It feels like we’ve been here before.
Well, with a different ending.
You know, the most important part.
The Chiefs defeated the Bengals 23-20 in Sunday night’s AFC Championship Game at GEHA Field in Arrowhead Stadium, advancing to their third Super Bowl in the past five years.
They play against head coach Andy Reid’s former team, the Philadelphia Eagles.
The first 59 minutes played out like the previous three meetings with the Bengals: the Chiefs took a fourth-quarter lead, but let those self-inflicted errors erase.
This time they delivered the heartbreak – not received it.
It’s a pretty good redemption story, with a slew of individual redemption stories baked into it for a team that had to overcome a slew of injuries to keep going.
Here are five observations from immediately after the game:
1. The Redemption of Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes spent a summer motivated by the possibility of erasing the finality from a year earlier.
And for a moment it slipped from his hands.
If there was one point where the Chiefs had any control over the game, it was late in the third quarter, with the Chiefs leading by seven points, when the football slipped out of Mahomes’ hands on an attempted pass. The Bengals scored a touchdown six plays later to tie the score.
And then Mahomes grabbed it back.
With his legs.
On a stupid ankle.
On a third down play, Mahomes sped five yards—and was tacked on a personal foul—while battling through a sprained high ankle to put the Chiefs in field goal range.
Which started another redemption story:
2. More of that
Harrison Butker eventually came through.
Skyy Moore too.
And Chris Jones.
And Brian Cook.
The Chiefs puzzled the final two minutes of the fourth quarter along with a handful of players who needed those moments.
It’s been a tough year for Butker. He drilled a 45-yard field goal to win it.
Moore lost his job as punt returner after three lost fumbles. His 29-yard return gave the Chiefs a short field on their final drive.
Jones received his first two career postseason sacks, his second ending the Bengals’ hopes of their own game-winning drive.
After a rough day, Cook deflected a pass in the fourth quarter that Joshua Williams would intercept.
The Chiefs spent the off-season — and one move in the season — diversifying their broad reception space.
At one point Sunday, that group was absent JuJu Smith-Schuster, Justin Watson, Kadarius Toney and Mecole Hardman.
But they still had their highest paid man.
The man who, quite frankly, has not fulfilled his off-season contract.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling picked a good time to change that.
Valdes-Scantling had his best game in a Chiefs uniform—six catches for 116 yards and a touchdown.
After the Bengals tied the game in the third quarter, Valdes-Scantling put the Chiefs back in front with a 19-yard touchdown catch.
Wasn’t his only game of the drive.
He caught a 25-yard pass and did most of that work after the catch. And he converted a third-and-7 play, reaching his hand over the first-down marker for the conversion.
4. The Pressure on Burrow
For two years, just about every other team in football has taken advantage of the Bengals’ main weakness: their offensive line.
The Chiefs eventually joined that party.
On their fourth try.
It had been the most confusing storyline of the previous three matchups – how in the world could the Chiefs not put pressure on a quarterback who gets fired so often?
This time they did. Jones got it twice. Frank Clark had 1 1/2 sacks, paired with Willie Gay. George Karlaftis got another one.
Frank Clark tied for third in NFL playoff history in sacks — though it raises a valid question as to why he can’t put in the same production in the regular season.
Jones was the best player on the field.
5. The switch
The goal is often to find something – point to something – that you haven’t seen before.
But not this way.
The umpires gave the Chiefs a rematch on a critical third deficit. And while it ultimately played no part in the final, it’s a humbling moment for the league.
The optics of it are pretty awful – not just rare, but so clearly in favor of one team, in this case the Chiefs.
The broadcast would show a replay of an umpire blowing a whistle and attempting to stop play, but not with enough intent to prevent the Chiefs and Bengals from cycling through the game.