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Final score: Chiefs handle Bengals 25-17 to win AFC West

Kansas City took care of business, despite an up-and-down performance.

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

On New Year’s Eve, the (9-7) Kansas City Chiefs claimed their eight consecutive AFC West title — and locked down the AFC’s third postseason seed — with a 25-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.


First quarter


The Chiefs won the opening coin toss, deferring decision of possession to the second half. That gave Cincinnati the ball first, starting from the 25-yard line after a touchback.

The Bengals had to march down the field, fighting through three third-down conversions with one scramble, then a big completion to wide receiver Tee Higgins. That advanced the drive into the red zone, but it stalled from there: a tackle by defensive end Charles Omenihu was followed up by a batted down pass, eventually forcing the Bengals into a field goal. The Chiefs faced an early 3-0 deficit.

A nine-yard run by running back Isiah Pacheco was followed soon after by an 18-yard catch and run from wide receiver Rashee Rice, working into Bengals’ territory quickly. Then, Pacheco found space on an outside handoff to gain 35 yards down the sideline, getting pushed out at the 10-yard line.

The offense worked into third and goal from there, but then Pacheco found space across the middle to catch a touchdown out of the backfield. The Chiefs had a 7-3 lead after the opening possession.

Cincinnati got going on the second drive with a tight-window throw down the field to wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, gaining 24 yards. That worked the Bengals inside Kansas City territory, getting to the 30-yard line after a strong run by running back Joe Mixon to move the chains.


Second quarter


The Bengals worked inside the red zone with a play-action completion to tight end Drew Sample, setting up at the 18-yard line when they took their first timeout.

A quick completion to Mixon got the Bengals to the six-yard line, then another pass to him scored. Linebacker Nick Bolton appeared to get beaten to the flat each time. The Bengals retook the lead, 10-7.

The Chiefs quickly gave the ball back to Cincinnati when two short passes led to third down — and Bengals’ edge rusher Trey Hendrickson went around rookie left tackle Wanya Morris and stripped the ball. That gave the Bengals possession at the 24-yard line, in prime scoring position.

Quarterback Jake Browning kept up his scrambling ways on first down, setting up a short third-down conversion to tight end Tanner Hudson. At the seven-yard line, the Chiefs worked it into third and goal, but defensive pass interference on cornerback L’Jarius Sneed reset the downs for Cincinnati.

Charles Omenihu and the Chiefs’ defense once again got it to third and goal from the one-yard line, but Browning rolled out and found enough space to squeeze into the end zone. The third scoring drive of the game gave the Bengals a 17-7 lead.

Tight end Noah Gray started up the Chiefs’ drive with a 16-yard catch and run, which was followed up by a 21-yard gain from Pacheco on a screen completion. From the Bengals’ 39-yard line, the Chiefs stalled, eventually settling for a 54-yard field goal to close Cincinnati’s lead to 17-10.

The Chiefs’ defense swarmed the Bengals on the ensuing drive, with Bolton redeeming his earlier drives by finishing a sack and sniffing out a screen. On third down, defensive end George Karlaftis hit Browning as he threw, causing an incompletion, leading into the two-minute warning.

The Chiefs took over, handing off to Pacheco and watching him gain 37 yards — his second run of at least 35 yards through the first two quarters. That set the Chiefs up at the 31-yard line, but center Creed Humphrey committed a false start on the first down. The Chiefs weren’t able to move the chains, mainly because wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropped an open pass, leading to another field goal. Chiefs took a 17-13 lead.

With less than a minute to go, the Bengals moved the chains, ruining the Chiefs’ attempt to call timeouts and try to get the ball back. Eventually, Cincinnati ran out of time, leading into halftime with the 17-13 score.


Third quarter


The Chiefs’ second half did not start any better than the first half: a short run was followed up by no gain on a quick throw to Kelce. Then, a downfield throw to wide receiver Justin Watson fell to the ground on third down. The Bengals got the punt and took possession at their own 17-yard line.

A third down quickly came up for Cincinnati on the drive, but a blown coverage led to an easy first-down completion to a tight end. Then, Chase found space over the middle to gain 14 yards himself. Two good plays by linebackers Willie Gay Jr. and Nick Bolton led to third down, but a deep attempt to wide receiver Tee Higgins was interfered with by cornerback Joshua Williams. That set up the Bengals at the 10-yard line.

Two runs by Mixon were stuffed from there, setting the stage for third and goal — then another run was stuffed by Bolton and safety Justin Reid. That led to fourth and one, and stuffing ever gap led to an open lane for Gay. The tackle for loss saved the Chiefs from a potential two-score deficit, and the offense took over at the nine-yard line.

After attempting one deep pass to Valdes-Scantling that fell to the ground, Mahomes went to Watson — this time converting a third down with a 41-yard gain. That gave the Chiefs breathing room, then Rashee Rice took a quick pass and charged 24 yards into the red zone. From there, the Chiefs stalled, settling for another field goal, closing the Bengals’ lead to 17-16.

The Bengals gained 19 yards on a screen pass to open the next drive, but couldn’t find a completion on three straight drop backs after that. Chiefs’ defensive end Mike Danna finished the drive off by pressuring Browning, leading to a punt with a few minutes left in the quarter.

From the nine-yard line, a defensive penalty gave the offense some breathing room — then Rashee Rice broke open downfield to gain 67 yards on simple go route. That got the Chiefs near the 10-yard line, leading into the fourth quarter.


Fourth quarter


On third and goal from the four-yard line, Mahomes could not find an open receiver, leading to a failed conversion and another field goal. This one gave Kansas City the lead, 19-17.

The Bengals were once again unsuccessful scoring in the second half, with the Chiefs’ holding them to a punt for the second-straight drive. That led to the Chiefs taking over at the 27-yard line.

Pacheco was leaned on out of the gate for this drive, taking three straight carries to initially move the chains. Then, Kelce caught a 10-yard pass at the sticks to advance into Cincinnati territory. A short third down came up for the Chiefs, and a scrambling Mahomes failed to pick up the first down. On fourth down, he rolled out and got it there.

Three plays later, the Chiefs were settling for a field goal once again. Two drop backs in three plays did not go anywhere, but the Chiefs extended the lead to 22-17.

For the second-straight drive, the Chiefs’ defense made quick work of Cincinnati. An intentional grounding penalty set the Bengals back, then defensive end George Karlaftis finished the drive with a sack.

After an explosive punt return by Richie James, the Chiefs’ offense looked to be in position to seal the game. However, two short runs and a pass short of the sticks — one that ended out of bounds — led to another field goal. The successful kick gave the Chiefs a 25-17 lead.

Looking to stay alive, Cincinnati got going with a 15-yard completion over the middle. Then, Chiefs’ safety Justin Reid shot through on a blitz and sacked Burrow, leading to a third and long after the two-minute warning.

On the next play, Reid blitzed again, finishing another sack. That pushed the Bengals to fourth and 18, but wide receiver Tyler Boyd found space over the middle to keep the game alive, gaining 23 yards and getting to the Chiefs’ 45-yard line.

Karlaftis came around the edge on left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. on the next snap, sacking Burrow and forcing them to call timeout. Then, Jones blew through the pass protection and brought down Browning for an 11-yard loss. On third and 27, Jones forced a deep incompletion, then another downfield throw failed on fourth down. That gave the Chiefs the 25-17 lead for good.


Special Teams


Kicker Harrison Butker made two field goals in the first half: one of 54 yards, then a distance of 43 yards. After halftime, he made a 27-yard kick to close the Bengals’ lead. Then a 24-yard field goal gave the Chiefs a two-point lead early in the fourth quarter.

Closer to the end of the game, a 46-yard field goal was made, extending Kansas City’s lead to eight points. He was also successful on his only point-after attempt of the game.

Punt returner Richie James inexplicably returned a punt after receiving it in the end zone, only getting to the nine-yard line.

Punter Tommy Townsend had one punt travel 57 yards, landing at the Bengals’ 17-yard line.

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