Key play: Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton recovered a poor shotgun snap and lofted a jump ball to receiver A.J. Green for 36 yards. The play set up the Bengals’ first touchdown.
Key stat: The Bengals, who led 14-3 after the first quarter, were four-for-four on third down.
Key play: Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent missed a 44-yard field goal that would have given the Bengals a 17-9 lead.
Key stat: The game was closely contested, as each team had 240 net yards by halftime.
Key play: Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce’s fumble blew the game open, as the Bengals recovered and eventually scored a touchdown that opened their lead up to 29-15.
Key stat: The Chiefs allowed five sacks, compared to zero for the Bengals.
Key play: Dalton’s 30-yard pass to tight end Tyler Eifert set up the Bengals’ decisive score, a touchdown run by Jeremy Hill that gave Cincinnati a 36-18 lead.
Key stat: The Bengals were four for four in the red zone, compared to zero for three for the Chiefs.
[ Read about the game: Chiefs lose 36-21 to the Bengals ]
Give the Chiefs credit — they ran it fine against a tough AFC North team. Jamaal Charles rushed for 75 yards in 11 carries, and the Chiefs rushed for 113 yards in 23 carries for a solid 4.9 yards per carry average. Charcandrick West earned the backup reps at tailback instead of Knile Davis, and have five carries for 17 yards. Quarterback Alex Smith scrambled five times for 25 yards. This grade is affected some by the Chiefs’ inability to get the ball in the end zone.
Smith threw for a career-high 386 yards and completed 31 of 45 passes. That’s the kind of performance they’re paying him $68 million for. What’s more, he’s seemed to get in a real groove with $55 million free agent receiver Jeremy Maclin, who caught 11 passes on 13 targets for 148 yards. But the Chiefs’ offensive line continues to hold them back, as Smith, who was sacked the most of any NFL quarterback entering this week’s games, was sacked five more times and hit 10 on Sunday. This cannot continue if they hope to be a playoff team. This grade is also affected by the Chiefs’ inability to get the ball in the end zone.
The Chiefs didn’t allow any huge runs, but the Bengals did rush 26 times for 124 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. That’s far too much. There were also a few untimely missed tackles. The Chiefs mixed in a few 3-3 fronts against the Bengals’ three-wide personnel, which seemed to help some, but they have got to get their nickel run defense under control.
Andy Dalton didn’t rip them like Aaron Rodgers did a week ago, but he still passed for 321 passing yards and completed 17 of 24. The inability to pressure Dalton was particularly troublesome — he didn’t get hit once — and they caught outside linebacker Tamba Hali in coverage against a tight end and running back a few times. That’s not on the player, that’s on the coaching staff. So is the reliance on single-high coverage that has gotten them ripped in three straight weeks.
Kicker Cairo Santos had a big day, booming three touchbacks and going seven for seven on field goals, setting a team record. But he did have a crucial kickoff in the fourth quarter go out of bounds, giving the Bengals outstanding field position. The Chiefs also had a big kickoff return by De’Anthony Thomas wiped out by a holding penalty on D.J. Alexander.
First, the good: give Chiefs coach Andy Reid credit for getting his guys ready to play after a couple of tough losses. Effort wasn’t a problem, and offensively, they moved the ball well. They also tried to rectify the subpar play at nickel corner by putting Ron Parker there and upgrade the nickel run defense by using more sets with three interior linemen. But the delay of game penalty out of the timeout was embarrassing — no matter how it happened — and Reid will be criticized for his clock management at the end of the first half and his decision to kick a field goal trailing by 14 in the fourth quarter. Also, Bob Sutton’s defense allowed 30-plus points for the third straight game. Not good enough.
Player of the game: Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton completed 17 of 24 passes for 321 yards and a touchdown. He managed the game wonderfully. He was not sacked and he was not hit.
Reason to hope: The Chiefs and quarterback Alex Smith responded well after an embarrassing loss to Green Bay, and competed well against one of the league’s best teams.
Reason to mope: The Chiefs received a career game from Smith and still could not win.
Looking ahead: The Chiefs have a must-win home game against the Chicago Bears, 1-3, on Sunday. They need a victory if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive, because 1-4 is a massive hole.
Terez A. Paylor, firstname.lastname@example.org