while staying home to block and while chipping out on routes. It will be interesting to see how the Chiefs coaching staff handles this roster decision with CEH coming back from a bruised clavicle soon. 

 The Chiefs led the Bengals 28-17 at the half. The offense was cooking. Right before the half the Chiefs missed a prime opportunity to make the score nearly insurmountable when Tyreek Hill bobbled and dropped a 69 yard pass from Mahomes where he had one man to beat to take it in for a touchdown with under a minute to go in the first half. At the very least this would have been 3 more points, but instead the Chiefs took the 11 point lead into the break, and for the most part the Kingdom was feeling good. But the Ja’Marr Chase train had already started it’s roll, and the Kansas City coaching staff had no answer for it the remainder of the afternoon. 

Defensively the Chiefs appeared to have the Bengals figured out outside of the incredible performance that Ja’Marr Chase was putting up. Joe Mixon, who is second in the league in rushing, was held to 46 yards on 12 carriers. The Chiefs defensive line got to Joe Burrow for 4 sacks, including 2 from Chris Jones who dominated this game from start to finish. But the secondary struggled at times against the Bengals loaded WR corps, and the coaching staff refused to adjust to help their players out. After Chase worked Rashad Fenton in the second half in man coverage, the answer would have been – to anyone watching the game – to bracket Chase and make the rest of the Bengals receivers beat you. We saw this earlier in the season when the Bills and Titans did this to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. We had the playbook to stop a dominant receiving threat because it has been rolled out on the Chiefs time and time again. And, instead, Steve Spagnuolo elected to leave Chase single covered time and time again, sealing the fate of the game and allowing Chase to have the biggest game a rookie receiver has ever had in the NFL. To start the second half it appeared that Spagnuolo had bracketed Daniel Sorensen over the top of Chase on what ended up being a 69 yard touchdown pass from Burrow to Chase (one of his 3), but Sorensen was so out of position and played as far away from fundamental football as you could, that it didn’t matter. From there single coverage and penalties killed any momentum the front 7 could create for the Chiefs defense, and the secondary suffered. 

About those penalties. On the game, the Chiefs were flagged 10 times to the Bengals 5. In the fourth quarter, on the final 3 drives the Chiefs were flagged for defensive pass interference on 3rd down to keep a touchdown drive alive. They were flagged for a horse collar tackle on 2nd and 11 on the same drive on a play that L’Jarius Sneed tackled Ja’Marr Chase inbounds, by the front of his shoulder pads, resulting in a half the distance to the goal and setting up a 1st and goal for the Bengals. On the final drive of the game, Chris Jones was flagged for an offsides penalty that was induced by Joe Burrow starting his QB sneak before the center had snapped the ball – a false start on the offense, a phantom defensive holding on L’Jarius Sneed in the endzone on 4th and 1 that would have stopped the Bengals scoring drive – but luckily was offset by a hold by the Bengals, so replay 4th and 1. Then, a phantom hands to the face where Sneed appeared to get his hands a little too high on the receivers shoulder pads, no in the facemask. From there, the Bengals took a knee and the game winning 20 yard field goal about 47 second later. 

You can’t blame the loss entirely on the officiating, but to say it didn’t play a big factor in the outcome of this game would be ludicrous. Could the defensive playcaling and scheme been better in the second half? Oh, hell yes. There is no reason for Steve Spagnuolo to have Charvarius Ward on an island against the hottest receiver on the planet on 3rd and 27. For those who didn’t tune in – that scenario resulted in a 30 yard reception for Chase and set up the Bengals on the Chiefs 11 yard line with a little over 3 minutes left in the game. Could Andy Reid have played his hand a little differently in the last 3 minutes? Yes. I brought this up on the Twitter space after the game yesterday, where there was a lot of heat being released from Focus Fanatics, but does it make sense in that scenario to try to stop the Bengals and put the outcome of the game in Steve Spagnuolo’s hands, or let the Bengals score and leave some time on the clock for Patrick Mahomes to do what Patrick Mahomes does? Andy elected to see what was behind door number 1, and the Chiefs as a result are now in seed number 2 in the AFC. But let’s not get too cloudy here. Steve Spagnuolo has led a defensive resurgence that has seen the team go from dead last in the NFL in points allowed to 4th in the span of 8 weeks. The coaches and players know how to fix these problems, and they will be addressed and corrected. 

While there was a lot to be angry about after this game, there are also a lot of great takeaways to build on for next week’s matchup with Denver and the imminent playoff run. As I mentioned earlier, the offensive line deserves all the credit in the world for that gutty, selfless performance. Losing the top 2 left tackles and keeping Mahomes clean all day long, AND rushing for 155 yards and 2 scores on the Bengals stout defensive front? Beyond impressive. And a shoutout needs to be given to Blake Bell as well. He had 3 catches for 35 yards on the day, but his help in run blocking and pass protection was invaluable yesterday. These guys up front set the tempo for an offensive performance that should have been good enough to win this game. Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle, once again, performed very well in a game where Tyreek Hill was mostly negated (6 catches for 40 yards is hardly negated, but for Tyreek Hill’s standards it was not a big afternoon) from being a factor. The defensive line was dominant, and outside of Ja’Marr Chase the Bengals offense was really held in check for most of the afternoon. That’s a ridiculous thing to say when one player goes for 266 yards and 3 TD, but I’m trying to warm up under any blanket I can at this point, even if it’s a newspaper. 

This game was as even as you could ask for on paper. 414 total yards for the Chiefs to 475 for the Bengals. 30:54 time of possession for KC, 29:06 for Cincinnati. 23 first downs for each club. Neither team had a turnover. What turned the tide in this game was the immense number of questionable penalties, and the imbalance in which those flags went towards the Chiefs. It is not an excuse, it’s a fact. The NFL has a very serious problem on their hands with the officiating situation the league is currently in. The Bengals had 4 scoring drives yesterday where they were stopped by the Kansas City defense on 3rd or 4th down, that were extended by penalties. Cincinnati score 20 points from those drives. The Dallas Cowboys were very vocal about the officiating in their 25-22 loss to the Arizona Cardinals as well, and had an identical 10 penalties called on them in that game, you can find some of those quotes here, but there is little solace to be had in the fact that it didn’t just happen to the Chiefs. It’s a big problem, and the league needs to fix it. 

The Chiefs will look to bounce back on Saturday against the Broncos, a team the Chiefs essentially own. The Chiefs have beaten the Broncos 12 straight times, the longest streak in the history of a rivalry that dates back to 1960. If there’s a medicine the Chiefs need to cure what is ailing them, it probably tastes a little bit like donkey. We’ll be back tomorrow for a look at potential playoff matchups the Chiefs could see, and will kickoff the second Donkey Week of 2021. This one stings, but time heals all wounds. The 8 weeks before this were not a mirage, they were real, and this version of the Kansas City Chiefs is still very dangerous. Super Bowl 56 is 41 days away, and no one in the Kingdom should forget that date just yet. 

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