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Andy Reid: There's nobody looking at Patrick Mahomes 'cross-eyed' following loss to Bengals

For the first time since the 2018 season, the Kansas City Chiefs are not preparing to play in the Super Bowl.

What once seemed to be a likely outcome is now merely a dream for the Chiefs, who watched their 21-3 lead melt away in Sunday's AFC Championship Game loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. After a red-hot start that included three touchdowns on their first three possessions, Kansas City mustered only a field goal for the remainder of the game. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes was held to 55 passing yards in the second half and overtime after racking up 220 on his first 18 completions.

Mahomes' decline in the game is likely what Chiefs fans will remember most, with his final throw -- an interception that gave Cincinnati a chance to win the conference title with just a field goal -- lingering as the image of the end to Kansas City's pursuit of another Lombardi Trophy. Still, as Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday, no one is about to cast Mahomes aside because of one bad throw.

"I think he was one half away from going to his third Super Bowl in a row, and that's pretty impressive," Reid said of Mahomes when asked about his quarterback's season. "You've been around this a long time as a lot of us have, and that's pretty impressive. Most of these teams that are getting this far have good quarterbacks, that's just how it works. We're fortunate to have him. There's nobody looking at Pat Mahomes cross-eyed from our side and I would anticipate our fans feel the same way."

Mahomes has owned a place among the NFL's elite quarterbacks since his NFL MVP season in 2018 -- his first season as a starter. He followed that up with his first Super Bowl triumph and Super Bowl MVP in 2019. Since then, he's been among the most-feared passers in the sport, but he's yet to add another Lombardi Trophy to his case.

Last season, Kansas City's title defense fell apart in a Super Bowl LV loss to the Buccaneers, a game in which the Chiefs were forced to play without either of their starting offensive tackles. The same weakness wasn't present Sunday, though, shifting blame to Mahomes, who encountered significant second-half struggles for a second consecutive time when facing the Bengals this season.

Mahomes fought through more adversity in 2021 than he had at any other time in his incredibly impressive career, throwing more interceptions (13) than he has in a single season since he entered the NFL in 2017. Like Mahomes, the Chiefs struggled through a slow start, winning just three of their first seven games.

Then the turnaround began, and the Chiefs rattled off eight straight wins en route to winning nine of their final 10 games. Kansas City rehabbed its reputation in the process and was seen as the favorite entering Sunday's game.

Through two quarters, that opinion appeared to be reality. The Bengals had almost no answer for Kansas City's offensive attack in the first half. But when the second half arrived, those struggles returned for Mahomes and the Chiefs at the worst possible time.

Instead of celebrating yet another AFC title, the Chiefs will watch the team that beat them twice play for a Lombardi Trophy. But they aren't about to drastically change what they do -- they'll just need to be better in the game's most important moments going forward.

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