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Chiefs-Bengals rapid reaction: Chris Jones, redemption and the golden age of Kansas City football

For the third time in four seasons, the Chiefs are AFC Champions.

NFL: AFC Championship-Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, clinching the AFC Championship. With the win, the Chiefs advance to the Super Bowl, where they will take on the NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles.

Finishing wins championships

Sunday marked the kind of day at Arrowhead that would require everybody — from No. 1 Patrick Mahomes to No. 46 on the 46-man game-day roster. There is plenty of credit to go around — including a three-man cornerback unit that very quickly consisted entirely with rookies when cornerback L’Jarius Sneed went down, wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling posting just his second 100-yard game as a Chief at exactly the right time and timely runs from a Day 3 rookie running back to get the necessary, tough yardage late in the game.

All that said, no player for the Chiefs deserves more credit for Sunday’s win than defensive tackle Chris Jones, who came into the game with no playoff sacks — and left with two.

Jones’ presence impacts the whole unit in the best way possible. The Chiefs recorded 3.0 sacks in the Bengals’ first eight offensive plays — and finished with 5.0 sacks and 12 quarterback hits.

In a game where defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo knew he had to find a way to make Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow uncomfortable, Jones hit him five times. On the final press conference before the game, Jones said, “Take care. See y’all at Burrowhead.”

Burrow’s last play of his 2022 season was Jones taking him down for a loss of seven yards.

Sweet redemption for Skyy Moore and Harrison Butker

It wasn’t an easy year for rookie second-round wide receiver Skyy Moore, whom the Chiefs made their punt returner as he learned the offense behind veterans like Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Everybody knows about Moore’s struggles holding onto the football on punt returns. He was replaced by Kadarius Toney once he arrived from the New York Giants. Many Chiefs fans had to be confused that Moore was the choice once Toney was ruled out of Sunday’s game with an injury — but in the biggest of moments, with the season hanging in the balance, Moore caught a punt with 41 seconds left in the game, returned it 29 yards to the Kansas City 47.

That set up Mahomes for his 5-yard scramble — and a late hit on that play set up kicker Harrison Butker for redemption of his own. 2022 had to be the toughest year of Butker’s career to date. An ankle injury cost him the early part of his season — and he struggled upon his return.

After making his first two field goals (and two extra points), Butker sent the Chiefs to the Super Bowl by making his 45-yarder.

“How about Harrison Butker knocking that field goal, baby? That’s what I’m talking about,” said Mahomes on the podium.

What bad ankle?

All week in Kansas City, the talk had been about Mahomes’ high-ankle sprain — and whether it would prevent the Chiefs from finally defeating the Bengals to win the AFC Championship.

From the very beginning of the game to its end, it was easy to tell that Mahomes (and the club’s athletic training staff) worked hard so that the ankle injury was a non-factor. Mahomes was taken down twice and hit five times, yet there was no fear or hindrance in maneuvering the pocket — and in addition to making the plays we’re used to seeing him make with his arm, the late-game 5-yard scramble helped clinch the game.

Now he has two weeks to rest his ankle. He should be fresh by the time its time for kickoff in Arizona.

The final words

Andy Reid: one of the greatest to do it... twice.

We can’t close this initial reaction to the Chiefs’ third AFC title in four seasons without mentioning head coach Andy Reid, who spent 14 years in Philadelphia establishing the Eagles as one of the game’s top franchises before coming to Kansas City, where he has spent the last 10 seasons.

He will rightfully be celebrated over the next 14 days — with folks already calling this Chiefs-Eagles matchup in Super Bowl LVII the “Andy Reid Bowl.”

The funniest part about that? Reid will hate it.

In Philadelphia, Reid won six division titles and an NFC Championship. In Kansas City, he has won seven division titles, three AFC titles — and a Super Bowl. There is a legitimate case to be made that he would become a Hall of Fame coach if he had just coached just one of the two franchises. His career has been amazing — and it isn’t over.

Silencing the doubters

And we can bring it up one more time, right? When the Chiefs opted to trade all-world receiver Tyreek Hill this offseason, the narrative was that Kansas City would take a step backward. It was likely the Chiefs wouldn’t come close to a date for redemption against the Bengals because it was Hill who made Mahomes — not the other way around.

Well, that narrative can be put to bed. And here’s the one that should take its place: when you have Reid and Mahomes, you can win every year.

The Bengals came into Sunday talking about “Burrowhead” — and their quarterback talking about the team’s Super Bowl window being his entire career. For many reasons, folks began to doubt the Chiefs.

On Sunday, they took the narrative back — and with one more victory in 2022, it will be fair to call it what it will truly be: a dynasty in Kansas City.

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