Why we should keep an eye on KC Chiefs’ Melvin Ingram and Charvarius Ward vs. Bengals

Jill Toyoshiba/KC Star file photo/jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com
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Sunday’s AFC Championship Game matchup between the Chiefs and Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium is a rematch of their Week 17 meeting, when Cincinnati eked out a 34-31 victory in the final seconds.

The teams traded body blows in that Jan. 2 showdown, but the game is arguably more memorable for the Chiefs’ mistakes — including allowing a first down with the Bengals facing a dire third-and-27 on what would be their game-winning drive.

Cincinnati’s win clinched a postseason berth, while the Chiefs’ loss cost them the conference’s No. 1 seed for the playoffs. That stung, no doubt, but the stakes this time are even higher, because the winner advances to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LVI.

Here are four players (aside from obvious stars like quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow) to keep an eye on Sunday.

Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward

Ward in recent weeks has mirrored an opponent’s top wide receiver. For the most part, he’s done well. He held Bills wideout Stefon Diggs to three catches for 7 yards in the Chiefs’ 42-36 overtime win last weekend.

There’s a rather large problem this weekend, though, in the form of Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase. The Bengals’ deep-play threat torched Ward in Week 17 with 11 catches for 266 yards and three touchdowns, including one in the end zone with Ward in coverage. Ward was also on the bad end of coverage during Chase’s first-down reception on Cincinnati’s third-and-27 play, which ultimately helped set up the game-winning field goal.

Ward has his work cut out for him against one of the NFL’s top receivers.

Chiefs pass rusher Melvin Ingram

Ingram and his fellow defensive line teammates must be looking forward to this game. Burrow is coming off a Divisional Round game in which the Titans sacked him a painful nine times.

The Chiefs sacked Burrow four times in Week 17. And to prevent another aerial show, the Chiefs must get after him again. They’ll rely on a ferocious pass rush aided greatly by Ingram, who recorded a tackle and two quarterback hits against Burrow last time.

Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins

Higgins won’t command the headlines with Chase around, but that doesn’t make the second-year pro any less dangerous. The Bengals have a host of weapons in their passing game, including Higgins and his 74 catches for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns.

Higgins had a relatively quiet game against the Chiefs last time out (three catches for 62 yards), but he’s capable of making a defense pay if all attention is focused on Chase.

Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson

Hendrickson’s 14 sacks in 2021 were the fifth-most in the league. A high-motor pass rusher, he helped the Bengals record 42 in 2021.

The Chiefs’ offensive line did a good job against Hendrickson in Week 17, limiting him to two quarterback hits. Left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who did not play in the Jan. 2 game because of a calf injury, will be at the forefront of the Chiefs’ efforts to again neutralize one of the NFL’s more disruptive pass rushers.

Note: A previous edition of this story incorrectly indicated that Orlando Brown Jr. played the last time the Chiefs faced the Bengals. This version of the story has been updated; he did not.

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