The Kansas City Chiefs fell to the Cincinnati Bengals, 27-24, in a game that came down to the wire on Sunday evening.
Here are some quick notes from the game.
1. Despite the loss, quarterback Patrick Mahomes made some memorable plays.
Mahomes would be the first to say that winning the game is all that matters in the end, but while the Chiefs came up short on Sunday, his performance was still notable. He completed 16-of-27 passes for 223 yards and two total touchdowns in the contest, rushing for a 3-yard score on fourth down late in the third quarter. The touchdown – which demonstrated Mahomes' tremendous athleticism and competitive nature – gave Kansas City the lead at the time.
He also made numerous plays in crunch time, including a pair of deep passes to wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling – throws of 42 and 29 yards, to be exact – that each moved the chains on third down. Additionally, Mahomes found wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for a short completion to convert on fourth down midway through the Chiefs' first touchdown drive.
Again, those moments don't ultimately matter following a loss, but the Chiefs' ability to fight on Sunday despite facing numerous deficits – including an early 11-point hole – was of note.
2. The combination of running backs Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon was strong.
Another reason behind the Chiefs' ability to fight back from that early deficit on Sunday was the collective performance of tailbacks Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon. The two players combined for 117 rushing yards on Sunday, averaging 5.3 yards-per-carry between them.
Specifically, Pacheco rushed for a team-most 66 yards and a touchdown on 14 attempts. It marked Pacheco's fourth-straight game with at least 60 rushing yards. In fact, since Week 10, Pacheco ranks fifth in the NFL with 324 yards on the ground. McKinnon, meanwhile, racked up 51 rushing yards on just eight attempts. Additionally, both players made an impact in the passing game, too. Pacheco had two receptions for 16 yards while McKinnon hauled in two grabs for nine yards and a touchdown.
The performance of both players helped Kansas City record its fourth-highest rushing total (138 yards) of the season.
3. Uncharacteristic mistakes hurt the Chiefs in the fourth quarter.
The notes above marked some major positives in the game that permitted Kansas City to carry a four-point lead into the fourth quarter, but as it turned out, uncharacteristic mistakes hurt the Chiefs in the end.
The first – and the turning point in the game – was when Bengals' linebacker Germaine Pratt jarred the ball loose from Chiefs' tight end Travis Kelce early in the fourth quarter. At the time, Kansas City had a four-point lead and looked poised to add to that advantage with another productive possession. In fact, Kelce had picked up 19 yards and moved the ball to midfield before Pratt ripped the ball free.
It's very realistic to imagine a scenario where the Chiefs add to their lead on that drive, but instead, the Bengals forced the takeaway and later turned it into a go-ahead touchdown. Essentially, the play marked perhaps a 10 or 14-point swing. It was a rare miscue for Kelce, who hadn't fumbled in 22 games (including the playoffs) prior to Sunday's contest.
The other mistake of note was kicker Harrison Butker's missed 55-yard field goal attempt, which sailed wide right. It was a rare miss at that distance for Butker, who owns a 77.8 percent conversion rate on field goals of 50 or more yards since 2020. That's the fifth-best clip in the NFL among kickers with at least 15 deep attempts, but Butker wasn't able to add to that percentage on Sunday.
Kansas City is typically able to overcome mistakes like that, but when facing a fellow contender like Cincinnati, the margin for error is razor thin.
4. To their credit, the Bengals made enough plays in the end.
The Bengals still needed to take advantage of those miscues, however, and they did so. Cincinnati turned the fumble into a go-ahead touchdown, and they never relinquished possession of the ball following the missed field goal. Specifically, the Bengals converted two third downs on that final drive, including a 3rd-and-11 that essentially sealed the game.
Cincinnati elected to throw the football on that final play, marking a gutsy call that would have stopped the clock with nearly two minutes left in the event of an incompletion. The Bengals were in field goal range – meaning they had an opportunity to stretch their lead to six points – but a potential clock stoppage would have left ample time for Kansas City to answer with a potential game-winning touchdown. Conversely, a run on that play – and the continued ticking of the clock – would have left Kansas City with approximately 40 fewer seconds to operate.
The Bengals chose to risk that possibility for a chance to win the game, and to their credit, quarterback Joe Burrow moved the chains with a great throw to wide receiver Tee Higgins. It was one of several plays in which the Bengals seemed to get just enough to move the chains, as they converted three other third downs in the second half by picking up either exactly the needed yardage or one yard beyond the marker.
The ultimate result was a tough loss for Kansas City, but Head Coach Andy Reid emphasized the importance of learning from Sunday's mistakes in order to prevent similar outcomes moving forward.
5. Here's a look at the current playoff picture following the loss.
Sunday's loss means that the Chiefs no longer control their own destiny in pursuit of the top overall seed in the AFC, but they're still in a good spot. Kansas City is now tied with Buffalo for the best record in the conference at 9-3, and while the Bills win the tiebreaker due to their victory over the Chiefs earlier this year, every other team in the AFC has at least four losses. Simply put, if the Bills lose once over their next five games and the Chiefs do not, Kansas City would take back control of its own destiny.
In terms of the AFC West, the situation is pretty straight-forward. If Kansas City defeats Denver and the Chargers fall to Miami on Sunday, the Chiefs would secure a seventh-consecutive division title. The Chiefs still possess a three-game lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Chargers with five games to go, and a four-game lead over Las Vegas - plus a guaranteed advantage in "common games" over the Raiders, which is the tiebreaker used if head-to-head and division records are identical.
The scenarios, tiebreakers and procedures will be fun for fans to analyze in the coming weeks, but the ultimate reality for the Chiefs is simple: take care of business. Kansas City is in a great spot right now at 9-3, and with five games left, the Chiefs just need to take care of what's in front of them moving forward while blocking out the rest.
That mission begins this Sunday as the Chiefs head to Denver to take on the Broncos.