Analysis: 3 takeaways from Bengals’ loss to Chiefs

After making back-to-back AFC Championship appearances, the Cincinnati Bengals won’t get a chance at a third, as their playoff hopes vanished with a disappointing loss at Kansas City.

Cincinnati needed a win to stay in the mix after all the other eight- and nine-win teams in the AFC collected Week 17 victories, but the Bengals couldn’t hold onto a narrow halftime lead as the Chiefs’ defensive adjustments proved troublesome.

Kansas City shut out the Bengals in the second half and rallied from as much as a 10-point deficit for a 25-17 win Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

Here are three takeaways from the loss.

1. Bengals offense stalled

Jake Browning continued to show he belongs as one of the league’s best backup quarterbacks this season, as he got off to a fast start, converting four straight third downs and getting it done with his legs when needed. The Bengals scored 17 points on their first three drives. Unfortunately, that ended up being all they could muster. The closest they came after that was on a failed fourth-and-1 attempt inside the 10-yard line.

Browning completed 19 of 31 passes 197 yards and a touchdown, to go along with 32 yards rushing and one rushing touchdown, but he didn’t play well enough to give the Bengals a chance.

The offense just struggled in the second half, and some of that was on Browning, but Kansas City’s defensive front lived up to expectations and had a lot to do with the Bengals not being able to move the ball efficiently. Browning was sacked six times – five times in the second half, including four times on the final drive. Both Tee Higgins (hamstring) and Ja’Marr Chase (shoulder) played through injuries with the season on the line.

Cincinnati was running the ball well in the first half with 86 yards on 24 carries, but the Bengals managed just 18 yards on eight carries in the second half. Joe Mixon, who had the team’s lone receiving touchdown, finished with 65 yards on 21 carries.

2. Defense up and down

There were a lot of positives on defense when it came to third-down and redzone stops and turnovers, and usually doing well in those areas equates to a win. That obviously wasn’t the case.

Trey Hendrickson’s strip sack on Patrick Mahomes helped the Bengals build their 17-7 lead in the first half, as Sam Hubbard recovered to put the offense at the Kansas City 24-yard line. Browning capped the short drive with his rushing touchdown, and the Bengals had the momentum while Kansas City could only respond with a pair of field goals before halftime.

Cincinnati’s defense gave up a touchdown its first drive but didn’t break in the redzone after that and limited Kansas City to six field goals. That should have been enough; however, the struggles in between the 20s ultimately cost the Bengals their lead. Harrison Butker, whose last-seconds field goal beat the Bengals in the AFC Championship game last year, once again beat them – this time with consistency. He didn’t miss.

Explosive plays and run defense, as usual, proved costly. The Bengals forced just one punt Sunday and allowed six plays of 20 yards or more, including a long of 67 on a pass from Mahomes to Rashee Rice. Running back Isiah Pacheco, who was questionable going into the weekend, finished with 130 yards on 18 carries, including 88 yards on just five attempts in the first half and two plays of 20 yards or more.

3. Eliminated from playoff contention

This was supposed to be Cincinnati’s big year with all of its offensive weapons back from last year’s team that made it to a second straight AFC North title and AFC Championship game. However, when Joe Burrow went down for the season Nov. 26, no one expected the Bengals to even be in contention this late. A win would have kept them in it.

Last week’s loss at Pittsburgh made it so the Bengals likely would need to win their last two games to get in, but when the Browns, Colts, Bills, Texans and Steelers all won Sunday, any outside help they might have received was gone. Cleveland likely will be resting starters in the finale after securing the No. 5 seed in the AFC, so Cincinnati had perhaps an easier path to the playoffs next week.

Not being able to hold a lead against the Chiefs made next week moot. Even if the Bengals beat the Browns, they’ll be missing the playoffs for the first time since 2020. The regular-season finale likely will mark the end of some key players’ time in Cincinnati, and it will be a long offseason.

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