ANALYSIS: 5 takeaways from Bengals’ AFC North-clinching win

Cincinnati rallies to beat Chiefs 34-31

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor always expressed his belief the team would turn things around after two losing seasons, but there was “no better way to draw it up” how it’s happened.

Ja’Marr Chase scored three touchdowns, Joe Burrow set two franchise passing records and the Bengals clinched the AFC North title Sunday with a 34-31 comeback win over the Kansas City Chiefs in front of 64,505 fans at Paul Brown Stadium.

“You don’t want your playoff berth or division championship to be handed to,” Taylor said after choking up to start his postgame press conference. “It’s something you want to take yourself, you want to do it with a victory, and we were able to do that in unbelievable fashion today.”

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The Bengals took their first lead on Tyler Boyd’s 5-yard touchdown reception with 11:44 left and the Chiefs tied it on a field goal with 6:01 left for their only points of the second half.

Evan McPherson won the game on a 20-yard field goal at the gun. Cincinnati had not won more than two games in a row all season, but put together a third straight win while ending Kansas City’s eight-game winning streak.

Here are five takeaways from the win:

1. Not done yet

Cincinnati took down the AFC’s top team and an opponent that went to the last two Super Bowls, a far cry from what the Bengals were doing the past two years as Taylor began his rebuild with just six wins combined in 2019 and 2020.

While the team claimed its first division title and playoff berth since 2015, Sunday’s win only shows the Bengals are capable of more. They now head to Cleveland for the regular-season finale and will be fighting for playoff seeding. Only the top seed in each conference gets a first-round bye. The Bengals are the No. 3 seed after their win.

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“We believe in anything,” Taylor said. “We always thought we could play with any team in this league, and the Chiefs have been the standard, and they are still the standard. Starting with next week, it’s going to continue to be a playoff mindset for us. We need to be able to continue to prove ourselves. It’s not going to be easy, and our guys need to step up to the challenge.”

2. Chase changed the tone

Chase finished with an NFL rookie record of 266 yards and three touchdowns on 11 catches and is the first rookie to record multiple 200-yard receiving games in the same season. He also topped Chad Johnson’s team record of 260 receiving yards in a game.

His production was timely.

Trailing 14-0 in the first quarter, the Bengals were in jeopardy of getting run out of their own stadium early, but on the second play from scrimmage on their third drive, Chase changed the game. Burrow connected with him on a pass that traveled about 12 yards through the air, and the rookie receiver ran it 60 yards after the catch for a touchdown.

“When I was growing up, my coach always told me, ‘Get the ball to the playmakers’ hands in space,’” Chase said. “I was just trying to make a play.”

Cincinnati had to cut down a 14-point deficit two more times after that, chipping away at a 28-14 deficit with a field goal to end the half before Chase made it a four-point game with a 69-yard touchdown reception on the third play of the second half. His other touchdown, which made it a 21-14 game in the second quarter, was an 18-yard pass he caught with one hand.

Burrow completed 30 of 39 passes for 446 yards to push his season total to 4,611 yards and 34 touchdowns, besting the team’s previous records of 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns set by Andy Dalton in 2013.

3. Defensive adjustment

After giving up 28 points in the first half, the Bengals defense tightened up and held the Chiefs – the league’s second highest scoring offense – to a field goal in the second half.

Patrick Mahomes had 209 of his 259 passing yards in the first two quarters, while leading Kansas City to four straight touchdown drives after going three-and-out the opening drive. He connected with Demarcus Robinson and tight end Travis Kelce on a pair of touchdown passes for a 14-0 lead with 2:50 left in the first quarter. Darrel Williams scored the other two touchdowns on 1-yard runs.

Defensive end Sam Hubbard said although the Bengals didn’t get any sacks or turnovers, the key was stopping the run and getting more pressure on Mahomes in the second half.

“They present a lot of challenges that you don’t face and you can’t replicate in practice, ... but we really just settled in and played our game,” Hubbard said. “(We had to) stop overthinking everything that we’re trying to defend and just play hard defense, and we really did a good job of just doing our job individually.”

4. Game-winning drive

The Chiefs tied the game at 31 on Harrison Butker’s 34-yard field goal with 6:01 left, but Chase’s 30-yard reception on third-and-27 with 3:14 on the clock moved the Bengals into the red zone to set up the winning field goal.

The Bengals were helped by an illegal use of hands penalty on the defense on a fourth-down incompletion from the 1-yard line with 50 seconds left. That was their second attempt on fourth down, but the first one – a catch for Joe Mixon that got him right near the goal line – was negated by offsetting penalties and replayed.

Cincinnati was able to run down the clock with backup quarterback Brandon Allen kneeling it out and spiking before McPherson stepped in with two seconds left. It was McPherson’s second field goal of the day and his third game winner of the season.

“I was just thinking, ‘don’t miss it,’” Burrow said with a laugh.

5. Injuries to watch

Burrow came off the field for the final four plays and said he re-aggravated the right knee he banged up against the L.A. Chargers. He said it’s nothing serious. Still, the Bengals could decide to rest him next week with their playoff berth secure.

“I would’ve come back in, but it was just the knee and I knew we were gonna kneel it and then clock it, so I figured take myself out of risk and let Brandon go in there and do that,” Burow said.

The Bengals also lost guard Quinton Spain with a right ankle injury late in the first half. Jackson Carman replaced him to start the second half, and Spain did not return. They already are expected to be without right tackle Riley Reiff for the rest of the season.

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Browns, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 1290, 95.7, 102.7, 104.7

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