When you’re as successful as the Kansas City Chiefs have been, it’s hard to find an opponent that can consistently thwart you. But that’s what the Cincinnati Bengals have managed to do over the last 14 months. This Sunday’s AFC Championship game is about more than making it to the Super Bowl. It’s about rewriting the narrative between these two teams.
Everyone at the Chiefs’ facility on the grounds of the Truman Sports Complex knows what’s on the line in this game — particularly offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
“It’s an honor and privilege to be here for the fifth straight year,” he told reporters as he took the podium before the team’s Thursday practice. “That says a lot about this organization. It says a lot about our leadership.”
Then he chuckled and cleared his throat.
“We got a big one this week,” he said.
Whether Kansas City will live to play another day in the postseason rests largely on quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ injured right ankle. The Chiefs will likely go as far as Mahomes’ body will allow him to take them. But his coordinator has no doubt that the quarterback will give everything he has.
“He’s just a competitive person,” observed Bieniemy. “He’s a competitive player. It’s the intestinal fortitude that’s in him. He just refuses to accept that he’s not going to put himself out there to be with his teammates. You love that about him.”
Bieniemy acknowledged, however, that this made last Saturday’s decision put Mahomes back on the field against the Jacksonville Jaguars more complex.
“You know last week was a unique situation,” he noted, “and difficult in a lot of ways — because obviously, you always want to make sure that the player is okay. But more importantly, you also know that he can give you the best chance of winning.”
As to the condition of the quarterback’s ankle, the 53-year-old coach spoke in a way that is familiar to those in his age group.
“I have no idea,” he said, “but I want whatever he’s taking.”
To go blow-for-blow with a potent Cincinnati offense, Kansas City is going to need all of its best offensive players. One of those didn’t play in the Week 13 matchup between the teams: wide receiver Kadarius Toney.
“K.T. is doing a heck of a job,” said Bieniemy. “He’s a very talented player. On top of that, he works at it. He’s very intelligent, he’s interactive in meetings and he studies.”
But the coach believes Toney is much more than an intelligent, hardworking player.
“He’s a talented, skillful receiver,” said Bieniemy. “Obviously, you’ve seen him do a number of things. He’s run the ball. He’s had a few catches down here all over the field. On top of that, he’s made some plays in the red zone.”
But in Bieniemy’s eyes, what makes the wideout most special is his willingness to do non-special things.
“The kid is just a football player who happens to play the receiver position,” declared the coordinator. “If you ask him to go block, guess what? He’ll go and do it for 60 consecutive minutes. That’s just the type of kid he is. That’s the attitude and mindset — and his approach — to every day.”
Still, Bieniemy understands that the winner of Sunday’s game might simply be the team that makes the fewest mistakes.
“For the past three times that we’ve played them,” he noted, “obviously, we’ve made the mistakes. They’ve capitalized on them. We’ve got to sustain drives. We have to finish. [But] we have to protect the football more than anything.”
If the Chiefs want to bring home the AFC’s Lamar Hunt Trophy, Bieniemy believes they’re going to have to out-grit and outlast their opponent for every minute of the contest.
“[The Bengals] are relentless,” he said. “If you want to beat this team, you have got to out-effort them. You’ve got to out-strain them. You got to be willing to play to the echo of the last whistle.
“So that’s the type of game this is going to be. Put your hand in the dirt [and] knuckle up [for a] 60-minute dogfight. Then after that — if we have to go additional minutes — drink some water, get your Kool-Aid. [Then] we got to go do it. We gotta go fight!”