The Bengals won because they trusted their QB. The Chiefs put theirs on the sideline
The field goal veered right from the outset, though the first hiccup came with a low snap, before Harrison Butker put his foot to it. It had the distance, even from 55 yards, but the hook never came.
And, man, Patrick Mahomes must’ve had a terrific view of all this.
From the sideline.
Same view he had last year.
The Chiefs lost to the Bengals 27-24 here at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati — and lost control of the AFC in the process — because the Bengals trusted their quarterback to go win the game.
The Chiefs trusted their kicker.
And that was just to tie it, by the way.
This isn’t about the kicker, though, not really anyway, because the mistake is not about whom the Chiefs brought onto the field as much as it is whom they removed from it:
The world’s best — not to mention most expensive — football player.
The situation: With 3:24 to play Sunday, the Chiefs faced fourth and 7 at the Bengals’ 37-yard line, the scoreboard showing a three-point deficit.
The man the Chiefs are paying $500 million — the one who possessed the opportunity to actually give them the lead — limped toward the sideline, though he and his head coach both would later say he was fine to stay in the game. In his place, the kicker the Chiefs are paying $20 million — the one with an opportunity to just tie the game — trotted onto the field.
But why was he even out there?
“Well, if I don’t think he can make it, I’m not going to do it,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “But I felt like he’s been in a good place. We just gotta execute it better all the way around.
“It shouldn’t really come down to that (either), but it did.”
To be sure, there are a lot of reasons the Chiefs lost to the Bengals on Sunday. Their pass rush continues to be non-existent against a weak offensive line protecting Joe Burrow. Their tackling was atrocious. And a play before the fourth-down decision, the Chiefs let a three-man pass rush sack Mahomes.
Are the Bengals, the lone team to beat Mahomes three times in his career, just a bad matchup for the Chiefs, or are they just better? I lean ever so slightly to the former, but if I have to present that argument in front of an arbiter, I’m lacking the evidence the other side has. Which is that the Bengals have three times just plain bullied the Chiefs.
But for all of that, and it’s a lot, the Chiefs still stood 37 yards from the end zone, a chance to take the lead with three minutes to play.
They passed on it.
Took their best player out of the equation.
Reid has won 242 games in this league, and there is no one better suited to coach this particular group. But this blunder is not about whether the Chiefs made or missed the field goal. It’s that they even thought to try.
The metrics suggested the Chiefs had nearly a 3% better chance to win the game by keeping the offense on the field on fourth down, per Ben Baldwin’s fourth-down decision bot, an automated response that does not even take into account that this decision included Patrick Mahomes.
The choice the Chiefs made required a successful 55-yard field goal, followed by their defense holding the Bengals scoreless on the ensuing drive, followed by their offense producing another scoring drive, either in regulation or overtime.
Mind you, the Chiefs’ defense had allowed the Bengals to travel at least 52 yards in seven of their eight drives to that point. But they were still prepared to put the game in the defense’s hands — well, if they made the 55-yard attempt first. That’s some kind of confidence.
More than I had.
You think the Bengals were bummed to see No. 15 head to the sideline?
Behind Door No. 2: Mahomes had, what, maybe a 50-50 shot to convert the fourth down, which he had already done twice earlier in the game. If successful, suddenly the Chiefs have control, and that control expands to the game clock, too. Had they been able to convert, the Chiefs could have drained the time, and at worst, they’re looking at a shorter field goal with much less time on the clock. At best, they’re scoring a touchdown to take the lead, and forcing the Bengals to go 75 yards to answer — again, with much less time remaining.
“I’m ready for whatever Coach decides,” Mahomes said. “If we wanna kick the field goal, I believe we have one of the best kickers in the league, so I’m going to give them a chance to kick the field goal. And if Coach wants to go for it, I believe we can make that happen as an offense.”
It’s far from a guarantee the Chiefs would have gained seven yards. Far from a guarantee that even if they had gained seven yards, they would have won the game. But this league is about giving yourself the best chance to win the game.
The best chance to win NFL games involves Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes would later point out that the Chiefs had converted on fourth down twice earlier in the game. What he didn’t mention: Both conversions would lead to eventual touchdowns. In other words, Reid didn’t need to look far to see the potential benefit of leaving the league’s leading MVP candidate on the field.
And Bengals coach Zac Taylor would provide a reminder, just for good measure.
After moving the ball to the 28-yard line on the ensuing drive, the Bengals faced third and 11 on the short side of the two-minute warning. The Chiefs had exhausted all three of their timeouts, leaving Taylor with a decision — run the ball, and chew up an additional 40 seconds, or go for it all.
He went for it.
After all, who would want to put the ball in the hands of Mahomes, right? You know, if you had the choice.
Burrow connected with Tee Higgins for 14 yards. Game over.
“You know the quarterback they have over there,” Burrow said.
“That’s really what it comes down to, is giving ourselves an opportunity there,” Taylor said.
Taylor gave his quarterback one.
The Chiefs gave their quarterback an opportunity to watch it unfold.