KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Tyrann Mathieu walked off the field in stunned disappointment, his hopes of playing in a third straight Super Bowl dashed by Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals, and spent a moment dressing in a somber Kansas City Chiefs locker room.
The time spent composing himself hardly helped Mathieu keep his emotions in check.
“I think the immature person in me would probably say, you know, we failed,” Mathieu said after a 27-24 overtime loss to the Bengals on Sunday night ended his season and, just maybe, his successful three-year run in Kansas City.
“I think the bigger person in me realizes these things aren't always possible,” he continued. “We have a lot of motivation. I know there's a lot of guys in that locker room, they're going to take this offseason personally to really get better, because we do feel like we're the best team in the NFL. But the best team doesn't always win.”
Just the best team on the day. On Sunday, that was Cincinnati.
But despite blowing a 21-3 first-half lead, and an interception by Patrick Mahomes in overtime that allowed the Bengals to set up the winning field goal, the Chiefs still accomplished plenty this season: They won their record sixth straight AFC West title, beat the Bills in the divisional round in one of the greatest finishes ever and became the first team to host four straight AFC title games.
If not for a second half to forget, a costly mistake in overtime and some poise beyond their years from Burrow and the long-downtrodden Bengals, they would be playing in a third straight Super Bowl, too.
Instead, they turned their attention Monday to an offseason filled with hope, uncertainty and, yes, frustration.
The Chiefs return most of their star players, including Mahomes, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and defensive tackle Chris Jones, all of whom are signed to long-term contracts.
But Mathieu is among those players whose deals are set to expire, and the inevitable offseason turnover is sure to create a much different team for next season.
“I'm proud of these guys. You look at the season we had, to be in this game in general — it's a special group of guys that battled through adversity,” said Mahomes, who helped Chiefs to an about-face after a dismal 3-4 start to the season. “But the guys know the standard is winning the Super Bowl. When you've done that, nothing less is success.”
THE HONEY BADGER
The Chiefs and Mathieu's representatives tried last offseason to reach an agreement on a contract extension, and both sides hope they can still work something out. But the asking price might have gone up even more given the fact that Mathieu has followed up two All-Pro nods his first two seasons in Kansas City with a third straight Pro Bowl trip.
“I've tried to be the right kind of teammate. I've tried to play my part and you know, obviously, there's always a feeling that you can make more plays," he said, “but I'm hoping it works out.”
Mathieu is but one important defensive piece hitting free agency. Defensive tackle Jarran Reed, cornerbacks Mike Hughes and Charvarius Ward, and defensive end Melvin Ingram are also on the market.
THE FLIP SIDE
The Chiefs sent their first-round pick and three other selections to the Ravens last year for Orlando Brown Jr., who played well at left tackle this season. And while Brown is also due to hit free agency, it's unlikely that the Chiefs would let him walk after having spent so much draft capital just to acquire him.
Wide receivers Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson also are free agents, and the Josh Gordon experiment was a flop, so Kansas City is in the market for help at that position.
Defensive end Frank Clark has two more years left on his contract, but the his salary cap hit is more than $26 million each of those years, and the Chiefs could save a hefty amount by cutting ties this offseason. They also need to weigh his legal troubles: He was arrested twice last offseason and those issues should sort themselves out this offseason.
“Kansas City is home. I bought a house here. My daughter goes to school here. It's home,” he said. “I want to be here for the future, the rest of my career. But unfortunately, the way the business goes, things don't always happen the way you want.”
The biggest problem facing Chiefs general manager Brett Veach last offseason was fixing an offensive line decimated by injuries and dismantled by Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl. He did it with five new faces that played well all season.
There is no such glaring weakness heading into this offseason, though there are smaller holes to fill. Wide receiver is one of them, and so is defensive end, particularly if they allow Clark to leave.
The loss to Cincinnati leaves the Chiefs with the 30th overall pick in the April draft. The question now is whether they will use it. Kansas City has only used its first-round pick once in the past four years, and that was for underwhelming running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, whose history of injuries have him on the brink of becoming a bust.
They also have one pick each in the second, third and fourth rounds, but none in the fifth or the sixth.
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