KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs have grown accustomed to wrapping up the AFC West by the middle of December.
Turns out they’re perfectly fine with clinching it on New Year’s Eve.
Amid an up-and-down season in which the Chiefs have been forced to rely on their defense while their high-profile offense sputtered, Patrick Mahomes and Co. still managed to clinch their eighth consecutive division championship Sunday with a come-from-behind 25-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals — their opponent in each of the past two AFC title games.
Harrison Butker was a career-best 6 for 6 on field-goal attempts, Mahomes had 245 yards passing and a touchdown, and Isiah Pacheco ran for a career-best 130 yards to help Kansas City (10-6) secure the No. 3 seed for the playoffs.
“Obviously, we’re not winning this in Week 12 or Week 13 like before. We had to battle through adversity and find a way to win,” said Mahomes, who went over 4,000 yards passing for his sixth consecutive year as the starter. “Now you’re in the playoffs, it’s one game, single elimination, and I think we can play with anybody.”
The Bengals (8-8), fighting to avoid postseason elimination, led by 10 early but found themselves trailing 25-17 when Butker hit the last of his field goals — a 46-yarder through blustery wind — with 2:59 remaining in the game.
Four of Butker’s six field goals were from at least 43 yards, including his 54-yarder in the first half.
With one last chance, Bengals quarterback Jake Browning hit Tyler Boyd over the middle to convert a long fourth down and get them into Kansas City territory. But back-to-back sacks by George Karlaftis and Chris Jones ultimately dashed their hopes.
Browning finished with 197 yards passing and a touchdown. Joe Mixon ran for 65 yards and had the TD reception.
“Every guy left it all on the field,” Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said. “It was an emotional game. Physical game. All the things we knew would happen, happened. You have to give Kansas City credit. They got it done down the stretch.”
The Bengals and Chiefs are accustomed to playing high-stakes games when the weather turns frigid, meeting for down-to-the-wire nail-biters in each of the past two AFC championship games. And they are usually accompanied by plenty of trash talk, be it from fans, elected officials or — in the case this past week — players such as Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
The animosity usually spills onto the field, too. Midway through the second quarter, Chase and Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed got into a heated argument, and eventually a team-wide scrum resulted in offsetting personal foul penalties.
“I just be under people’s skin sometimes, I guess,” Chase said afterward. “Just trash talking. (He) can’t handle it.”
The Bengals jumped ahead 10-7 when an 8 1/2-minute drive resulted in a field goal and a 6 1/2-minute march ended in Mixon’s touchdown catch. Cincinnati then got the ball back when Trey Hendrickson ran right around rookie right tackle Wanya Morris, stripped Mahomes from behind and Sam Hubbard was there to pounce on the loose ball.
Pass interference on Sneed in the end zone set up Browning’s 1-yard TD run.
“It wasn’t the smoothest early,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.
Butker’s first field goal got the Chiefs within 17-10, though, and they had a chance to take the lead when Mahomes saw Marquez Valdes-Scantling wide open on their next possession. But yet another dropped pass — the NFL-leading 40th by Kansas City this season — forced the Chiefs to settle for another field goal to trail 17-13 at the break.
But as the Chiefs’ defense stiffened in the second half, their offense began showing signs of life.
They stuffed the Bengals on fourth-and-1 at the Kansas City 6, then drove 82 yards for Butker’s third field goal. And when the Bengals had to punt again, Mahomes hit Rashee Rice for 67 yards to set up Butker’s chip shot and give the Chiefs the lead. Two more field goals gave them some breathing room in the closing minutes.
“Everybody contributed in this, which I think was great. Nobody gave up hope,” said Reid, whose ninth consecutive 10-win season moved him past the 49ers’ George Seifert for the second-longest such streak in NFL history. “The guys executed well, and that is the most important thing right now, at this time of year.”
Cincinnati WR Tee Higgins left in the second quarter with a hamstring injury. He returned to the game but didn’t have another catch, finishing with one for 19 yards.
Kansas City WR Justin Watson hurt his chest in the third quarter but returned to the game. The Chiefs are thin at wide receiver with Skyy Moore on injured reserve and Kadarius Toney inactive due to a hip injury.
Bengals: Host Cleveland next weekend.
Chiefs: At the Los Angeles Chargers next weekend.
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