Patrick Mahomes is on an all-time great trajectory … but the Bengals have the Chiefs’ number
Can Kansas City’s MVP favorite end a three-game losing streak to Cincinnati and Joe Burrow?
At only 24, Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to have a Super Bowl title, a Super Bowl MVP award and a league MVP award.
Now 27, the superstar signal-caller is expected to win the league MVP award for a second time after leading the NFL in passing yards, passing touchdowns and Total QBR this season. Both in individual and team accomplishments, Mahomes continues along a trajectory to becoming one of the all-time greats at professional sports’ most important position.
But then along came the Cincinnati Bengals and quarterback Joe Burrow.
Behind Burrow, the Bengals have defeated the Mahomes-led Chiefs in the teams’ past three matchups, including in overtime during last season’s AFC Championship Game at Kansas City. And if Kansas City again falls short on Sunday against visiting Cincinnati for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, the Bengals, despite the Chiefs’ spectacular success during the Mahomes era, would supplant the Chiefs as the class of the conference.
There’s no other way to look at it.
After defeating the visiting Chiefs 34-31 in Week 17 last season, the Bengals trailed by 18 points in the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium. The Bengals stunned the Chiefs in rallying for a 27-24 victory in overtime.
Kansas City was vying to reach the Super Bowl for the third consecutive season. And Mahomes could have become only the fourth passer in league history to start in at least three straight Super Bowls, joining Tom Brady, Bob Griese and Jim Kelly in an exclusive club (by starting in four consecutive Super Bowls, Kelly holds the record).
In Week 13 this season, the Bengals’ winning streak over the Chiefs extended to three games with their 27-24 victory. Regular season, playoffs, on their home field or on the road – the Bengals have the Chiefs’ number.
On social media and in interviews with reporters, Bengals players have expressed confidence entering the teams’ fourth meeting of the last two seasons. Under the circumstances, that’s not surprising, Kansas City coach Andy Reid said.
“Well, listen, they probably should [be confident],” Reid told reporters in Kansas City on Wednesday. “They’ve won three [straight] games, so I’m sure that’s how they feel. That’s OK. We’re still going to play the game.”
The Chiefs have dominated their AFC West division opponents, winning seven straight division titles under Reid. They’re tied with the Los Angeles Rams (1973 to 1979) for the second-longest streak of finishing atop a division in NFL history. The New England Patriots hold the record, having won 11 consecutive AFC East titles from 2009 through 2019.
Mahomes is in his fifth season as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback. The Chiefs have hosted the AFC Championship every season during that stretch, establishing a new NFL mark. The Philadelphia Eagles of the NFC are the only other franchise to host as many as three consecutive conference championship games (2002 to 2004), which occurred when they were led by Reid.
Mahomes’ physical status is among the main reasons the oddsmakers have the Chiefs and Bengals at even odds (as of Thursday) to win the AFC Championship.
He suffered a high ankle sprain during the first half of Kansas City’s 27-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round. Mahomes returned in the second half and is expected to play against the Bengals, but his mobility could be limited.
Mahomes is focused on returning to the field, not his injury.
“I’m doing good. [It’s] AFC championship week. [I’m] ready to go,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “I’ve done a few days of treatment, a few days of rehab. … It’s feeling good so far.”
Like Reid, Mahomes understands why the Bengals are brimming with confidence.
“All that stuff, you can talk throughout the week, but at the end of the day it’s a football game. You have to go out there and play it,” Mahomes said. “So we believe in just going [and] showing up on Sunday, playing our best football and seeing what happens.”
After three straight losses to the Bengals, each by three points, the Chiefs must perform better late in Sunday’s championship game, Mahomes believes.
“We’ve had great football games against them, but they’ve been able to beat us situationally at the end of games,” the five-time Pro Bowler said. “And so, how can we be better there? [Because we believe] it’s going to be a close football game. How can we be better situationally, that we go out there and that we’re able to execute on third down and [in] the red zone and the end of games in order to win against a good football team?”
During their 3-point loss to the Bengals this season, the visiting Chiefs held a 24-20 lead early in the fourth quarter. But after All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce and Mahomes connected for a long gain, Kelce had the ball stripped while he was being tackled, the Bengals recovered the fumble and they went on to rally again.
There’s no need for Reid to remind the Chiefs about where they’ve gone wrong in the past against the Bengals. They get it.
“Against good teams you can’t do that, right? So our guys know that,” Reid said. “Two good teams playing each other, the littlest thing can throw it to the side, so you’ve got to take care of the ball.”
Against a formidable opponent that has left them frustrated often recently, the Chiefs strive to be in top form Sunday with a Super Bowl berth at stake. But the reality is, even if the Chiefs are at their best, Burrow and the Bengals may be just a little better again.