Bengals-Chiefs AFC Championship: 5 winners, 5 near misses since Kansas City win
Bengals-Chiefs AFC Championship: 5 winners, 5 near misses since Kansas City win
Sunday night AFC Championship The rivalry was the biggest and most consequential match of the last game Kansas City Chiefs the history There, they faced their boogeyman: a Cincinnati Bengals The team’s 2021 season was just part of a bitter three-game losing streak that ended with an overtime loss.
Going into this, we all felt a great sense of anxiety. It wasn’t just because it was a tough game against a really good team, but because we were worried about Kansas City’s poor quarterback. Then, as the game progressed, more injuries piled up. L’Jarius Sneed, Kadarius Toney, Willie Gay Jr., Mecole Hardman, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Isiah Pacheco, Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith were among the Chiefs players who were hit (or completely ignored) in Sunday night’s contest.
Then things got worse. Sometimes the crime stopped. The defense gave up a couple of big plays. And the leaders got the ball rolling. There were so many obstacles to victory, and fewer and fewer players willing to overcome them; there were six rookies on the field at the same time. There were so many opportunities to fold teams, and so many excuses that would have worked after losing.
But in the end, everyone on the active roster — from superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes to tight end Marcus Kemp — made plays when the team needed them most. And as a result, the Chiefs are on another road trip Super Bowl.
That’s why this compilation isn’t our usual list of winners and losers. Today, there are no losers among the Chiefs. All we can see are stories of redemption and triumph, the kind of stuff legends and movies are made of. But on Sunday night, everything was real, and everything was special.
Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling: We have seen the downside of the former Green Bay Packers Width: A deep shot with no real chance to finish. Often ineffective production gave him an up-and-down season. But with his teammates falling left and right on Sunday, Valdes-Scantling performed brilliantly. He led the team in targets (eight, along with tight end Travis Kelce) and yards (116), showing the ability to play every wide receiver. He caught a spectacular touchdown pass out of traffic that took the Elites’ concentration. In fact, for this game, the speedy wide receiver appeared locked down in a way we haven’t seen all season.
Cornerback Trent McDuffie: The undersized corner who steps up against Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd on the biggest stage? Yes… it’s hard. But McDuffie showed once again that he’s a blue-chip player — and one of Kansas City’s top picks in the 2022 draft. On the Bengals’ first drive, McDuffie undercut Chase for a potential interception. But he was able to hold off every Cincinnati ball carrier who crossed his path, tackling like a seasoned veteran. McDuffie played hard in coverage all night, finishing with six solo tackles (one for a loss) and two passes defensed. This game is not too big (or too fast) for this rookie, and on Sunday, he made sure everyone knew it.
EDGE Frank Clark: No Chiefs player gets more criticism than this eight-year veteran, but no one delivers in the playoffs like he does. The Sharks smelled blood in the water against Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow and his backup offensive line. From the very first album, he went to work. Clark finished with 1.5 sacks, three quarterback tackles and one tackle for loss. He was a force in this game, cementing his legacy as one of the top three postseason pass rushers in NFL history.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones: It’s always been a false narrative that the seven-year veteran hasn’t been able to deliver in the postseason. But any lingering questions were answered on Sunday. Even with all the attention the Bengals gave him, Jones was unstoppable, and this time, it showed in the box score: five quarterback hits, three tackles for loss and two sacks. No play was bigger than his sack on Burrow’s final down of the season. Jones was a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year. If he keeps it up, he’ll also be a finalist for Super Bowl MVP, and a big new contract.
Harrison Butker Movers: It was a wild season for Kansas City’s longtime specialist. Injured in the opening week of the season (due to a kick in the wrong field), he struggled to regain the form that made him one of the best in the league. In 2022, he set career highs in missed extra points and field goals, prompting the team to league other kickers in practice. But down the stretch, things finally seemed to click again. In the cold and windy conditions of the AFC title game, he was perfect: two-for-two on extra points and three-for-three on field goals. With the game (and season) on the line, Butker kicked the game-winner from 45 yards out, putting his team in the Super Bowl and silencing any remaining doubters.
The almost losers who would later redeem themselves
Wide receiver/returner Skyy Moore: The rookie’s first goal went three yards, the second (and third) he didn’t have a chance to complete, the fourth went two yards… well, you see the pattern here. Moore had seven targets on the night, and managed just 13 yards on three catches. He rarely looks like he’s on par with Mahomes. But with Isiah Pacheco and Kadarius Toney hit, Moore was relegated to the kicker and returner jobs — the same roles he failed so miserably with disastrous turnovers earlier in the season. We held our collective breath as Moore fumbled a punt in the third quarter and returned it 25 yards. Unfortunately, he was called for a penalty, but not the next one. With 41 seconds left – and the game tied – Moore scored. His 29-yard punt return set up the game-winning field goal — and should be a huge confidence booster for a kid who should be a bigger part of the team’s plans in 2023.
Cornerback Joshua Williams: Kansas City’s defense was abysmal on Sunday, holding Burrow and his receivers below their normal production levels. But when they had chances, it was often at Williams’ expense. Forced into action after an injury to veteran L’Jarius Sneed, the rookie continued to struggle against the physically imposing Bengals receivers. But with the game tied midway through the fourth quarter, Williams intercepted Burrow on a fly ball. It was a big play at a big time. Williams helped the Bengals regain the momentum they needed.
Safety Bryan Cook: The rookie committed two very expensive penalties, but in the fourth quarter, Burrows passed it to Williams. He’s another rookie defender who has seen his chances grow over the past few weeks, and he’s grown with it. For Cook, the future is bright. It will also have a Sunday game to build on in 2023.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes: The two-time MVP has no business being on the losers’ list. He was excellent against the Bengals, throwing for 326 yards and two touchdowns on a bad ankle while throwing to a severely depleted receiving corps. It was easy to see that the injury was painful for him as he tried to roll and shuffle. But there was a moment, however brief, when he felt that everything was falling apart. It was a familiar point for Kansas City fans, especially against Cincinnati, when a promising performance went off the deep end. With a minute left in the third quarter, Mahomes dropped back to pass, but the ball bounced away. It went airborne and was recovered by the Bengals. At that moment, it felt like the season was over; The Bengals scored a game-tying touchdown. But the defense held in the fourth quarter, and then the offense got the ball back with 30 seconds left, needing just a couple of plays to get down the field. On third-and-4, Mahomes saw an opening, going up the sideline in the toughest five-yard scramble you’ll ever see. Somehow—on the day Mahomes became a star while passing the ball on one leg—it was that leg that led the team to victory.
Coach Andy Reid: For the next two weeks, all we’ll hear is the following Andy Reid Bowl. The Big Red’s success from his days in Philadelphia through his decade in Kansas City is undeniable. His impact on this franchise, this city and the NFL as a whole is as important as it is in the history of the league. Among his peers, he is known as an elite signal-caller who displays creativity that others copy each season. But every year, he also questions his play-calling and in-game decisions. With the ball at the end of the first half, Kansas City had a chance to double it: the Chiefs would get the ball to start the second half. But the offense ran a quick three-and-out with three consecutive incomplete passes, allowing Cincinnati to score a field goal. Then, as the third quarter began, it was another three-and-out with low-percentage play calls. Then, on Cincinnati’s 37-yard fourth-and-8 with 2:36 left, Reid elected to punt. Once again, the audience thought it was the end of the season; the Bengals would have plenty of time to march down the field for a game-winning score — while Mahomes watched helplessly from the sidelines. But Reid’s judgment would be vindicated: his defense made big plays to get the ball back. We should probably stop asking the head coach, though it’s doubtful we ever will.
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