5 Bengals vs. Chiefs Takeaways: Patrick Mahomes Makes Next Step in Historic Trajectory

What are five takeaways from the Bengals vs. Chiefs AFC Championship battle that saw Kansas City come away with a field-goal victory?

The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 23 to 20, as the Chiefs cashed their ticket to Super Bowl 57 against the Philadelphia Eagles. The heavyweight matchup between superstar quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow was everything it was billed to be. The two best passers on the planet combined for 596 yards and three touchdowns.

Both teams had the chance to win the game as time continued to wind down to under three minutes. Instead of Burrow advancing to 4-0 against Mahomes, this was Mahomes’ time to shine. While Joe Cool failed with pressure continually coming at him, Mahomes did just enough at the right moments to propel the Chiefs back to the Super Bowl for the third time since 2018.

The back-and-forth battle could’ve gone either way, as just a few key moments separated these teams. We have five takeaways total from this one, as this result will affect the league now and in years to come.

5 Takeaways From Bengals vs. Chiefs

The Margins Were Razor Thin as We Had Hoped

Regardless of any vested interest as a fan or bettor, everyone wanted this game to showcase the tremendous playmaking talent on both teams. It didn’t disappoint, with four receivers totaling 75 or more yards and both quarterbacks firing off darts while under constant duress. Neither team was significantly better than the other, and the stat sheet showed that.

Of course, turnovers and penalties are often key factors in how games play out. The Chiefs forced two interceptions on Burrow, and the Bengals finished with nine penalties for 71 yards. Most notably, Cincinnati came up short when the game was most tense in the fourth quarter.

Burrow nearly had Ja’Marr Chase on a deep corner route one play before throwing an interception on third down. The ball hit Chase right in the head despite tight coverage and would’ve given the Bengals possession near the Chiefs’ 30-yard line with about six minutes left in a tie game. Then, the interception, and two plays later, a defensive pass interference helped move the chains.

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Kansas City won in the margins after struggling to do so in their three previous matchups against Cincinnati. Turning the tide in the details was a mindful development that required schematic adjustments and personnel changes.

And yet, the Bengals had the chance to win with a long drive that started before the two-minute warning. This became a thrilling finish, with the Chiefs forcing a punt and Skyy Moore returning the ball near midfield with only 30 seconds left.

Shortly after, Bengals defender Joseph Ossai made the worst mistake possible, barreling into Mahomes after the quarterback had stepped out of bounds on a scramble.

That 15-yard penalty gave the Chiefs a chip-shot field goal to secure the win.

The Chiefs Missed Tyreek Hill

With the tight margins, a depleted Chiefs’ receiving corps, and injuries zapping Mahomes’ powers ever-so-slightly, Kansas City badly missed Tyreek Hill. Though the Chiefs were able to produce the NFL’s top passing attack throughout the regular season without Hill, the decision to trade him to Miami was maligned because it would matter more against an elite foe.

For as well as Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Travis Kelce played, the Chiefs couldn’t get another receiver to get more than 13 yards. Their inability to rely on anyone but Kelce to create 1-on-1 consistently was going to catch up to them eventually.

The offensive shift from producing chunk plays with receivers to opening space for Jerick McKinnon and Isiah Pacheco was a terrific way to save money but one that could be stopped by a great defense. The Bengals certainly have that and proved it again.

It’s possible the game plays out differently if Kadarius Toney hauled in a touchdown catch in the first quarter, or if JuJu Smith-Schuster stayed healthy. Instead, the Chiefs heavily relied upon patchwork when it wasn’t necessary.

Their zag to trade away a top-five receiver when the rest of the league is working to acquire those talents was bold, and the team may still win several Super Bowls without him. However, it’s clear the offense would’ve benefited from Hill’s presence on Sunday, and that could prove fatal in the Super Bowl.

Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow Stand Together

The NFL has a growing disparity at the QB position after the influx of athletic, creative passers who have raised the bar of what great passers look like. There are about 10 quarterbacks across the league who really matter. The rest don’t consistently create impactful plays.

But as I’ve been saying for the last year, it’s Mahomes and Burrow as the top two quarterbacks. Mahomes is the best talent I’ve ever seen at the position. He proved it again Sunday night, slinging the ball around against a defense completely engineered to slow him down. Even as Mahomes totaled 326 yards, the Bengals nearly escaped with a win and completed their task.

Even with Burrow finishing with “only” 270 yards and more interceptions than touchdowns, he did more than enough to win. He also led the team with 30 rushing yards and took five sacks. Kansas City’s defense was swarming and opportunistic thanks to coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s aggressive approach.

Even with stars like Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson going nowhere anytime soon, they’ll continue to be punching upward against these two. It’s shockingly similar to the rivalry and hierarchy established between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning over a decade ago.

The Chiefs’ Defensive Overhaul Is Super Bowl-Ready

There’s no question the Chiefs’ defense has been better under Spagnuolo, ranking in the top 10 in his first three seasons over the unit until they dropped to 16th this season. However, even if they dropped in rankings, Kansas City broke in key young talent that gave them more versatility. That includes safety Justin Reid, cornerbacks Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson, Joshua Williams, and edge defender George Karlaftis.

It would’ve been easy for the defense to collapse by swapping out Tyrann Mathieu for a more stable but less explosive safety in Reid. Or to see the secondary completely melt with young cornerbacks taking the majority of snaps against Burrow and Trevor Lawrence. Instead, the team had the right man in charge of the right talent in order to peak at the right time.

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The Chiefs were able to limit Joe Mixon to 19 rushing yards, as well as the Bengals’ feared trio of receivers of Tee Higgins, Chase, and Tyler Boyd to no more than 83 yards each.

They’ll be tasked with another tough task soon against the Eagles but more for schematic reasons than a talent disparity.

The Bengals’ Magic Ran Dry

The Bengals never scored again after punching in their two-yard touchdown with 13:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. For as much as Burrow can resemble Brady with his timely playmaking and performance under pressure, their magic ran dry when it mattered most.

Cincinnati had 12 more plays in the fourth quarter but only totaled 40 yards, one interception, and one punt. The defense was almost perfect in their job, containing Kansas City to 19 plays and 93 yards in the quarter. The difference was the final four-play drive that yielded 26 yards thanks to Ossai’s massive blunder that sealed the game.

Cincinnati, as well-coached and even-keeled as almost any in the league, couldn’t continue replicating the Patriots’ formula of impeccable timing and consistency in high-pressure moments. Consider it a learning opportunity for a team that had talked an awful lot this past week.

Even with the Bengals able to go step-for-step with the Chiefs, the best player in the world plays in Arrowhead, and they were reminded of that.

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