All good things must come to an end eventually, right? Four straight AFC title games and two straight Super Bowl appearances are not a bad run. Patrick Mahomes is here for the long run, and this will not be the last time Mahomes and the Chiefs are playing for a Super Bowl or even an AFC championship. The truth here is that Kansas City played too conservatively.
The first half was great in many ways, but the second half was horrible. There is plenty to take away from this game, and now the offseason begins. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Chiefs Took Their Foot Off The Gas
The brutal reality of this loss is that KC took their foot off the gas far too early. The Chiefs led 21-10 at halftime and felt “comfortable.” This was the biggest mistake considering the Bengals outscored KC 17-3 in the second half. Mahomes was making bad throws into double coverage; furthermore, the run game was nonexistent, and the defense could not stop the passing attack.
The Chiefs have shown a problem with slacking in the second half before. This offense is so dynamic that when they score 20 points quickly, they feel less pressured to continue scoring. Cincinnati has also shown their ability to score quickly, which led to an AFC title this time. I do not understand why the Chiefs played so conservatively, but it bit them in the butt, and now they will be watching the Super Bowl from home this year.
Patrick Mahomes Was Figured Out In Second Half
The biggest reason the Chiefs played well in the first half was that the Bengals got little to no pressure on Mahomes. In the second half, the Chiefs o-line failed to protect Mahomes leading to four sacks and two interceptions. This was a problem that was supposed to be fixed from last year’s Super Bowl, but I guess not. The Bengals pressured Mahomes into errant throws and gave him less time to find his receivers. While the sacks did not come until late, most of the pressure came with the Bengals playing enough zone coverage that Mahomes had nowhere to throw.
The Chiefs’ lackluster pace in the second half also allowed the Bengals to bring more pressure overall. KC not running the ball more or passing to the running backs opened up the playbook for the Bengals to force Mahomes to win with his arm. While that shouldn’t have been a problem, Mahomes was running around in the backfield for a few plays and was not protected. I am sure the offensive line will be addressed in some fashion in the offseason. But, it should not be a major issue to fix by next season.
Chiefs Did Not Pressure Joe Burrow
Just one week after Joe Burrow was sacked nine times by the Titans’ defense, he was sacked only once against the Chiefs. In the regular season, Joe Burrow was the most sacked quarterback in the NFL, and the Chiefs did not produce in that category. Kansas City leading up to the AFC title game, had not produced in sacks in any game. The Chiefs managed only two sacks against Big Ben and two against Josh Allen. This glaring blank spot on defense was a part of the Chiefs’ downfall.
When a quarterback is the most sacked QB in the NFL, it should be priority number one to pressure him. With the talents of Chris Jones and Melvin Ingram, and Frank Clark, this blank spot on the stat line hurts. While the defense limited Ja’Marr Chase to fewer yards, not pressuring Burrow led to him finding his other options. Chris Jones finishing with zero sacks and zero pressures is a failed day on its own now add that on the pile of zeros from the rest of the defense. This defense played great to close the regular season and against Pittsburgh. But when it mattered, the defense did not show up, thus another disappointing end to a season for KC.
Chiefs Vs The Clock= Loss
The biggest example of bad clock management was Mahomes at the end of the first half. The play call was not great, but a throw behind the line of scrimmage with five seconds till halftime is a death trap. The only time Mahomes should make that throw is if there is far more time. Getting Tyreek Hill in open space was the idea there, but the clock was not in their favor. It is also on Mahomes for wanting to keep the offense out there with five seconds and no timeouts. That is a scoring situation, and the potential field goal not taken could have been the difference between a loss and another Chiefs Super Bowl trip.
The last example was the final drive of regulation. The drive started with a throwaway run to kill the clock and prevent Burrow from getting the ball back. Just when it seemed to be going the Chiefs’ way, they switched it up to play-action, and it went downhill from there. Two sacks from zone coverage defense are not acceptable, but Cincy found a way to pressure Mahomes and force KC to kick a field goal. Typically the clockworks in the Chiefs’ favor considering the 13 seconds they had to tie the game in the divisional round. This time, the clock hurt KC, and now their season is over.
Special Teams Stepped Up
One of the few positives in the AFC title game had to be the special teams’ production. Harrison Butker was perfect on extra points and his lone field goal attempt. Butker stepped up and made a clutch field goal yet again and showed why he is a premier kicker in the NFL. Unfortunately, the biggest production came from Tommy Townsend, who did a great job of pinning the Bengals a few times. Townsend averaged 52.3 yards per punt, including a 57-yarder. Townsend tallied 209 total punt yards Sunday, which is not a stat to brag about, but in the end, it meant a good day of kicking for him.