The Chiefs’ hopes of exorcising the demons of last season’s AFC Championship Game will need to wait for another matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.
From Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ Michael Jordan-like dunk at the goal line in the third quarter to three lead changes in the second half, Sunday’s showdown was everything it was supposed to be.
Everything but a Chiefs victory, as the Bengals hung on for a 27-24 win at Paycor Stadium.
“Hard-fought game,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “The Bengals did a nice job. And coming down the stretch, we can’t turn the ball over and you surely can’t miss a field goal.”
The Chiefs (9-3) had their opportunities, none bigger than a 55-yard field-goal attempt by Harrison Butker to tie the score with less than four minutes remaining in the game. Butker’s kick sailed wide right and the Bengals were able to run out the clock.
“If I don’t think he can make that, then I’m not going to do it,” Reid said of Butker’s attempt. “It’s pretty simple. I felt like he’s been in a good place. We just got to execute better all the way around. It really shouldn’t have come down to that.”
The Bengals, who have now won three straight against the Chiefs, started out hot by marching down the field on the game’s opening possession. Quarterback Joe Burrow connected on five of six passes for 53 yards, finishing the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run and 7-0 Cincinnati lead.
The Chiefs responded on their first possession with a 10-play, 65-yard drive. But the series stalled inside the Bengals 10-yard line after Mahomes’ pass, which was intended for tight end Travis Kelce, was batted down at line of scrimmage. Butker ensured the drive resulted in points when he drilled a 26-yard field goal.
On their second possession, the Bengals put together a nine-play drive that ended with Burrow firing a 12-yard pass to receiver Tee Higgins. After the play, Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase was penalized for taunting after he made a gesture to Justin Reid — the two had engaged in some trash-talk on Twitter in the days preceding the game.
The Chiefs got within four points shortly before halftime when Mahomes found running back Jerick McKinnon for a 2-yard touchdown pass. It was 14-10 Bengals at the break.
Kansas City looked like a different team to start the second half and quickly marched down the field for its first lead of the game.
Mahomes’ arm was on display when he found wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 42-yard pass and tight end Travis Kelce for an 18-yard strike. Rookie running back Isiah Pacheco capped the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run to put the Chiefs up 17-14.
Cincinnati tied the game on Evan McPherson’s 36-yard field goal, but Mahomes responded on the Chiefs’ next possession. He led the KC offense down the field on an eight-play, 53-yard drive that he finished with a flying 3-yard TD run that made it 24-17 Chiefs.
But Cincinnati scored 10 straight points to retake the lead and eventually win the game.
Burrow led the way for Cincinnati with 286 yards passing and touchdowns with no interceptions for a 126.6 passer rating, while Chase hauled in seven catches for 97 yards on eight targets in his first action since Week 7.
“They’re just a good football team,” Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill said. “I mean, some teams just match up very well with other teams and I think they’re a team that matches with us pretty well.”
Mahomes echoed his defensive teammate’s assessment.
“They executed at a higher level in the critical situations,” Mahomes said. “We started off slow, we got back in the game in the flow of things, and we had a turnover late and the missed kick.
“If you just try to take away those two things in the fourth quarter, and if you’re playing good teams and you make those turnover on downs basically in the fourth quarter, those are the things that kind of bite you in the end.”
Mahomes finished the game completing 16 of 27 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. Before Sunday, Mahomes had passed for 300 or more yards in six straight games.
Valdes-Scantling led the Chiefs in receiving with 71 yards on two catches, while Kelce chipped in with four catches for 56 yards. Kelce also lost a fumble in the fourth quarter and it led to Bengals’ points.
Here’s what else stood out Sunday afternoon:
Chiefs defensive end Carlos Dunlap produced a big-time play near the end of the first half.
With the Bengals facing a fourth-and-1 at the Chiefs’ 4-yard line, Burrow turned around and handed off to wide receiver Trent Taylor, who had come in motion from the left side of the formation.
The play looked like it had a chance not to just pick up a first down, but potentially result in a Cincy touchdown.
Dunlap would have none of it, though.
The Chiefs defensive end shot the gap in the offensive line and had a clear shot at Taylor, dropping the wide receiver for a 4-yard loss.
Dunlap’s play stymied Cincinnati’s opportunity to add points to the scoreboard with less than a minute remaining in the first half.
Rookie running back Isiah Pacheco continues to showcase his skill set with an impressive outing of 198 all-purpose yards in a losing cause.
The Chiefs’ seventh-round pick had 14 carries for 66 yards, two catches for 16 yards and five kickoff returns for 116 yards.
Needless to say, his teammates can’t help but be impressed.
“Full upside, a lot of upside,” McKinnon said. “Great potential. These last couple of weeks, he’s definitely bringing it out.”
Right guard Trey Smith agreed, adding he has fun blocking for Pacheco.
“Just the juice and energy that he brings on every play inspires me to block harder,” Smith said. “I mean, I’d block my butt off for a guy like that.”
For Pacheco, Sunday’s performance was just another day at the office.
“I’m just continuing to be myself and listen to the leaders, and just play ball,” he said.
NEW PUNT RETURNER
The Chiefs turned to wide receiver Justin Watson to handle punt-return duties, as expected, and he cleanly fielded the only one he saw with a fair catch.
Kansas City’s punt returner position has been an adventure — and a revolving door — this season. Rookie Skyy Moore had the job early but lost two fumbles, so the Chiefs turned to newcomer Kadarius Toney in Weeks 10-11.
Then Toney suffered a hamstring injury and Moore muffed his third punt in Week 12, prompting the change to Watson.
Reid said after the game that Mahomes “hurt his foot” at the end of the game, but it doesn’t appear serious.
“I’ll be fine,” Mahomes said.
Chiefs wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster briefly left the game late in the second quarter after a hard hit. He was evaluated in the blue medical tent but returned before the end of the first half.
NOT SUITED UP
Left guard Joe Thuney (ankle), wide receiver Kadarius Toney (hamstring), safety Deon Bush (elbow), quarterback Shane Buechele, defensive end Malik Herring, tackle Geron Christian and defensive end Joshua Kaindoh were inactive Sunday afternoon.
The Chiefs hit the road again in Week 14 to take on Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High.