KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Thus endeth Kansas City’s two-year reign atop the AFC.
For the second straight week, the Chiefs’ opponent lost a coin toss to start overtime, but this time a bogged-down offense didn’t capitalize in a stunning 27-24 loss Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
Instead, Patrick Mahomes was intercepted when a deep throw into double coverage went off Tyreek Hill’s hands for a Vonn Bell interception.
“I knew the safety was making a run at it, but I just gave my guy a chance,” Mahomes said. “It got tipped — a good play by one safety, and it just fell into the other dude’s hands. But I would have done it again. Whenever you have a guy like Tyreek running and he has a step on someone, give him a chance. I’d say like eight times out of 10, he makes that catch.”
Nine plays after Cincy took over at its own 45-yard line, rookie kicker Evan McPherson delivered the game-winning 31-yard dagger on the second possession in overtime.
“Obviously, deflated would be a good word to describe it,” said safety Tyrann Mathieu, who cleared the NFL concussion protocol in time to chip in five tackles. “... Anytime you come up short and you know you could be better, it’s obviously deflating.”
Kansas City blew an 18-point first-half lead in a game that proved as shocking as the improbable closing-seconds comeback a week earlier against Buffalo.
The Chiefs dominated the first half and the Bengals owned the second half and overtime.
Trailing by three with 6:04 remaining, Patrick Mahomes and company took possession and engineered a 14-play, 49-yard drive to force overtime on Harrison Butker’s 44-yard field goal as time expired.
The Chiefs led 21-3 late in the first half before the offense went dormant — as it had in the loss four weeks earlier in Cincy — as the Bengals rattled off 21 straight points before the game went to extra time tied at 24-24.
“I’ve got to be better,” said Mahomes, who finished 26 of 39 for 275 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. “When you’re up 21-3 at one point in a game, you can’t lose it. I put that on myself.”
Mahomes was 18 of 21 for 220 yards with TD tosses to Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Mecole Hardman Jr. in the first half, but only went 8 of 18 for 55 yards with two picks in the second half.
The Chiefs' offense — which churned out 292 yards and 18 first downs in the first half, but only 83 yards and six first downs after halftime — woke up from a five-drive slumber in time to force overtime, but it didn’t matter.
“They played a little bit more man on second down, but other than that not really,” coach Andy Reid said when asked about the changes the Bengals made at halftime. “I can put the players in better positions to make plays. I didn’t get that done.”
After botching the final play of the first half, Kansas City went punt, punt, interception, punt, punt, game-tying field goal, interception the rest of the way on offense.
“They did a better job than what we did in that second half, for sure,” Reid said.
Kansas City’s offense, which topped 40 points in the previous two postseason games, continued to play like a juggernaut in the first half.
The Chiefs scored on their first three drives, while the Bengals seemed stuck in the mud amid constant pressure on Joe Burrow.
Cincinnati opened the game with a three-and-out before Kansas City marched straight down the field for a 10-yard touchdown from Mahomes to Hill, who finished with seven catches for 78 yards.
The Bengals answered with a 14-play field-goal drive, but the defense still hadn’t solved Mahomes and company.
It only took seven plays before Mahomes dipped, ducked and dodged his way around a collapsing pocket, reversing course more than once before a Trey Smith block helped him escape to the right for a 5-yard touchdown to Kelce.
It was Kelce’s 12th career postseason touchdown, which tied him with John Stallworth for the third-most in NFL history behind only Jerry Rice (22) and Rob Gronkowski (15).
He finished with 10 catches for 95 yards and also became only the third player in NFL history to surpass 100 career postseason receptions (Rice, 151; Julian Edelman, 118).
After another Bengals punt, a 3-yard touchdown from Mahomes to Hardman pushed the lead to 21-3, but the Chiefs’ momentum stalled from there.
Running back Samaje Perine got free for a 41-yard touchdown thanks to a missed tackle by Charvarius Ward, and Kansas City eschewed a last-second field-goal attempt to go for the throat on the final play of the first half.
Hill came in motion from right to left and Mahomes flipped a pass to him around the 5-yard line, but Cincinnati’s defense wasn’t fooled and time expired as the Chiefs’ speed was dragging down short of the goal line.
Kansas City’s 80-yard drive netted no points.
The Chiefs, who led 21-10 at halftime, punted on four of their first five drives in the second half sandwiched around an interception, while the Bengals netted a field goal on their second drive — a 31-yarder by Evan McPherson.
Were it not for a sack and batted-down pass by Melvin Ingram after Cincinnati reached the red zone, it might have been worse.
Two plays later, it got worse for Kansas City when Mahomes double-clutched and telegraphed a pass intended for Demarcus Robinson.
Defensive tackle B.J. Hill read Mahomes the whole way, batting the ball to himself for an interception.
Cincinnati took over at the 27-yard line and scored five plays later when Burrow drilled a 2-yard back shoulder fade to rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who leaped over cornerback Rashad Fenton for the TD.
Trent Taylor, a practice-squad elevation for the game, caught the game-tying two-point pass as a “Who dey?” chant erupted inside Arrowhead.
“The best team and the smartest team all-around won today, and that was the Cincinnati Bengals,” defensive end Frank Clark said.
After another punt, the Chiefs seemed to reclaim the momentum when L’Jarius Sneed picked off Burrow, but Kansas City’s offense remained bogged down — losing 4 yards on three plays — before Tommy Townsend sent another one away.
Cincy drove into field-goal range for a go-ahead 52-yard McPherson field goal, which Butker would match to force OT before McPherson won it in extra time.
“Our players were disappointed obviously,” Reid said. “They put a lot of time and effort into this , putting themselves in this position for a championship. I’m proud of them for that and the way they battled through some of the problems that we had early in the season.”