The Kansas City Chiefs took on the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game. For the third time in a row, the Bengals walked away victorious, this time defeating the Chiefs 27-24.
When a team wins three in a row against the same opponent, it can no longer be considered a fluke. But if you watched all three of the Chiefs’ losses, you cannot help but see all the chances they had to win in each game.
In the most recent installment, the Bengals wasted no time, making sure it didn’t start as the last two matchups did by scoring a touchdown on their first two drives and jumping out to a 14-3 lead midway through the second quarter. The Chiefs managed to score a touchdown late in the second quarter, cutting the lead to 14-10. The Bengals once again drove down the field with ease, but a huge stop by Chiefs defensive end Carlos Dunlap on fourth-and-goal kept the lead narrow at halftime.
The turning point
Halftime adjustments led to a 24-20 Chiefs lead in the fourth quarter.
On second-and-8 from their own 26-yard line, Mahomes found his favorite target, tight end Travis Kelce, for a 19-yard gain. As Kelce fought for extra yards, Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson ripped the ball out, forcing a fumble that the Bengals recovered at the 47-yard line.
10 plays later, the Bengals would score the go-ahead touchdown to take a 27-24 lead with 8:54 left in the game.
Down three with that much time on the clock usually leads to a Chiefs victory because they have Mahomes at quarterback — and, by the way, the drive started made it feel like Mahomes was about to put the team on his back and lead them to another victory.
But that hope would take a hit on third-and-4 at the Bengals' 33.
Mahomes took the snap, and Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai quickly beat Chiefs’ left tackle Orlando Brown inside and chassed Mahomes off his spot. Mahomes stepped up in the pocket, eyeing wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who appeared to be coming open across the middle.
The relentless pursuit from Ossai led to a 4-yard sack, leading the Chiefs to a 55-yard field goal attempt that Harrison Butker would miss.
Mahomes is often praised — as he should be — for his ability to make plays when everything seems to fall apart around him. What has made Mahomes even more unstoppable this year is that he has been willing to take what the defense is giving him.
On this play, it appeared that running back Jerick McKinnon was open for an easy first down.
But Mahomes never seems to look McKinnon’s way on the play, and the quarterback tries to get to Smith-Schuster. Not to be.
The missed kick gave the Bengals the ball back with 3:19 left in the game, yet the Chiefs’ three timeouts still gave them a glimmer of hope. However, clutch throws from quarterback Joe Burrow would make sure Mahomes never got back on the field, and the Bengals hung onto the 27-24 lead and won the game.
The bottom line
Winning games against a good team requires good execution in key situations.
In all three wins against the Chiefs, the Bengals have executed in those moments while the Chiefs have fallen short. This was a very winnable game for the Chiefs, and hopefully, it will be the wake-up call to keep them focused for the playoff run.
The Chiefs still have a great chance to secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye, but they just need a little help from the Buffalo Bills, who have a tough schedule down the stretch.
If the Chiefs meet the Bengals again in the playoffs, the execution will need to be at a higher level.