HomeFootball DirtBengals' playoff hopes dashed after defeat by Chiefs

Bengals’ playoff hopes dashed after defeat by Chiefs

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — One year after Kansas City ended Cincinnati’s season in a dramatic AFC championship game at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs ended the Bengals’ postseason hopes entirely in the exact same place on a cold New Year’s Eve.

Applying relentless pressure on Jake Browning, including four sacks on the final possession as he was trying to rally the Bengals for the tying score, the Chiefs held one of their biggest conference nemeses without a point over their final seven possessions in a 25-17 victory Sunday that clinched their eighth consecutive AFC West title.

The Chiefs will be the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. The Bengals will be sitting it out after next week’s regular-season finale against the playoff-bound Cleveland Browns.

“That was not our goal,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said, “to be out of contention.”

Indeed, it was a bitter finish to a roller-coaster year for Cincinnati that included the loss of franchise quarterback Joe Burrow to a season-ending wrist injury, the revelatory play of Browning in his place, three straight wins that catapulted the Bengals into the playoff mix and consecutive losses to the Steelers and Chiefs that ultimately eliminated them.

“He’s one of the best players on planet Earth,” Taylor said of Burrow, “but that’s just part of life. And you know, you have to be able to deal with it and move on. We’re not the only team that deals with losing players. I’m proud of the way this team continued to fight. Proud of the way Jake stepped in and continued to lead. This team did not lay down for anybody. It has not gone our way the last two weeks, but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of what these guys did.”

The Bengals had their chances against Kansas City at the site of their past two AFC title game clashes.

They leaped out to a 10-7 lead thanks to a methodical, 15-play drive to open the game that netted them a field goal, and a 75-yard march that ended in Browning’s touchdown toss to Joe Mixon. And when Trey Hendrickson stripped Patrick Mahomes to produce a fumble, the Bengals converted the short field into Browning’s TD run to take a 17-7 lead.

They wouldn’t score again.

The Bengals went three-and-out on their next drive, when Tanner Hudson dropped what would have been a first-down throw, and time ran out in the first half when Harrison Butker hit the first of his six field goals for Kansas City with 35 seconds left.

Yet it was the Bengals’ opening drive of the second half that Taylor might rue in the months ahead.

Cincinnati twice converted on third down and drove inside the Kansas City 10, where Taylor was left with a decision on fourth-and-1 at the 6-yard line. Rather than kick a field goal that would have extended the lead to 20-13, Taylor decided to go for it and Mixon was stuffed by Willie Gay for a 3-yard loss and a turnover on downs.

“The best way to convert in short yardage is to avoid short yardage,” Browning said, “and it’s an obvious statement that coming away with no points right there is brutal.”

The Chiefs viewed the defensive stand as one of the pivotal points in the game.

“They checked to a downhill run. Willie was able to knock it back, and we went the other way,”” Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said. “And I think it was a huge momentum shift in the game right there.”

The Chiefs proceeded to put together a nine-play, 82-yard drive that Butker capped with a field goal to get within 17-16.

And that became a common refrain the rest of the way: The Bengals’ next drive fizzled, the Chiefs marched downfield and Butker kicked a go-ahead field goal; the Bengals had to punt again, the Chiefs drove the other way and Butker hit a 48-yarder to extend the lead; and when the Bengals went three-and-out, Butker added a 46-yarder with 2:59 left in the game.

The Bengals had one more chance, but the Kansas City defense made one more stop.

“Not every locker room in the league is like this — guys that work together, guys that have been out there since July 25 or whatever it was,” Taylor said. “We just came up a little bit short. Unfortunately not every year is your year, but we have one more game to play. It’s a big game at home against a divisional team. So we’re not here today talking like our season is over, because it’s not. We still have one game left.”

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

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