From Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
When a team has lost 12 times in the 15 games they’ve played, it sometimes is hard to separate the levels of pain that each defeat inflicted along the way in a long season.
But immediately afterwards and for several months to come, the Chiefs 17-10 loss to the Bengals will be a wound that takes time to heal. If Cincinnati can go on and make something of its berth in the AFC playoffs it will be a scab that just won’t heal for Todd Haley and his team.
For the better part of 50 minutes, the Chiefs played the Bengals toe-to-toe. The plot of this game was very familiar for any red and gold fan that has seen their team play each Sunday of this season. There were moments when Todd Haley’s team looked like it was good enough to compete. And then there are always times when a play is needed, and the Chiefs get out-executed or out performed.
“I thought the team fought back off a disappointing game last week and came on the road against a very good team, one that obviously is now a playoff team,” said Todd Haley. “We had every intention of keeping them out of that (clinching the AFC North) I thought we had a very good chance to do that until the final drive.”
When they downed a punt at the Bengals two-yard line it seemed a good opportunity for the Chiefs. They had the advantage of field position, they score was tied and there were just over nine minutes to play in the game. They even had Carson Palmer and the Cincinnati offense at third down-and-seven at the Bengals five-yard line.
But there are reasons the Bengals are now 10-5 and AFC North champions. Palmer led his team on a 98-yard drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown pass to WR Chad Ochocinco that proved to be the winning points.
“Give credit to them,” said OLB Mike Vrabel. “They are a balanced team. They can run and they can throw the ball on offense and when they needed it to happen, they made it happen.”
It was not a big day for Palmer, who threw for just 139 yards, but had two touchdown passes. RB Cedric Benson had 133 yards on 29 carries, but the Bengals got only 144 yards on the ground. That was quite an improvement for the Chiefs defense that allowed 796 rushing yards in the last three games.
Jamaal Charles had another nice game, as he ran for 102 yards on 24 carries. Cassel threw for only 180 yards as the Chiefs passing game just never got going; its longest play was a 20-yard TD pass from Cassel to FB Tim Castille.
“We are fighting and fighting and we haven’t been able to come out of it with a victory,” said Cassel. “We are continuing to get better. We fought to the very end, we had a chance, but unfortunately it didn’t go our way.”
The first half was dominated by the defenses, as both teams got an interception, but neither offense was able to do anything with the gift.
The Chiefs got the first pick, as Palmer hung a deep throw for WR Andre Caldwell and FS Jon McGraw played a great center field and grabbed the interception. McGraw returned the ball 27 yards to mid-field. But the Kansas City offense held the ball for just there plays, gaining seven yards before Cassel’s third-down throw to TE Jake O’Connell was incomplete and the Chiefs had to punt the ball.
The Bengals got their interception one series later, as FS Chinedum Ndukwe grabbed a Cassel pass that was overthrown to WR Dwayne Bowe. That gave Palmer and the Cincinnati offense the ball at their 41-yard line. They moved into Chiefs territory, but on a third-and-11 play, DE Wallace Gilberry got the sack of Palmer for minus-nine yards and the Bengals had to punt the ball away.
The first real crack in the defensive struggle came late in the second quarter, when Chiefs long snapper Thomas Gafford sent a snap well over the head of punter Dustin Colquitt with the snap coming at the Chiefs 45-yard line. Colquitt chased the snap and as the ball was rolling on the ground he tried to kick it through the end zone for what would have been a safety.
But Colquitt shanked that difficult kick and the ball went out of bounds at the Chiefs seven-yard line. Two plays later, Palmer connected with Ochocinco for an apparent six-yard TD play. Ochocinco beat CB Brandon Flowers in the end zone. But the play was reviewed by the replay official and referee Ed Hochuli call was overturned because Ochocinco stepped out of bounds before catching the ball. Instead of six points for Ocho it was a five-yard penalty against the Bengals.
Here’s where the defense stood up and kept Cincinnati out of the end zone. On a second down play, Palmer was forced to ground the ball when a screen was blown up by the Kansas City linebackers. Then on third down, Palmer was hit as he was throwing the ball by OLB Tamba Hali and the ball fluttered to the ground.
K Shayne Graham came in and nailed a 29-yard FG giving the Bengals the first points of the game and the first lead of the game, 3-0.
But the Chiefs offense answered back, and with far less favorable field position. Starting at their own 19-yard line with 93 seconds in the half, Cassel picked his way down the field with some short throws and several runs by Charles. They picked up four first downs on the way and eventually got the ball to the Bengals 12-yard line. With no timeouts remaining and facing a fourth-and-one situation, Haley sent Ryan Succop in and he hit a 30-yard field goal with five seconds to play and the game was tied 3-3 at half-time.
The Chiefs defense held Cincinnati to 53 yards on 24 plays in the first half and just three first downs. Palmer had just 19 yards passing and the team had 10 yards in net passing.
But that good defense went out the window with the first Cincinnati possession of the third quarter. The Bengals took over after the kickoff and return at their 23-yard line. On first down, Benson hit the middle of the offensive line and ran 32 yards before he was finally brought down out of bounds.
Now, Cincy had first-and-10 at the K.C. 45-yard line. Before it was all over, Palmer drove the offense 77 yards on 10 plays with five first downs. He connected with rookie WR Laveranues Coles on a 10-yard touchdown play, as Coles ran away from LB Jovan Belcher and scored. Graham’s PAT kick made it 10-10.
The teams traded punts, but the Chiefs got the big edge in field position. Colquitt’s punt from the Bengals 46-yard line was downed by WR Quinten Lawrence at the two-yard line, keeping the Bengals 98 yard away from the end zone with to play.
Showing the lessons learned as a veteran quarterback, Palmer drove his team down the field converting four third down plays and picking up seven first downs in the possession. The 14-play, 98-yard drive ended with a six-yard pass from Palmer to Ochocinco with 2:03 remaining to be played.
The Chiefs got one more shot, but Cassel’s deep throw to Chambers was picked off by CB Leon Hall and that for all intent was the end of the game.
“The turnovers cost us and that includes the bad snap,” said Haley. “I thought we were able to move the ball on offense and defensively I thought we did a good job for the most part.”
Most part does not win games in the NFL, not against teams in the playoffs.