It’s been nearly a week since the Cincinnati Bengals topped the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship, and acceptance has been reached by most. It’s high time we all get there.
For anyone in need of a refresher, here are five steps everyone goes through en route to accepting a traumatic event as reality:
- Denial (“we didn’t just blow an 18 point lead.”)
- Anger (“how did we just blow an 18 point lead?!”)
- Depression (“I cannot believe we just blew an 18 point lead…”)
- Bargaining (“maybe we didn’t actually ‘blow’ the 18 point lead”)
- Acceptance (“we blew an 18 point lead, and it is what it is.”)
It would seem as if nearly everyone made it as far as bargaining, but there has been an inexplicable breadth of buy-in to conspiracy chatter, and for the sake of the Kingdom’s integrity, that needs to stop. Right here, right now.
If you feel targeted by the previous statement, hold onto your tinfoil hat. Here comes a swift breeze of reality: the Bengals deserve credit for their victory in the AFC Championship game. This is by no means a proclamation against the fact that an 18-point lead eluded the Chiefs at home in the biggest moment of the season. It will not be a “Rah-Rah” speech about how great the season was. And it certainly is not going to be fun to write. It will be, however, a stark opposition to the perspective that the Chiefs lost on purpose.
Chiefs fans need to abandon any discussion of a conspiracy and give credit to the Cincinnati Bengals for their AFC Championship win.
First things first, in regards to the conspiracy that someone of significance in the NFL office marched into the Chiefs locker room at halftime, and forced them to blow the game. I have one simple question for those who have committed themselves to this belief: why are you a fan of team sports? That is a legitimate question, and if you don’t know an answer right off the bat, I encourage you to take a minute to think about it before you continue.
The most beautiful thing about the world of sports is that it’s one of a small collection of places on earth where legends are born and odds are set to be defied. The glory of triumph and the agony of defeat rest on opposing sides of an ever tilting scale, and are eventually determined by individual execution. The beauty of team sports lies within the group, and the deliberate choice to believe that everyone will give their all.
As Chiefs fans, we have been showered with that beauty over the course of the past four years. A relentless group has donned the red and gold over that stretch and has demanded we all believe. Nothing has been impossible since the fall of 2018. To overlook what that truly means, and to ignore the yin that lies within the yang, is to misunderstand just how perfectly the stars were aligned throughout that time.
The Bengals, behind the likes of Joe Burrow project uncanny similarities to that of the Chiefs behind Mahomes in 2019. “Never say die” was the Chiefs’ battle cry on their way to winning Super Bowl 54, coming from behind in every game they played, and the Bengals have survived with their backs against the wall through the entirety of this season. In fact, for the intangibles if nothing else, no team was better suited to overthrow the kings of the AFC at home than the Bengals. Some teams have destiny on their side, and the city of Cincinnati sure seems destined for their first-ever championship. Once more, if you don’t see the Chiefs of ’19 reflected in the Bengals of ’22, you ought to look closer.
Secondly, in regards to the actual football game that took place on Sunday, the team of destiny out-willed and out-executed the team searching for its acknowledgment as a dynasty — at least in the final two quarters. The ultimate debunking of the intentional loss theory is found within the halftime adjustments made by the Bengals defense in particular. In the first half of the game, the Bengals ran a three-man rush only 5 times, displaying — and seemingly lulling the Chiefs offense to sleep with — a very run-of-the-mill, steady, four-man rush and soft-zone scheme which Mahomes torched, just as he’s done for the majority of his career. The Cincinnati offense hung around and went into the tunnel down 11 with 30 minutes of game clock remaining. Additionally, the Chiefs’ mistake of not collecting any points before half left the door wide open for the Bengals to come back.
In the second half, the Bengals D ran a three-man rush 13 times and kept a QB spy in the middle of the field on each of them to limit Mahomes’ ability to run. The AFC Championship game was only the second contest of the entire NFL season in which a team dropped 8 defenders into coverage for 10 or more snaps; the other came when the Giants did it in Kansas City in Week 8. Although Brett Veach’s revamped offensive line provided Mahomes with ample time to throw, the secondary was never in soft zones in the final two quarters. Two-deep safeties were used as help in downfield, man-coverage, for the majority of those three-man rush snaps, and that tight coverage would have been tough to navigate even if it weren’t a totally different look from the first half.
All of that said, one of the brightest young stars that the NFL has seen since 15 emerged as QB1 in K.C. was positioned on the opposing sideline. Joe Burrow is an absolute stud and deserves his flowers as well.
At the end of the day, if coping with this loss is made easier by pointing a finger at Mahomes, or the play calling, or whatever you choose to, then go ahead. There were enough mistakes made to justify any and all of your frustrations. However, if you are willing to take the time to look at the challenge that was presented by the Bengals, find appreciation for the gravity of that moment, and can internalize how difficult it is to sustain repeated success in this league, you may find your peace sooner rather than later.
Additionally, if you were one of the thousands to indulge in conspiracy, and would like to step back from that take and return to earth, you will be welcomed back with open arms. Mistakes happen, and we can’t all be right all of the time. In the case of the 2022 AFC Championship game, what is “right” is exactly what happened. One team overcame another team and is going on to the Super Bowl to play a different team. That’s what went down, and that’s as deep as it gets.