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The good, the bad and the ugly in Bengals’ loss to Chiefs

The Bengals fought hard, but there were more mistakes than we had seen in the previous 10 games to break their long winning streak.

Not the result we wanted, but still a great season from the Cincinnati Bengals. It would seem that the Joe Burrow-Patrick Mahomes matchup will continue to be a high-profile one in the years ahead.

Here are the best and worst facets of the Bengals’ 23-20 loss to the Chiefs in the 2023 AFC Championship Game.

The good

Another iconic battle:

Even though the Bengals were 3-0 in the previous three, HUGE games, it still felt like this was a true back-and-forth rivalry, with both teams getting the better of each other with each passing contest. When researching, that just isn’t true—particularly as it pertains to modern football history.

Still, we’ve got a Manning-Brady, Bradshaw-Anderson, or, more apropos because of the perceived hatred, Wyche-Glanville-type of vibe here. Players, both past and present, as well as parents of current quarterbacks and even politicians have been entering the fray in the trash talk.

Again, this was a last-possession, three-point differential game, which has defined the Burrow/Mahomes rivalry. We can’t wait to see what else is in store down the road.

The pass rush and run defense:

There has to be some sort of unofficial combination to beat Patrick Mahomes II that was laid out in this one, and if so, the Bengals’ defense came pretty close to unlocking it. Three sacks against, holding the Chiefs to 42 rushing yards and 2.1 yards per carry have to be high on any defensive coordinator’s checklist when going up against this team.

But, sometimes No. 15 does “No. 15 things”. It comes with his innate talent and he was able to overcome a lot of obstacles.

The run game, for the most part and when actually used:

When Cincinnati ran all over Buffalo in the snow last week, you would have thought that seeking balance on offense was going to be a goal this week, as well. With a Kansas City sporting a ferocious pass-rush, but also a susceptible run defense, as well as a hobbled Mahomes and similarly-tough weather, one would have thought Cincinnati would have leaned on the run more.

It was mostly an afterthought, though, causing a 41-17 pass/run imbalance. Burrow was also sacked five times and hit 12 in total.

Of course, you never want to take the ball out of No. 9’s hands, but given the personnel and what was achieved last week, you’d think the Bengals would have wanted to keep the Chiefs’ defense a bit more honest with some slashing runs.

“The Big Three”, despite a key injury:

Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd all made huge plays in this game, but it didn’t have the consistency we’ve become accustomed to, for a variety of reasons. One was the poor protection up front, of course.

A quietly-important injury to Boyd early in the game also allowed the Chiefs to alter their defensive game plan. Even with a glut of continuous double-teams, Higgins had 83 yards and a score on the night, while Chase had an incredible fourth-down reception. Boyd also had two important grabs before leaving the contest.

Despite the result, a perennial marquee rivalry has been born:

Between the two high-profile quarterbacks, the smack-talk and unlikely Cincinnati victories in recent history, this is quickly becoming a must-watch contest between the Bengals and Chiefs. For instance, they did not play the AFC West this year or next, but a regular season contest was/is on the schedule slate.

These games have inarguably been the best on the NFL’s schedule, usually breeding a playoff rematch. We expect the same to occur in 2023.

The bad

Yes, we’re still going to talk about the officiating:

We’ve caught flak on our shows from the Kansas City faithful, telling us to “cry more”, “cope” and other responses. That’s fine, but the reality is that it isn’t just Bengals circles talking about the unbelievable officiating that was on display Sunday night.

Former players (even those who played for the Chiefs) and other prominent national media outlets talked about how the officials left their thumbprint on this one. Now, we have one of the most prominent officials of the modern era talking about how the Chiefs got away with a perceived penalty at a critical juncture.

Throw in the fact that the Bengals averaged less than five penalties per game and were flagged nine times in this one, as well as a myriad of calls/non-calls being within two minutes of the conclusion of the game. This same head official decided to be active on the last Bengals’ possession in Super Bowl LVI after not flagging much of anything, but I suppose that’s a different story.

Losing the turnover battle:

Cincinnati got one of those trademark defensive turnovers at an incredibly opportune time, but they didn’t get another, even when getting their hands on the football. This seemed to be the best type of game to net multiple turnovers from Mahomes, who was hurt in this one, but No. 15 was pretty remarkable on Sunday night.

Burrow threw two uncharacteristic interceptions—his first of the postseason. This hadn’t happened since Christmas Eve against the Patriots and it came back to bite the Bengals.

While Cincinnati’s defense held strong after both picks, forcing punts, it stalled promising drives. The last one, going deep to Higgins on a manageable 3rd-and-3 was questionable, to say the least.

The ugly

Chiefs winning major key stats:

I’m sure Chiefs fans will look at the officiating blurb above and casually gloss over what we’re going to say here. That’s okay, as we know there were statistical disparities that told a major part of Sunday’s story.

Kansas City had five more first downs netted (23 to 18), more passing first downs (17 to 11) and were better on third downs (50% to 43%). They also out-gained the Bengals by 48 more total yards, had one more turnover netted and two more quarterback sacks.

However, if we want to play into the tinfoil hat stuff on the penalties, Kansas City netted two more first downs from yellow flags (and five less penalties against overall), while their higher red zone percentage and nearly six minutes more of possession time could play into that.

Still, they won a lot of areas and it can’t be denied.

Porous offensive line with three backups:

Last week, fans became hopeful at the outlook of Jackson Carman, Max Scharping and Hakeem Adeniji in relief of three major starters on the offensive line. Those three played well against the Bills, plowing the opposition for 172 rushing yards and a high-octane start from Burrow.

However, this trio, particularly Scharping and Adeniji, struggled mightily against a superior and emotionally-charged Chiefs defensive front. The Kansas City duo of Chris Jones and Frank Clark combined for 3.5 of the Chiefs’ five sacks, with Jones getting to the quarterback from the interior and out on the edge in this one.

“When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less”:

Paul Brown is known for a number of major innovations in football, but outside of the pigskin lexicon, he’s mostly known for this quote. Paul and his son Mike are very traditionalistic, old-school guys, mostly in the best sense of the phrases.

They love hard work, embrace team players and we know that the family is an NFL foundational staple. Trash talk is a part of all sports, especially in today’s football landscape, but I’d assume Mike Brown had to have his eyebrows raised this entire week.

From “Burrowhead”, to political back-and-forths and subsequent chirping by Chiefs players after the win, this whole thing has gotten ugly. Some people revel in this kind of strife, but it will be interesting to see how the Bengals respond next year.

It’s weird: Cincinnati seemed to have had this quiet confidence/”we’ll show you” type of approach throughout most of this year, until the league did its playoff maneuvering in the wake of the Damar Hamlin injury. Afterward, the Bengals began to openly mock the “coin flips”/”neutral ground”, then going the “Burrowhead” route, seemingly galvanizing the squad in a new way.

But, with that came a braggadocio we haven’t seem for some time. And, as the fans rallied behind this wily Bengals team, so did folks like the aforementioned politicians and the plentiful “experts” on social media.

This one game has put a completely different spin on things, despite the past three in the contests. There has been an incredible amount of hype around this rivalry—and for good reason. I think most would agree that some of the facets we’ve seen from the past few weeks probably need to stop now, though.