Here are four overarching thoughts on the Chiefs’ AFC Championship Game against the Bengals.
The Kansas City Chiefs hosted their fifth straight AFC Championship Game on Sunday, and a bitter AFC rival was the only thing standing between them and a trip to the Super Bowl. In a rematch of the conference title game from last season against Kansas City, the Cincinnati Bengals entered GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium looking to advance to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. In the end, however, it was the Chiefs who clutched up and came away with a late field goal to secure a 23-20 win. Kansas City is officially going to the Super Bowl for the third time in the Patrick Mahomes era.
Here are four takeaways from Sunday’s game.
1. Chiefs-Bengals is officially a rivalry
All week long, many (deservedly) made it a point to remind the football world of the budding rivalry between Kansas City and Cincinnati. In fairness, though, it was also pointed out that the Chiefs had yet to defeat the Bengals in this Mahomes vs. Joe Burrow series. With a win in attempt No. 4, the Chiefs have officially made this the NFL’s premier matchup between any two teams. The two superstar quarterbacks will surely see plenty of each other in the future, as this isn’t the end of their story against one another. The AFC Championship Game was simply another chapter in that book, and it’s setting up to be a best-seller over the next several years now that the Chiefs have new life.
2. Special teams helped save the day
During the regular season, kicker Harrison Butker was struggling for the Chiefs as he worked his way back from an ankle injury he suffered in Week 1. Rookie wide receiver Skyy Moore was also underwhelming as the team tried him out in the punt returner role. Butker knocking down all of his field goal attempts — including the game-winner — and Moore setting that drive up with arguably his best return of the season sealed the deal in a thrilling victory. Dave Toub’s unit didn’t live up to the hype for most of the season, and that changed completely on Sunday. The Chiefs’ special teams unit now is nowhere near the liability it was in recent months.
3. Chris Jones is finally a playoff superstar
One of the most talked-about storylines of the postseason was Chris Jones still not having a single sack in the playoffs. Not only did he put that narrative to rest on Sunday, but he logged a pair of sacks in the Chiefs’ win. Additionally, he managed to dominate against double teams throughout the evening and got constant pressure on Burrow. Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive line goes as Jones does, and his Defensive Player of the Year caliber performance helped Kansas City’s defense put up one of its most impressive wire-to-wire games of the entire campaign.
Also, special recognition goes to wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling for his excellent game. There’s a finite amount of space for takeaways here, but a six-catch, 116-yard game with a touchdown helped provide the Chiefs with every bit of offensive firepower needed to keep things afloat.
4. The week of rest is surely needed due to injuries
Coming into the game, the Chiefs already had multiple players nursing some injuries. Patrick Mahomes’s ankle, Travis Kelce’s back, Mecole Hardman’s pelvis and Justin Watson dealing with an illness all contributed to some early questions, and the in-game developments weren’t better. Kadarius Toney and L’Jarius Sneed were forced out of action in the first half due to injuries and multiple others came up gimpy on several occasions. That left the Chiefs either underperforming or undermanned at a few spots and made things much harder on them than was necessary. It didn’t impact the final outcome, but it surely didn’t help the process to get there. Having some time before the Super Bowl is a massive plus.