Some may question the significance of a division title to a franchise that has won two of the past four Super Bowls — especially when it is the only team in the division with a winning record.
But speaking after the game, head coach Andy Reid reminded his listeners that not all of his players were part of recent playoff runs.
“It was great to have the guys have a championship with the AFC West,” said Reid. “That’s a positive thing. I know how they are; they’re not going to rest on that. But it is exciting for them to get a taste — especially the new guys who haven’t [had] that experience.”
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes isn’t one of those players. He’s won an AFC West title in each year he’s been in the league.
“It’s special,” the league’s biggest star told reporters. “It always is, though. It’s cool to win the AFC West — but obviously, [we’ve been] dealing with some adverse situations over these last few weeks. For guys to respond against a good football team — and find a way to win even when the game wasn’t going our way at the beginning of it? It was special.”
Mahomes had already urged his young teammates to appreciate this first step to the postseason.
“I told the guys to celebrate it — [to] enjoy it,” he revealed, “but our goal is obviously to continue to win. So, we have to continue to build off of this momentum and get ready for the playoffs.”
Reid credited Mahomes, defensive tackle Chris Jones and tight end Travis Kelce for helping their teammates stay focused through the team’s recent adversity.
“Everybody’s been so positive through it in supporting each other,” observed Reid. “You’ve seen it on the sidelines: guys supporting each other. The ‘want to’ by Chris Jones, by Patrick, by Kelce — and the guys follow them. When they bring that energy like they do every week, guys believe it’s going to get changed.
“It allows me to stand up here and tell you, ‘We’re about that close’ every week. It’s just a matter of getting some things figured out — and this is what happens. They keep pounding — and it’s great.”
Still, Mahomes acknowledges that the team didn’t dominate the division as it has in other recent seasons. He admits that consistency still eludes the Chiefs.
“Obviously,” said Mahomes, “we’re not winning this in Week 12 or Week 13 like we have before. We had to battle through adversity and find a way to win this game — but it’s not over. We have to continue to get better and better. We understand that.
“Kind of the motto of this season at the end of it has been a good game and a bad game. How can we sustain, get stuff going and continue to build off of this momentum — and get that momentum going into the playoffs? Now you’re in the playoffs. It’s one game, single elimination. I think we can go out there and compete with anybody.”
Mahomes’ postgame comments may signify a shift in his mindset for however long the team’s season will continue.
“I thought we did a lot of great things today,” he argued. “Offensively, I thought we did a good job of just letting the game come to us: not trying to force it [and] not trying to do too much. Obviously, we had the one fumble in the first half — but other than that, I thought guys did a great job.
“We’ve got to continue to get better in the red zone. But Harrison Butker? He saved us. He knocked through six field goals. When you have a defense like that shutting the door, that’s how you’re going to win football games.”
After wasting a top defensive performance in Week 16’s 20-14 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, Mahomes’ mindset against the Bengals — shocking as it may seem — was that his side of the ball needed to better complement the defense.
“I tried to do a great job when it wasn’t there deep,” the two-time MVP quarterback explained, “[to] get it to underneath guys to try to get first downs. If not, we can punt. I know that’s not how I’ve always rolled, but we can punt. The defense is getting us the ball back — and we’re going to find ways to win football games. I think if we execute in the red zone, we can put up more points than we did today.
“It’s different to have this good of a defense that shuts the door on some great offensive players. It’s going to keep us in every single game, and it’s going to be on the offense to go out there and score enough points to win them.”