On Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs lost a heartbreaker in a shootout against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. Kansas City got off to a great start with an early lead, answering whenever the Bengals scored. But in the second half, the offense sputtered, and the defense watched a rookie receiver run up and down the field. In the end, the Bengals were able to milk the fourth quarter with a drive that never ended, keeping Patrick Mahomes watching helplessly from the sidelines.
Likely gone are the number one seed and the first-round bye, pending the results of next week’s games. But this whole season has been one of adversity for this Kansas City team, so we’ll have to hope they keep bouncing back.
Here are a few that stood out on Sunday:
(Author’s note: Applying the labels “winners” and “losers” is not intended to be a judgment on the talent or character of any of these players. It’s just a simple way to grade their performance in a single game. No disrespect is intended.)
Joe Thuney: I remember hearing that Joe Thuney could play left tackle and thinking that it would never work. But, thrust into action after two tackles got injured this week, Thuney performed admirably. He didn’t just survive; he looked like a guy that has been playing tackle his whole career. That’s a really impressive showing out of the Chiefs left guard.
Darrel Williams: Without starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams quite literally took the ball and ran with it. He’s had good games before, but often, his yards per carry leaves something to be desired. This week, Williams had over 100 total yards on 6.3 per touch and scored two touchdowns. That’s a tremendous line for Williams, who continues to have a career year.
Sack Nation: The Chiefs could get to Joe Burrow with their front four regularly. Chris Jones logged a pair of sacks and was disruptive all day long. Frank Clark had a sack on the opening play, Melvin Ingram was inches away from a couple of his own, and Jarran Reed got one, putting the Bengals in a huge hole (of which they immediately climbed out of, but I digress). All totaled, the Chiefs hit Burrow 10 times on the day while tallying four sacks.
Byron Pringle: His box score contributions look modest, but Byron Pringle nearly had the play of the day. An explosive 89-yard return was negated by a penalty that didn’t affect the play at all. On offense, his three catches for 35 yards were third on the team, which is consistent with him retaining the number No. 2 wide receiver role after last week’s breakout performance.
The Chiefs run defense: Nobody will remember this performance against the run, and for good reason — the Bengals lit the Chiefs up through the air. But it should be noted that they held 1,000-yard rusher Joe Mixon to 46 yards on a 3.8 average. The Bengals had only 60 yards on the ground on Sunday. There were also some key stops in short-yardage that didn’t matter in the end but were still positives we can take away from this loss.
Mecole Hardman: We mentioned him as a sleeper in this week’s “Market Movers,” and Mecole Hardman delivered about what we should expect from him. He made a huge play on offense — the longest for the Chiefs on the day: a 53-yard catch-and-run. Hardman also had a big punt return of 29 yards. His role is limited, so he won’t have many opportunities to make plays, but it was good to see Hardman deliver when called upon this week.
Steve Spagnuolo: The Chiefs defense, which had been outstanding for a huge stretch of this season, had one job on Sunday — contain the big plays from Burrow to Ja’marr Chase and the Bengals receivers — and it couldn’t get it done: Time and time again, they brought pressure, often successfully affecting Burrow, but leaving defensive backs one-on-one with Chase proved to be a huge mistake. At some point, they had to see that Chase was unstoppable without bracket coverage. But the Chiefs didn’t make that adjustment. The defense also had a barrage of penalties (yes, many were poor calls) that extended drives and gave the Bengals more opportunities. The team needed a big play to stop the Bengals’ momentum in the second half, but they couldn’t force any turnovers either. All in all, it was a tough day for the Chiefs defense and its coordinator.
The Chiefs cornerbacks: As mentioned above, the Chiefs' gameplan left the cornerbacks in challenging positions against some outstanding receivers. But you can’t give up 415 yards passing — including a record-breaking 266 to one receiver — and not make this list. Charvarius Ward was victimized on a handful of deep passes and committed a holding penalty. L’Jarius Sneed was flagged three times on the day and missed a couple of opportunities for key tackles. Rashad Fenton was also beaten, and he missed tackles and was flagged twice for pass interference. It was a really tough day for a usually good group of corners.
The officiating crew: We’ll repeat it here — you don’t lose games because of officials. But there are occasionally calls that disrupt the flow of the game and turn the tide in ways that are impossible to ignore. This week, everyone noticed the calls that went lopsidedly against the Chiefs. Joe Burrow mentioned it first when he talked to reporters. Andy Reid did as well, and even the broadcast crew talked about some of them as the game progressed. The Chiefs couldn’t get the ball back in the fourth quarter, and they struggled to contain Ja’Marr Chase— that’s on the defense. But even one of those calls not going against the Chiefs could have changed the outcome of this game. Next time, you’d hope the team plays well enough that the officiating won’t matter.