The Kansas City Chiefs have a long offseason ahead of them. They were winning by 18 points against a huge underdog on their home turf, merely two quarters away from their third consecutive Super Bowl appearance. Then everything fell apart as Patrick Mahomes' and Andy Reid's combined failures led to one of the biggest chokes in NFL playoff history.
There are numerous moments to look back upon and point to as the moment the Chiefs were destined to lose to the Cincinnati Bengals. But no one moment will haunt Mahomes and his team as much as the final offensive snap before the end of regulation.
Kansas City had the ball at the Bengals' eight-yard line. The Chiefs were down, 24-21. There were only 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Cincinnati had no timeouts. The Chiefs had one left. It was third down. This was the time for Mahomes to rectify all the mistakes made that got them to this point. With a touchdown, the Chiefs would go up four points with less than a minute remaining and no way for the Bengals to stop the clock. It was not only possible but felt inevitable. How many times over the last few years have we seen Mahomes score with ease in that down and distance, regardless of circumstance?
Mahomes dropped back to pass. Then he kept standing there. And standing there. Then he just kind of meandered around in the backfield until he was eventually taken down by defensive end Sam Hubbard and fumbled in the process, but was bailed out by Joe Thuney falling on it. The Chiefs would kick the field goal and go on to lose after Mahomes threw a pick on the first possession of overtime.
On that final play before the field goal, Mahomes had two wide-open receivers. One was Byron Pringle, who Mahomes probably wouldn't look to in crunch time. But the other? The other was Travis Kelce, Mahomes' favorite target. He was single-covered and had a lot of space. And Mahomes... missed both of them, even though it appears he's staring right at them.
That is a massive, legacy-altering play that Mahomes did not make. If he hits Kelce right after the snap or even hits Pringle at one of the various points he ended up open during the play, the Chiefs are likely preparing for Super Bowl LVI and we're penning articles wondering if the Mahomes-Reid pairing will be the greatest in football history. Kansas City joins the shortlist of teams who went to three straight Super Bowls. Everything is different.
But Mahomes didn't get it done. The reason why is unclear. Maybe he didn't see them and the camera angle is misleading. Maybe he was too nervous about a game-ending turnover. The end result will forever remain the same, though. For all the great throws Mahomes makes, the pass that will define his fourth NFL season is the one he didn't even try.