The Kansas City Chiefs lost 34-31 in Week 17 because of penalties (including some questionable calls) and an epic performance by Cincinnati Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase.
But defeating a playoff team like the Bengals on the road requires scoring more than the mere three points Kansas City produced in the second half.
“We were executing at a high level in the first half,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “We had a couple bad plays here and there from really everybody that kinda stalled drives out.”
Two plays in particular slowed the Chiefs’ offense, which was rolling in the first half to the tune of 282 total yards and 28 points.
And they were drops by the Chiefs’ two best offensive receivers — wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce.
With 19 seconds left in the first half, Mahomes heaved a pass nearly 70 yards across the field, but Bengals safety Vonn Bell broke it up. And Bell was able to do so because Hill bobbled the catch before tenuously grasping it against his helmet.
Then on the Chiefs’ fifth play of the third quarter, Mahomes threw it Kelce, who was five yards past the first-down marker, but he couldn’t haul in the pass that hit him in the hands. The Chiefs had to punt two plays later.
Drops by the Pro Bowl duo had plagued the Chiefs during their 3-4 start before Kansas City rattled off eight straight wins.
Hill, the sixth-highest paid NFL receiver at $18 million per year, still has recorded 110 catches this season, which is more than any other Chiefs receiver in franchise history.
MORE FOR YOU
Kelce, in particular, had been criticized by some for having a “down” year by his lofty standards. But he still has surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for an NFL-record sixth straight year. (No other tight end has reached that total more than three consecutive years.)
The second-highest paid tight in the NFL at $14.3 million per year had bounced back with a career-best 191 receiving yards and a walk-off touchdown before missing last week after testing positive for Covid-19.
On the drive after Kelce’s drop, Mahomes also singled out a mistake on a 3rd-and-2 play that cost the Chiefs when tackle Andrew Wylie got a holding penalty, forcing them into a hard-to-convert 3rd and 12.
That was one of 10 penalties for 83 yards the Chiefs committed, including a questionable illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty on L’Jarius Sneed on a fourth and goal, which basically sealed the game for Cincinnati.
“I don’t want to be fined,” said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid when referencing the penalties.
The Chiefs also were hurt by Chase, who posted a rookie record 266 receiving yards (and three touchdowns).
“Hats off to the kid,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Today just wasn’t our day.”
Chase, who hails from Mathieu’s college (LSU), was spectacular, but Mathieu pointed out the Chiefs made him look even better by taking bad angles at the point of completion and not tackling well.
On the game-winning drive, the Bengals faced a 3rd and 27 from their own 41. The Chiefs blitzed, and the Bengals beat it with a 30-yard completion to Chase.
“That one hurt,” Mathieu said. “I’m pretty sure we all want that back.”
It was a painful loss for the Chiefs, who dropped to 11-5 and no longer hold the AFC’s No. 1 seed and home-field advantage as they head into the season’s last game against the Denver Broncos.
“We gotta turn the page,” Mathieu said. “We got another big division game next week.”