KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For a stretch in the first half, the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense was unstoppable Sunday in Cincinnati.
For most of the second half, Patrick Mahomes and company couldn’t sustain drives.
Meanwhile, a penalty-prone defense struggled to cover rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who torched the Chiefs’ secondary to the tune of 11 catches for 266 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-31 upset.
“When you have the lead, you want to keep the lead,” coach Andy Reid said. “We stalled the first couple series on the offensive side of the ball in the third quarter. Then, we had too many big plays on the defensive side.”
The loss snapped an eight-game win streak for Kansas City (11-5), which dropped to the No. 2 seed in the AFC after Tennessee dominated Miami to move into the top spot with one week remaining in the expanded 17-game NFL regular season.
“You learn from it,” Reid said. “As coaches and players, you learn from it. That’s all you can do right now. The guys battled and I thought played good, aggressive football. We just came up short against a good team.”
The Chiefs, who were flagged for 10 accepted penalties that cost them 83 yards, appeared to be primed to at least force a field goal try with a little more than 3 minutes remaining.
The Bengals faced third-and-27 from the Kansas City 41.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo brought an all-out blitz but couldn’t get home as Joe Burrow lofted a 30-yard completion down the right sideline to Chase, who beat cornerback Charvarius Ward repeatedly, to set up the game-winning field goal.
"That one hurt, man," said safety Tyrann Mathieu, who finished with six tackles. "I’m pretty sure we all want that one back as far as the players, even Spags and the coaches as well.”
Reid agreed, noting that the coaches had to accept some blame for the loss, explaining that the goal was to knock the Bengals out of field-goal range entirely.
“With hindsight now, we probably could have helped out a little more on Chase,” Reid said. “But we put our guys in that position to make a play, to hopefully get to the quarterback and keep them out of field-goal range. It didn’t work out.”
Cincinnati (10-6), which clinched its first AFC North title since 2015 with the win, survived a late goal-line stand by Kansas City’s defense which got stops on five straight plays from inside the 1-yard line.
Offsetting penalties on the fourth-down play and a penalty on cornerback L’Jarius Sneed in the end zone on the replayed down gave the Bengals a first down and the ability to run out the clock.
Burrow, who finished 30 of 39 for 446 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, left the game injured on the fifth and final play in that sequence.
Cincinnati backup quarterback Brandon Allen took a knee then spiked the ball before Evan McPherson won it with a 20-yard field goal as time expired.
Kansas City managed only three second-half points — a game-tying 34-yard field goal with 6:01 remaining — but Mahomes never saw the field again.
“They came out and played a little different coverages and stuff like that, but I think it was just execution,” Mahomes said. “We were executing at a high level in the first half. We had a couple bad plays here and there from really everybody that kind of stalled drives out (in the second half).”
The Bengals, who marched 74 yards on 15 plays to eat up the remainder of the clock, took their first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to Tyler Boyd.
The Chiefs managed only 122 yards in the second half, including only 50 yards passing. After outgaining Cincinnati in the first half, Kansas City allowed 267 yards after halftime and was outgained 475-414 overall.
“I didn’t think today was our best day,” Mathieu said. “I didn’t think we tackled well. I didn’t think we really tried to stop deep balls on the outside. I think playing cornerback in this league is a tough job, but we can get it done. We can do it, but it felt like today just wasn’t our day.”
Down by 11 points at halftime, it was Chase’s 69-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the second half on a blown coverage that allowed Cincy to pull within striking distance. Cornerback Rashad Fenton let Chase go, and safety Daniel Sorensen was too shallow and too late getting to the sideline, allowing for Chase's second touchdown of more than 65 yards.
When asked about any consideration of double-covering Chase, Reid said he wasn’t “going to cover that right there. We obviously knew he was playing well.”
After both offenses started the game going three-and-out, Mahomes and Chase took over.
Mahomes, who went 25 of 35 for 259 with two touchdowns and no picks, led four straight touchdown drives only to have Chase counter with a pair of scintillating touchdowns — sprinting untouched 72 yards late in the first quarter and hauling in an 18-yard corner route on the ensuing drive — to keep the Bengals in the game.
Despite missing both starting tackles for most of the game after left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. hurt his calf in warmups and right tackle-turned-left tackle Lucas Niang suffered a torn patellar tendon on the second series, the Chiefs got the ball rolling first.
Demarcus Robinson hauled in a 29-yard deep post for the game’s first touchdown and tight end Travis Kelce doubled the lead with a 3-yard touchdown reception on the next drive.
Darrel Williams capped the next two drives with 1-yard touchdown runs to put Kansas City in front 28-14. He finished with a career-high 88 yards rushing on 14 carries and added three catches for 19 yards.
McPherson netted a 46-yard field goal on Cincinnati’s final drive of the first half, and Byron Pringle returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown — only to have it negated by a holding penalty.
Tyreek Hill, who was limited to six catches for 40 yards, dropped a deep heave from Mahomes on the ensuing drive, preventing Kansas City from getting into field-goal range in the closing seconds.