Five things that stood out about the KC Chiefs’ season-ending loss to the Bengals

The Kansas City Chiefs are done, an ending that arrives one week shy of the Super Bowl for the first time in three years and one that should have never arrived at all.

They led the Cincinnati Bengals by 18 points Sunday in the AFC Championship Game before a complete collapse — with roots and confusion on the offense side of the football — sparked a comeback.

The Bengals won 27-24 in overtime, and this time not quarterback Patrick Mahomes nor a coin toss nor even 13 seconds could save them.

The Chiefs managed only three points after halftime, and Mahomes managed just 55 passing yards after he torched the Bengals for 220 before the break. They’ll have an offseason to consider the explanation.

This team had occupied the cellar of the AFC West division at one point this season, and you wondered if whatever it had lost would eventually be found. It was. But a season that started unlike its two predecessors will also finish unlike its two predecessors.

As spectators on Super Bowl Sunday.

How?

Let’s take five observations from immediately after the game:

1. The ghosts of Arrowhead past

For more than two decades, Arrowhead Stadium had become the venue for playoff heartbreak. The venue full of opportunity but without the follow-through. The venue whose home losses had developed nicknames and kept confetti in boxes.

This will fit right there.

But worse.

This one had Patrick Mahomes.

This one was one step from a Super Bowl.

This one had a 21-3 lead.

This one set you up.

The Chiefs had squashed those days of torture — they had even developed into its inverse even. They had become the team who always managed a way, even when facing a 24-point playoff deficit. Even when allotted only 13 seconds.

2. The offense in the second half.

The NFL is the proverbial game of adjustments, a reality that usually plays into the hands of the best offensive minds.

So what’s going on here?

Execution.

It’s simple. It’s boring. It appears nondescript.

But it’s accurate.

The Chiefs cruised offensively in the first half — took whatever they dang well pleased — and then did absolutely nothing until the final drive of regulation. And even that totaled just three points, not seven, representing their entire second-half output.

How?

It’s the same issues that plagued the Chiefs throughout the middle of the season.

They opened the second half with two drops, a sequence of back-to-back plays in which either reception moves the sticks. Instead, they punt. You’d like to give credit to the opposition, but these are self-inflected mistakes.

Two drives later, quarterback Patrick Mahomes showed a sign of impatience, not giving up on a screen pass that was simply never there. The ball was tipped and intercepted.

Perhaps you can’t blame him for trying to make something happen for an offense that had stalled, but that’s the exact thinking that prompted his own midseason self-evaluation, to which he settled on a new outlook

Take what’s there.

He tried to take more.

Those are parts of the problem. So are the adjustments the Bengals made that will pop up more on film. So are the scramble drills that produced nothing. So is the Chiefs shying away from the running game that was working but the Bengals were essentially banking on the Chiefs shying away from.

3. The scrambles. The good and the bad

Back in 2003, a year in which he became the most prolific kick returner in the league, Dante Hall provided one of Arrowhead Stadium’s all-time best moments — a 93-yard return for a touchdown. After reversing field twice and dodging what seemed to be the entire Broncos roster, Hall turned the corner, and remarkable component of this play was that even though he had 90 yards still to travel, you knew was gone.

One Mahomes scramble came to this.

The Bengals ensured the others would not.

In the second quarter, Mahomes ducked one sack, danced to his left and when turned back right, you just knew how it would end. You could see the avenue. Mahomes found Kelce in the near corner of the end zone — after he had 7.94 seconds to throw the ball, the most in time he’s had to throw the ball on a touchdown in his career.

But afterward?

The Bengals elected to cut off his running lanes — often by defensive linemen refusing to chase after him and staying in front of him. The strategy spoiled the Chiefs’ final drive of regulation, when Mahomes bought plenty of time to make something happen, only to see nothing but defenders in front of him. Mahomes actually fumbled on his final sack, but Joe Thuney hopped on it, saving the game-tying field goal to send the game to overtime.

4. Let’s talk about that first-half decision

The Chiefs were stopped all of one time in the first half.

Kind of.

On what amounted to the final play of the half, sitting at the 1-yard line, the Chiefs elected to go for a touchdown rather than take the three points.

Instead, they got zero. Mahomes threw to Tyreek Hill behind the line of scrimmage, and he was tackled for no gain as time expired.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right call — it just means it didn’t work.

The Chiefs led by 11 points at the time. A touchdown would have just about put the game out of reach when they had to make it so — they could expand the advantage to 18 points using the side of the ball that had dominated the game, and then given the ball right back to their offense to open the second half.

They whiffed on execution. They did not whiff on the decision.

Good decisions fail sometimes. Good decisions alter the game in the wrong directions sometimes, even.

This was one.

5. Defending No. 1

A month ago, Bengals wide Ja’Marr Chase blew up against the Chiefs secondary for 11 catches, 266 yards and three touchdowns — and yet the Chiefs defensive coordinator and cornerbacks spent this week saying they didn’t really mind their positioning in that game.

Really.

The Chiefs felt they were in the right spot often against Chase but got beat at the point of the reception — they didn’t finish the play — and if you look at the film, there are several examples of it.

They finished some plays Sunday.

Some.

Chase did get Rashad Fenton on a fade route — in which, like before, Fenton was well-positioned, but Chase high-pointed the football. He’s just the kind of talent you’re not going to hold down for an entire game.

But he wasn’t the reason the Chiefs lost. They held him to just 54 yards — in other words, 202 fewer than his last outing.

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow offered Chase a one-on-one battle on a fly to the end zone, but Charvarius Ward got his fingertips on the ball, a deflection that forced a field goal.

The Chiefs tallied four passes defended on the initial two drives alone. They had only three in their first meeting.

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