KANSAS CITY, Mo. _ It couldn't have been any harder than this for the Bengals, needing to win their final two games to make the playoffs.
Not here on this Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium in the deafening home of the Super Bowl champion Chiefs and the hosts a win away from a historic AFC West title.
No Joe Burrow. Their next two best players on offense, wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, were both less than 100%. A key defensive player, nose tackle DJ Reader, was out. Some are dinged. One, left end Sam Hubbard, revealed after the game he needs offseason surgery for what he won't disclose, but he left the field with five tackles and a fumble recovery.
Still, the Chiefs needed six Harrison Butker field goals to overtake a 17-7 Bengals lead for a 25-17 win that left the Bengals 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
"We asked them all week to fight, to come in here and play in a tough environment and that's what they did," said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. "It was an emotional game, physical game. All the things we knew would happen, happened. They got it done in the second half. Our guys left it all out there."
Chase came into the game with a sprained shoulder that put him out last week in Pittsburgh. He said he was 70% while catching three balls for 41 yards. Higgins re-aggravated his hamstring injury that cost him nearly five games this season on his only catch of the game, a 19-yarder on third-and-seven on their first drive of the game. He missed the rest of the first half but came back to do what he could in the second, which was draw a 30-yard pass interference penalty that was their longest play of a game they were blanked in the second half.
"A testament to the locker room," Higgins said. "(Chase) made a decision to play and I made a decision to come back in."
Chase said if this game had been played early in the season, he said he probably wouldn't have played.
TURNING POINT: The Chiefs do what they do. They give up 17.7 points per game. So when the Bengals were leading, 17-13, midway through the third quarter and had a fourth-and-one at the Chiefs 6, Taylor said he felt like the Bengals needed points and didn't take the field goal. Chiefs middle linebacker Willie Gay met Bengals running back Joe Mixon for a three-yard loss at the handoff and the Bengals mustered 50 yards the rest of the way.
That was the Bengals' 31st run of the game after 24 in the first half, the most rushes by a Zac Taylor team in the first half ever, according to Pro Football Network. They ran one more time on their last 19 plays. Mixon finished with 65 yards on 21 carries, pulling him within 77 yards of his fourth 1,000-yard season.
Taylor said the Bengals knew the Chiefs were in a goal-line defense and they had the personnel in the game (two tight ends and an extra tackle), but it's how the Chiefs played it that broke tendency.
"The D-line out-charged with the linebacker in the middle. That's a tough thing to deal with," Browning said.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Chase had an emotional day. He didn't know if he could play during the week and he called out the Chiefs secondary a few days ago. He told Taylor before they got on the plane Saturday that he could play, and when he did, he said they had to use him knowing he wasn't full-go.
Then he and Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed got flagged 15 yards each on the same play in the second quarter for jawing and shoving.
"I don't know what he was doing. I guess I get under people's skins," Chase said. "Just trash talking. Can't handle it. Their whole defense was mad at me. Everyone saw it. That's what I like to do."
So is playing.
"The whole reason behind me playing tonight," Chase said, "was to put my body on the line for the guys." …
The Bengals defense came into the game allowing the most explosive plays in the league and the Chiefs got them. Running back Isaiah Pacheco had runs of 35 and 37 yards and quarterback Patrick Mahomes hit them for four passes of at least 23 yards, one a 67-yarder to wide receiver Rashee Rice a week after they allowed two 60-yarders.
"It kept biting us," said slot cornerback Mike Hilton. "Miscommunication, somebody doing the wrong job. We know we can fix it, we never fixed it, and weren't able to rebound from them." ….
The Bengals gave up a season-high six sacks, but five in the last 4:50. Chris Jones, their big pass rusher, didn't get his until the last one with 1:19 left....
After converting seven of nine third downs in the first half and keeping the ball for 19:31 in one stretch to the Chiefs' 4:06, Browning said the Chiefs adjusted by putting a spy on him to cut down his scrambles, as well as doing more double coverage ...