The Road To Glory: Part XII

Cincinnati Bengals 27, Kansas City Chiefs 24

Photo courtesy of Yahoo! Sports

Growing up a Chiefs fan in the late 1990’s always kept me aware of who the good quarterbacks were, because they were seemingly always playing against the Chiefs. From John Elway to Rich Gannon to later on Phillip Rivers and Peyton Manning, Kansas City remained competitive most years. It’s just that when the games were on the line, they had one thing and their opponents had something else and that something else was always better.

Peyton Manning retired, Phillip Rivers got old, and Alex Smith came in to win two AFC West titles before Patrick Mahomes has carried the torch for four (about to be five) more. No longer are the Chiefs saddled with the second-best quarterback on the field. They now have the guy that everyone else is afraid of. They have The Guy, and everybody else is Just Another Guy in comparison.

For some reason though, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has awakened all those pre-2018 memories of the opposing team having a player who can’t be stopped. I say “for some reason,” but I know the reason. The reason is simple. The last three times the Chiefs have played Cincinnati — all in the last calendar year — they’ve lose by exactly three points. Kansas City have had leads in every game. They could have easily won each time. But every time the game was on the line it was Burrow, and not Patrick Mahomes, who had the ball in his hands.

There are a lot of things to say about this game, but to me what it all boils down to is that the Chiefs really, really wanted it. Aside from the obvious, that the Chiefs needed to win to maintain their status as the number one seed in the AFC playoff race, there was a signature play in a specific scenario that I’ve never seen Mahomes or Andy Reid execute. The game was tied (!) 17-17 towards the end of the third quarter and Kansas City had a 4th-and-goal from the three (!) yard line. Rather than kicking the gimme field goal to take a three-point lead, Reid kept the offense on the field and snapped the ball. After quickly realizing no one was open, Mahomes scrambled forward and challenged two Cincinnati defenders, did his best Stretch Armstrong impersonation and managed to control the ball long enough to be credited with a touchdown.

Normally these would be the moments that don’t work out, and in retrospect media and fans would blame the game on that. Only that’s not what happened. The play actually worked out — at least to the degree that Mahomes got in the end zone to put Kansas City up 24-17. I was in the backyard celebrating, of course, but when I came to (after a couple animalistic yells of “let’s fucking go”) I understood something that I don’t think I wanted to understand:

The Chiefs were playing as if they were the underdogs. I’ve watched every single game Mahomes has played over the last five seasons, and this was the first time Reid has treated a game situation that aggressively. In other words, it’s what you would expect the team playing the Chiefs to do.

And I get it. I was a fan of the call, notwithstanding the outcome of it. It was his way of dictating how the Chiefs were going to seize their destiny atop the AFC. But I think it also said a lot about how he felt the chances were of his defense holding up against Joe Burrow.

The Chiefs have lost three games this season by a total of 10 points. On every occasion they were leading well into the 4th quarter, and on Sunday they were driving to take a 31-20 lead when Travis Kelce fumbled the ball around midfield which led to Cincy’s game-winning touchdown drive. Even at that the Chiefs had the ball again and settled for a 55-yard field goal (that missed), and had the Bengals in a 3rd-and-11 coming out of the two-minute warning.

But that’s what I was saying earlier. It didn’t matter if it was 3rd-and-1, 3rd-and-6 or 3rd-and-20. I paced around the backyard during the commercial break feeling decent about getting a stop and perhaps getting the ball back down 30-24. Then I remembered it was Joe Burrow. And it didn’t matter. Any down and distance. He was going to get it, and just like for the duration of my childhood there was nothing the Chiefs — nor I — could do about it.

Anyway, there’s more to life than football. I think Sunday’s loss to the Bengals sort of got me centered again. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing the Chiefs are going to win every game, that they’ll find a way and I’ll get to be happy all the time because of it. That’s not how football works though. There’s a ton of adversity, and you never want to peak too soon.

There’s a lesson in there for me, but whatever it is I’ll probably never learn it. All the success the Chiefs have had during the Mahomes era has coincided with the most stable phase of my entire life. The highs have been nice and high but not too high, and the lows have been nothing that I haven’t seen or dealt with before. I take a lot of pride in that consistency. I don’t show too much of myself to anybody, so I’m rarely let down by the results.

Then every so often it’s fourth and goal from the veritable three yard line of my life, and like Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes I say Fuck It and roll them dice, baby. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

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