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Chiefs vs. Bengals Instabreakdown: An opportunity squandered for Kansas City

After a nearly flawless first half, Kansas City unraveled — blowing its shot at a third-straight Super Bowl.

AFC Championship - Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Final Score: Cincinnati Bengals 27, Kansas City Chiefs 24

Offense (Bryan Stewart)

No words.

What started out as perhaps the best first-half playoff performance of Patrick Mahomes’ career ended with the worst second-half play the quarterback has perhaps ever shown.

In the first half, it was 21 points for Kansas City — and should have been more if not for a poorly-executed play right before the end of the first half. From there, it all unraveled. For the second time in the past month, the Chiefs only scored 3 points in the second half against Cincinatti.

Overall, the offense averaged 5.8 yards per play — an impressive total. Early on, the passing offense was virtually unstoppable; Mahomes threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions in the opening 30 minutes.

A team loss? Sure — but the offense should take the bulk of the blame. Poor execution to the highest degree got them in the final three-quarters of play. Mahomes looked completely unsure in his decision-making; plays were extended for far longer than they probably needed to be.

A huge, huge opportunity has been wasted by Kansas City. At minimum, the team had a clear path to another Super Bowl appearance. The offense choked it away. Period.

Offensive player(s) of the game: interior offensive linemen Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith

I haven’t given this nod to multiple players before — but at first glance, this group was the only set of Kansas City players that played a near-flawless game. Rushing lanes were available — and essentially, pressure never came up the middle to Mahomes. These three will return next year — but that is hardly something Chiefs fans want to think about right now.

Defense (Talon Graff)

The Chiefs' defense was well aware of the numbers that Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase put on them during Week 17 — and from the start, and Chase was a major focal point of the defense. While they did hold him in check for much of the game, he was able to find some life in the second half. But in this game, Tee Higgins was the wideout for whom the secondary had no answer. To defend Chase, the defense consistently put safety help over the top — which allowed Higgins to take advantage. Tyrann Mathieu’s availability for this game also played a big part in keeping Chase from doing the same type of damage. With his future in Kansas City up in the air, this may have been his final dance with the Chiefs.

A week after the Tennessee Titans sacked quarterback Joe Burrow nine times, the Chiefs were only able to take Burrow down once — by Melvin Ingram. Chris Jones had Burrow in his grasp but was somehow unable to finish the sack. The defensive line was expected to perform much better than they did against an offensive line that was — on paper — very outmatched. The Bengals used quick passes and screens to counter the rushing efforts. Samaje Perine scored on a pivotal screen pass that proved to be a big part of the outcome.

Joe Mixon was able to get chunk runs that wore down the Chiefs’ defense. Burrow was dangerous with his legs, converting big third downs with them. The lack of a dominant presence around the line of scrimmage for the defensive front hindered the ability to stop the Bengals from their comeback win.

Defensive player of the game: linebacker Willie Gay Jr.

Gay, Nick Bolton and Anthony Hitchens each played a solid game. Gay made more than one big play; he was one of the key contributors on the defensive side. Both he and Bolton have looked special — and in the coming years, should lay a foundation for a strong linebacking corps — but on Sunday, Gay stood out. He did his part — and his role will only increase as enters his third season with Kansas City. His ability to utilize his athleticism to make plays in space — and behind the line — make him a game-changer.