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In the AFC Championship Game, the Kansas City Chiefs were having their way with the Cincinnati Bengals — before a costly error on a pass to Tyreek Hill.
The script was eerily similar to their Week 17 loss to the Bengals. And just like that game, they lost by three points on a game-ending field goal.
As in Week 17, the Chiefs led by exactly 11 points in halftime of the AFC Championship Game.
But the margin should’ve been more.
With five seconds left in the first half and the ball on the Bengals’ one-yard line, the Chiefs should’ve at least gotten a field goal in the playoff contest.
Instead Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes inexplicably threw a pass to Hill in the middle of the field for no yards, and time expired.
The Chiefs tried to get something over the middle on that play, and Mahomes, who said he got a bit greedy, was supposed to throw the ball away if nothing was open.
“We had enough time for another play, but I’ve got to get one that’s open in the end zone,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said after the 27-24 loss. “I’ll take responsibility for that.”
The Week 17 game, a 34-31 Chiefs loss, also featured a crucial mistake involving Hill just before the half.
With 19 seconds left in the first half, Mahomes heaved a pass nearly 70 yards across the field, but Bengals safety Vonn Bell, a hero in the rematch, broke it up. And Bell was able to do so because Hill bobbled the catch before tenuously grasping it against his helmet.
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In the rematch against the Bengals, the Chiefs had 282 yards, 21 points and converted all their third downs in the first half.
But they managed just 83 yards and three points the rest of the game.
The Chiefs scored just three points in the second half of the loss to the Bengals earlier this month.
The three points in the second half of the AFC Championship Game only came at the end of the fourth quarter, following a disastrous sequence in which the Chiefs suffered back-to-back sacks by Sam Hubbard and lost 20 yards.
The sack numbers were supposed to favor the Chiefs.
They had the advantage of the Arrowhead Stadium crowd, and the noise can make communication difficult along the opposing offensive line.
Plus, the Bengals’ leaky line had allowed Joe Burrow to get sacked nine times in Cincinnati’s previous playoff game.
Burrow, though, twice eluded the Chiefs’ best pass rusher, Chris Jones, for first downs in the second half. On the first he hit Ja’Marr Chase for 22 yards; on the other Jones jumped on his back, but Burrow shook him off and still ran for a first down.
“We did have opportunities,” Reid said. “He got out of those.”
While the Chiefs defense struggled to sack Burrow, the Bengals defense didn’t change anything drastically in the second half. The only tweak was playing more man coverage on second down.
Nonetheless, the resurgent Bengals had the game tied at the end of regulation.
The Chiefs won the coin flip in overtime and got the ball first. But on 3rd and 10, Mahomes threw to Hill, who was double covered, and Bell picked it off.
“It didn’t work for us today, but that’s a play I would go to again,” Mahomes said. “Whenever you have a guy like Tyreek running and he has a step on someone, give him a chance to make a play. And I’d say eight times out of 10, he makes that catch.”
That interception, though, tilted overtime greatly in the Bengals’ favor, and they drove down 42 yards for the game-winning field goal.
As a result, it ended the season for the Chiefs, and they could look very different in 2022.
The Chiefs have 28 free agents, according to Spotrac, including defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who helped lead them to three straight AFC Championship Games.
As he spoke during his press conference, Mathieu fought back tears as he addressed his future.
“I’m hoping it works out,” Mathieu said. “It’s been a blessing.”