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Chiefs-Bengals rapid reaction: That’s 8 AFC West titles in a row

It wasn’t exactly pretty (hell, the whole year hasn’t been pretty), but the division’s result is the same.

Las Vegas Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Kirby Lee/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 25-17, on New Year’s Eve at Arrowhead Stadium.

Let’s dive into some initial thoughts:

It wasn’t all that pretty — but the Chiefs found a way.

The Chiefs executed a touchdown drive on their first possession by riding a determined Isiah Pacheco, who somehow managed to play after suffering a concussion just six days ago. When he is healthy, Pacheco looks to be the most explosive weapon — and one they will need to lean into as they look to make a run in the AFC playoffs.

Up 7-3, Kansas City would then allow quarterback Jake Browning to take control. The backup for Joe Burrow scrambled for 32 yards as the Bengals went 7 of 9 on third down in the first half. Cincinnati’s first touchdown drive saw a third-down conversion to Ja’Marr Chase, who also found a way to play in the game.

On the next drive, the Chiefs left rookie Wanya Morris one-on-one against Trey Hendrickson, resulting in a strip-sack that gave the Bengals a short field. The defense could force three third downs, but Browning and company converted each, including a touchdown on the final third-down try. The Bengals took a 17-13 lead into the half.

Amidst critical mistakes that included miscues by wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling and a boneheaded decision by Richie James to take a punt out of his own end zone, Kansas City kept finding itself in field-goal range, in large part due to Pacheco and wide receiver Rashee Rice.

Rice’s 67-yard catch and career-high game was a breath of fresh air, but continued stalls led kicker Harrison Butker to make six straight field goals to give the Chiefs the lead — and keep it.

I don’t know how much confidence the Chiefs can gain from an outing like that, but as Andy Reid often says, NFL wins are hard to come by. And on Sunday, his team got one it desperately needed.

The Chiefs’ defense shut down the Bengals in the second half.

The defense battened down the hatches in the second half as the offense continued to put together those field-goal drives.

After his brilliant first half, it looked like defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo utilized Nick Bolton as a spy on Browning to ensure that Cincinnati would be stopped in its tracks. Spagnuolo also called some timely blitzes — and suddenly Browning, who looked like an everyday starter in the first half, appeared pedestrian in the second.

Defensive lineman Charles Omenhiu was disruptive along the line all afternoon, and he was rewarded with half of the key fourth-quarter sack of Browning (George Karlaftis got the other half as part of a 1.5-sack day).

How many times can we mention cornerback L’Jarius Sneed and the Chiefs’ defensive backs? It was not perfect, but Sneed and his teammates kept Chase — another all-world receiver — from ruining the game.

Practice? Never heard of her.

That’s eight AFC West titles in a row — and the most in NFL history.

This has been a trying season; I’m not sure anyone is denying that. And even with the division win, there’s no path to the No. 1 seed (in fact, the Chiefs are locked in as the No. 3 seed).

But when Kansas City began to turn this around, they were seven AFC West titles (8) behind the rest of the teams in the division, who had celebrated 15 apiece. As of Sunday, no team in NFL history has more AFC West titles than the Chiefs.

The Chiefs have some things to fix to keep that going in 2024 and beyond, but that fact deserves recognition — and many people are involved.

It’s a list that starts with Reid, continues with Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes — and further continues with John Dorsey, Brett Veach and Clark Hunt.

We’ll stop the list there on this page, but what an achievement it is to go from a perennial loser to the class of the division — and really, the entire league.

Now let’s see what the Chiefs can do in two weeks — when everybody’s record resets to 0-0.

It's Game Time.

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