KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For much of the night, Bengals backup quarterback Jake Browning matched Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes' magic, but the tenacious Chiefs defense stuffed the Bengals on fourth-and-one in the third quarter and never looked back in a 25-17 victory at Arrowhead Stadium.
But they needed six straight Harrison Butker field goals to knock the Bengals out of the playoffs after Browning staked the Bengals to a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
Browning finished 19 of 33 for 197 yards, and wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase was held to three catches for 41 yards while grinding through his shoulder sprain. It was Browning's fewest yards in his six starts in relief of Joe Burrow, but he had them right in the thick of it as they drove to take a 24-13 lead. Browning converted eight of their first 10 third downs against one of the league's top third down defenses and added a scrambling 32 yards. But the Bengals could get just 50 yards the rest of the way after the fourth-down stop midway through the third quarter.
The Bengals held Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce to three catches for 16 yards as Mahomes went 21 of 29 for 245 yards.
The Chiefs did what the Bengals couldn't do earlier in the second half and with a 19-17 lead converted a fourth-and-one. Mahomes kept it on the perimeter and muscled for the first down to set up Butker's fifth field goal of the night for a 22-17 lead.
The Chiefs re-took the lead in the first minute of the fourth quarter, 19-17, but it was another red-zone stand for a Bengals defense that still had trouble allowing the big plays but also showed up with a few of their own. Chiefs wide receiver Rashee Rice got past cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt for a lob-and-run 67-yard stunner for Mahomes' fourth completion of at least 20 yards on the night.
But when slot cornerback Mike Hilton and linebacker Logan Wilson dropped running back Isiah Pacheco for a two-yard loss on a short pass, the Chiefs had to settle for their fourth field goal.
With 7:47 left in the third quarter and the Bengals, leading, 17-13, they went for the kill on fourth-and-and-one from the Chiefs 6. They put in Cody Ford as an extra tackle and went double tight ends, but Chiefs linebacker Wille Gay met running back Joe Mixon on the handoff for a three-yard loss.
It had been an encouraging 11-play drive that chewed up about six minutes as Browning kept converting third downs, like a 14-yarder over the middle on third-and-five to tight end Tanner Hudson. He also found Chase for 14 on second down, but the big play was the 30-yard pass interference on Chiefs cornerback Joshua Williams as he was trying to cover wide receiver Tee Higgins on a jump ball at the Chiefs 15.
Higgins had left early in the game when he re-aggravated his hamstring injury, but came back to deliver what loomed to be the knock-out blow. But they couldn't get to the Chiefs 5 for the first down.
And it took Mahomes no time to make them pay when he hit wide receiver Justin Watson racing past cornerback DJ Turner for 41 yards. Then he hit Rice over the middle on a quick-hitter for 24 more. But for the third straight time, the Bengals answered after allowing explosives with a stand that forced a field goal that cut the lead to 17-16.
Right end Trey Hendrickson struck again with the Bengals leading, 10-7, in the second quarter with his 17th sack in his 16th game coming from behind in the pocket. He also separated Mahomes from the ball on a strip that was recovered by left end Sam Hubbard at the Chiefs 24. It was Hendrickson's seventh straight game with at least a full sack.
That set up a couple of showdowns between Chase and Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed. Earlier in the week, Chase had called Sneed their best player in a secondary he didn't shower with superlatives.
On third down at the Chiefs 5, Sneed and Chase met again moments after they both drew 15-yard flags for jawing and shoving. This time only Sneed drew the flag when he wouldn't let Chase jump for a fade. Browning used the new life from the 1 to convert their sixth third-down in seven tries when he rolled to his right, saw no one open and cut it back on a pirouette for the touchdown. Browning took a shot but he got up with a smile with a 17-7 lead with 6:23 left in the half.
At that point, there was plenty to smile about. The Bengals had the ball 19:31 and the Chiefs barely four minutes.
The first target to Chase got batted down at the line, but the second one was a thing of beauty on third-and-two and ignited the Bengals' go-ahead touchdown drive early in the second quarter. Browning dropped a nice touch 24-yarder in between the Chiefs' double-double coverage and Chase smoothly went up to grab it without showing any problems with his sprained shoulder.
It was his lone catch in the half.
From there, Browning cleverly maneuvered an 11-play touchdown drive with quick throws rolling away from pressure. He hit tight end Drew Sample for 11, flipped a 14-yard check-down to Mixon, and then found Mixon for a seven-yard touchdown on a pass he threw into the right flat that Mixon ran in.
Browning went 11 of 16 for 98 yards in the first half while Mahomes was of nine 12 for 79 yards, but he was the beneficiary of Pacheco's five carries for 88 yards on the way to a career-high 130. The Bengals defense, leading the NFL in explosive plays allowed, gave up runs of 37 and 35 yards to Pacheco in that first half. When he busted a 37-yarder in the two-minute drill, that set up Butker's field goal that made it 17-13, Bengals, at the half.
More chunk plays on the Chiefs' first drive. Pacheco, who had 26 yards on 11 carries last week, went for 35 yards on one run up the middle and Mahomes flipped an 18-yard pass to Rice in the flat. Then on third down from the Bengals 8, Mahomes sent Pacheco in motion and Pacheco was uncovered for a 7-3 lead with about two minutes left in the first quarter.
The Bengals kept the opening kickoff 15 plays and 8:39 and took a 3-0 lead on McPherson's 34-yard field goal. It was a drive that featured the perfect balance of 32 yards running and 32 yards passing with 18 of the yards coming on two Browning scrambles, one of them converting a third down.
The Bengals converted three of their four third downs on that drive against the NFL's sixth-best third-down defense. Browning snuck for one and on the third one, he had plenty of time on third-and-seven to hit Higgins across the middle.