AFC Championship: Grading The Chiefs

How would you grade the Chiefs' performance in their AFC Championship loss to the Bengals?

The end of the 2021 Kansas City Chiefs season is upon us. The Bengals defeated the Chiefs by a score of 27-24 after a game-winning field goal in Overtime. At one point, the Chiefs led 21-3. Before we start looking onward into the offseason, first, let’s take a second to grade the Chiefs performance:

Offense: C-

I don’t want to completely ignore how dominant the Chiefs offense was in the first half on Sunday. The Chiefs managed to get off to a scorching start against a mediocre Bengals defense. They led 21-3 at one point in the second quarter. Patrick Mahomes had three touchdown passes and just three incompletions.

Then the wheels fell off. Beginning with the final play of half-time, the Chiefs’ offense seemed to lose it. On the last play of the half, Patrick Mahomes, with five seconds left and no time-outs, completed a pass to the flat in-bounds to Tyreek Hill that would finish a one-yard gain as time expired. Mahomes attempted to call a time-out that the Chiefs didn’t have.

After returning from half, the Chiefs were the worst they’ve ever been with Mahomes under center. They scored just three points the entire half (those came as time expired in the fourth). The offense punted three times and threw two interceptions in the second-half alone. The Bengals dropped eight defenders into coverage for most of the second half, and the Chiefs seemingly refused to run the football.

Perhaps the most confusing was Mahomes’ pocket presence. He was dancing around lost most of the second half. On the play above, Jerick McKinnon is running open just outside the endzone on what would’ve surely been the game-winning touchdown. The Chiefs have many questions to answer on offense, and they all start with Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, and Eric Bienemy. This performance was mindboggling.

Defense: C+

On the surface, the Chiefs’ defense played solid in this week’s matchup. They held the Bengals’ seventh-ranked passing offense to just 250 yards passing. Ja’Marr Chase was held to just 54 yards receiving and finished second on the team. Joe Mixon ran for only 4.2 yards per rushing attempt. However, there’s much more to this story.

The Bengals were held to third and long many times in the second half and converted most. They finished the game eight of 14 on third-down conversions. After being sacked nine times in the Divisional round, Joe Burrow was sacked just one time all game despite the Chiefs rushing five early and often. On early downs, the Bengals offense posted an 0.02 EPA/play. On late downs (third and fourth), they posted an 0.32 EPA/play. The Chiefs’ defense collapsed on every late-down play, allowing conversion after conversion.

Those third-downs defined the game for the Chiefs’ defense. They got pressure on Burrow often but rarely hit pay dirt. Chris Jones continued his streak of now 11 career playoff games without a sack. The Chiefs’ have some serious questions on defense heading into the offseason. The offense lost this one for Kansas City, but the defense is not without blame.

Special Teams: B+

The only unit to contribute admirably on Sunday was the Special Teams. Harrison Butker didn’t leave any points on the board this week. He hit home on all three PAT attempts. He also nailed the game-tying field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter, his second in many weeks.

Tommy Townsend played outstanding as well. He punted much too often, four times, in this game. However, he averaged 52.3 yards per punt, including a 57-yard booming shot that saved the Chiefs from sending the ball back to Cincy near the mid-field mark.

This week, the return game was the only lacking aspect for the Kansas City special teams. Byron Pringle returned just two kickoffs, averaging 19 yards per return. The Chiefs didn’t return a single punt. Next season, I’d like the Chiefs to figure out the return game woes that have plagued them. In recent seasons, Kansas City has started to shy away from returning the football at all due to muffs and fumbles.

However, the return game was the key spark to the Texans’ comeback in the 2019 playoffs. The Chiefs have far too much speed on this team to completely disregard the return game. It’s time for them to quit being scared and fix the issues.

Sky Falling?

The sky isn’t falling for Kansas City. Patrick Mahomes is still just 26; the offensive line looks to be a cornerstone of this franchise for half a decade to come. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce will be back next season. The defense has elite young talent in Willie Gay, Nick Bolton, Rashad Fenton, and L’Jarius Sneed.

The Chiefs will be back.

This loss hurts for Chiefs fans, and it will for some time, perhaps even more than last year’s Super Bowl Loss. The Chiefs didn’t lose because of injury or because of flags. They lost because of their failures. That failure should fuel the Chiefs all off-season to come back better than ever next season.

How would you grade the Chiefs’ performance in their AFC Championship loss to the Bengals? Leave a comment down below to join the discussion.

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