KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Committing its most penalties in the last two months, the Kansas City Chiefs coughed up control of the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC with a 34-31 loss Sunday at Cincinnati.
Six of the Bengals’ 23 total first downs, or more than one-quarter in the game, came by penalty for an offense that was only 4 for 10 on third down.
All three defensive pass interference penalties against Kansas City’s secondary came on third down, and a series of penalties late in the game allowed Cincy to bleed the clock dry before Evan McPherson booted a 34-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.
“Between the big plays and the penalties, that’s what got us,” Reid said. “There were way too many penalties — including a touchdown on a kickoff return [and a] fourth-down play, where our defense did a nice job of stopping them on the 1-foot line. I would like to comment on each one, but I don’t want to be fined.”
That’s probably for the best as the costly penalties cropped up early and often for the Chiefs, who officially were flagged 10 penalties for 83 yards but also had a damaging offsetting penalty in the closing minutes.
During the Bengals’ second touchdown drive, Rashad Fenton was flagged for defensive pass interference on third down — a 5-yard penalty three plays before Joe Burrow’s second of three TD tosses to Ja’Marr Chase.
Fenton was flagged for a 14-yard defensive pass interference penalty on another third down near midfield inside the final 2 minutes of the first half, a penalty that led to a field goal.
On the ensuing kickoff, Byron Pringle picked his way through traffic then accelerated down the right sideline for an 89-yard kickoff return touchdown, which was nullified by a Zayne Anderson holding penalty that pinned the Chiefs at their own 16-yard line instead.
A special teams holding penalty on Dorian O’Daniel backed up Kansas City on its first drive of the second half, too.
On the Chiefs’ second drive in the third quarter, a holding penalty on Andrew Wylie negated a first-down completion to Blake Bell. If it hadn’t, an illegal shift on Tyreek Hill would have.
Instead of having the ball at Cincinnati’s 30, Kansas City punted two plays later and only got one possession in the fourth quarter, which started with a speculative third-down pass interference penalty on cornerback L’Jarius Sneed for 11 yards.
Later in that same drive, Sneed threw Chase down on the sideline with his hand on the shoulder pad but was incorrectly whistled for a horse-collar tackle. That personal foul cost the Chiefs’ defense eight yards.
Two plays later, the Bengals took the lead for the first time all game.
On the game’s final drive, a Chris Jones encroachment penalty netted a Cincy first down, while a holding penalty in the end zone on Charvarius Ward offset an offensive holding call and erased a fourth-down stop at the goal line.
Sneed got flagged on the replayed down for illegal hands to the face, which gave the Bengals a first down inside the 1-yard line and the chance to run out the clock before kicking the game-winning 34-yard field goal.
The 10 penalties for 83 yards were the most penalties and penalty yards against the Chiefs since a 20-17 win against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football in Week 8, which featured 12 flags for 103 yards against Kansas City.
But it’s unfair to lay the loss strictly at the officials’ feet.
The Chiefs had only 122 yards of offense in the second half and managed only three points in blowing a 28-17 halftime lead.
Rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase caught 11 passes for 266 yards with three touchdowns, including scores of 72 and 69 yards.
Quarterback Joe Burrow threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns and, while Kansas City managed four sacks, eluded the pass rush consistently in key spots.
“This is a response-driven league, and I just didn’t think we responded well enough today,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I know some people are going to talk about certain calls that were made late in the game. But outside of that, I still feel like we could have responded a lot better defensively. Hats off to those guys.”
It’s the first time a Patrick Mahomes-led offense has blown a double-digit halftime lead.
The last time Kansas City blew a halftime lead that big was the AFC Wild Card loss to Tennessee in the 2017 season when the Chiefs faltered after building a 21-3 lead at intermission in Alex Smith’s last season as the team’s starter.
The last such regular-season loss came in December 2016 (against the Titans as well).