Momentum is everything in a close game, and when it swings, it’s often hard to get it back. That’s a lesson Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs learned the hard way in their AFC Championship Game loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
The game was officially lost in overtime, but Mahomes and the Chiefs gave away three crucial points going into halftime, and that moment completely swung the game in favor of the Bengals when all was said and done.
Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs lost a crucial three points at the end of the half
Three points in the second quarter may not seem consequential, but even one point can mean the difference between winning and losing. In the conference championship game, that’s the difference between playing in the Super Bowl and watching.
So, what happened exactly?
The Chiefs were rolling and up 21-3 with just a few minutes to go until halftime. Joe Burrow responded with a seven-play, 70-yard touchdown drive of his own to pull the Bengals within 11 points and at least make it a contest. Cincinnati did leave 1:05 to go in the half, though, and we learned against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills that even 13 seconds is too much when Mahomes is getting the football back.
True to form, Mahomes led the Chiefs down the field and into scoring position when a defensive pass interference call gave Kansas City a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line. The Chiefs had no more timeouts, but they were in a perfect position to, at the very least, tack three points on the board.
Mahomes threw an incomplete pass on first down that burnt four seconds. On the very next play, with five seconds to go, Kansas City ran a play-action pass, and Mahomes took his time finding Tyreek Hill in the flat. Hill tried to make a move but was stopped short of the end zone by Eli Apple, who had just committed the pass interference penalty. With no more timeouts left, the clock struck zero, and the Bengals rushed into halftime with a ton of momentum. Instead of being up at least 14 points, the Chiefs went into the locker room with just an 11 point lead.
The Bengals had erased that lead by the time the fourth quarter started.
Mahomes said he got greedy at the end of the half
That stop right before halftime gave Cincinnati all the momentum it needed to make a comeback, and it ultimately cost the Chiefs another trip to the Super Bowl.
After all, if you play it out, Evan McPherson’s 52-yard field goal with 6:04 to go in the game would have tied the contest instead of giving the Bengals the lead had Kansas City gotten three before half. In that scenario, Harrison Butker’s 44-yard response with no time remaining would have been the game-winner for Kansas City. Instead, it was the kick that sent the game into overtime.
The Chiefs were basically chasing those three points for the rest of the game, and it ultimately cost them when it mattered most. Looking back specifically on the throw to Hill in the flats, Mahomes admitted that he had gotten a bit greedy.
“We called a play that we were trying to get somebody over the middle quick and I was supposed to throw the ball away,” Mahomes said via KSHB Kansas City. “I got a little greedy there and tried to give it to Tyreek and get a touchdown. They had two people out there.”
Mahomes said he’d do it again, but would he? For his part, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid blamed the gaffe on his playcalling.
“I was hoping we could get the ball in the end zone,” Reid said. “I probably gave them the wrong play, first of all. I could have given them something better than that, where the play was open in the end zone, then we wouldn’t have had to go through that. I’ll take responsibility for that.”
Mahomes couldn’t come up big when the Chiefs needed him to
Early on in the contest, it seemed Mahomes and the Chiefs were going to continue the offensive onslaught they started against the Bills the weekend before. Kansas City started the game hot and was up 21-3 before Cincinnati even knew what hit it. Mahomes threw touchdown passes to Hill, Travis Kelce, and Mecole Hardman, and the Chiefs looked primed to put up 50-plus points in a route.
Momentum really did swing on that last-second stand by the Bengals. Cincinnati came out of halftime a new team with renewed swagger and focus, while Mahomes and Kansas City came out flat.
Kansas City only scored three points in the second half. The Chiefs punted their first two series of the second half, and Mahomes threw an interception on the third. They then punted two more times before putting together a decent drive at the end of the game.
That last drive ended in the three points needed to send the game into overtime, but the Chiefs had a game-winning drive in them and couldn’t put it together.
Mahomes got Kansas City down to the Cincinnati 5-yard line with a 1st-and-goal with 1:30 to go. In three plays, the Chiefs lost 21 yards and had to settle for a field goal. Mahomes took a five-yard sack and followed that up with a 15-yard sack on the very next play. In fact, he almost lost the game right then and there for Kansas City. He was sacked by Sam Hubbard and actually fumbled the football. If Joe Thuney didn’t fall on it, Kansas City wouldn’t even have had a chance to play for overtime.
Of course, Mahomes also threw an interception in overtime. He finished the game completing 26 of 39 passes for just 275 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. His QBR was 40.8, and his passer rating was 91.3. Both below average.
After the game, Mahomes felt there was no one to blame but himself.
“In the second half we were just off a tick and that’s all it takes to lose a football game,” Mahomes said, according to ESPN. “I’ve got to be better. We were up 21-3 at one point and you can’t lose it. I put that on myself.”
Mahomes was focused on his team’s meltdown in the second half, but the wheels had fallen off well before Walker Hayes started singing about Applebee’s at halftime.