By Matt McMullen – Chiefs.com
The Kansas City Chiefs held on to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 27-20, at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday afternoon to advance to the AFC Championship Game for a fifth-straight season.
Kansas City is just the third team in NFL history to string together five or more consecutive trips to the conference title game, joining the 2011-18 New England Patriots (8 straight) and the 1973-77 Oakland Raiders (5 straight). Additionally, since quarterback Patrick Mahomes became the Chiefs’ starter in 2018, Kansas City has never finished shy of the AFC Championship Game. His five starts in the conference title game will mark the most for any quarterback before turning 28 in NFL history.
“It’s a credit to the team I have around me – the coaches I have around me and the organization in general,” Mahomes said. “We prepare ourselves every year from training camp to be here, but it takes a day-by-day process, and I think the coaches preach that, the players do that and the organization around us supports us in that mission.”
Mahomes completed 22-of-30 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns in the game – finding tight end Travis Kelce for an 8-yard score on the Chiefs’ opening series – but things took a turn when the MVP candidate suffered an ankle injury on Kansas City’s second possession.
He remained in the game temporarily – putting the Chiefs in position for kicker Harrison Butker to connect on a 50-yard field goal – but he was replaced by backup Chad Henne a drive later. It marked Henne’s first action in a close game since he was called upon in the Divisional Round of the 2020 postseason, and in similar fashion, the 37-year-old veteran didn’t blink.
Henne led Kansas City on a 12-play, 98-yard scoring drive that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kelce, putting the Chiefs ahead by a score of 17-7.
“The best thing about that was that everybody trusted Chad,” Reid said. “That’s the way he handles himself, and [it shows] the confidence the guys have in him. I thought they all stepped up…The guys love Chad, and they play for him, so it was a great deal.”
The score was part of a huge day for Kelce, who hauled in 14 receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns in the contest. Kelce’s 14 grabs marked the third-most by a player in a postseason game in NFL history, and the most ever by a tight end.
Mahomes – who underwent X-rays during Henne’s scoring drive – returned to the game following halftime, and despite consecutive punts on the Chiefs’ first two possessions, Kansas City’s defense preserved its advantage. Jacksonville picked up just three first downs on its first two drives of the third quarter, and while the Jaguars narrowed the deficit to just seven points prior to halftime, that was the closest they would get until early in the fourth quarter.
“My hat goes off to the defense,” Reid said. “You can’t move forward in the NFL playoffs if your defense doesn’t play well. I thought, from the [defensive backs] to the defensive line to the linebackers, I thought everybody was flying around making plays.”
The Jaguars managed to break through on their third series of the second half, however, when tailback Travis Etienne powered ahead for a 4-yard touchdown. Etienne’s efforts made it a three-point game with just under 12 minutes remaining, but the Chiefs made sure to answer.
Mahomes – despite his injured ankle – immediately engineered a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with a 6-yard strike to wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The pass, which featured Mahomes evading pressure before launching the throw mid-air, reestablished the Chiefs’ two-score lead.
“Everybody was making plays, and that’s what championship teams do,” Mahomes said. “Whenever stuff’s not going their way and the game gets tight, how are you going to respond? I kind of jumped and landed on the same ankle [as I threw], but I had to find a way to get the ball in the end zone. Marquez was there, and I needed to make the throw. He stepped up and made a big play there at the end of the game to win it.”
It was the definition of a gutsy drive by Mahomes, who simply found a way when the Chiefs needed it most amid the limitations presented by his ankle injury.
“I’m not coming out of a playoff game unless they take me out,” Mahomes said. “I’m just going to play. I love this sport too much. I love playing with my teammates and being able to go out there and enjoy it together. We prepare all year to be in the playoffs…I’m glad that I was able to get back in the game, and I just love competing in this sport. Pain is pain, and you’re going to have to deal with it either way.”
Mahomes’ resiliency helped the Chiefs build a 10-point lead with just over seven minutes left in the game, but the Jaguars didn’t give up. Jacksonville drove right down the field and seemed poised to find the end zone soon after, but Jaguars’ wide receiver Jamal Agnew fumbled at the Chiefs’ 6-yard line and linebacker Nick Bolton recovered it.
The turnover robbed Jacksonville of precious time remaining on the clock, and while the Jaguars regained possession just four snaps later, Chiefs’ cornerback Jaylen Watson intercepted Jaguars’ quarterback Trevor Lawrence on Jacksonville’s second offensive play to essentially seal the game.
The Jaguars managed to tally a field goal in the final minute, but the Chiefs recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the victory.
The win marked the 20th postseason victory of Coach Reid’s brilliant career, matching Pro Football Hall of Famer Tom Landry for the second-most in NFL history. Only Bill Belichick (31) owns more.
In terms of Mahomes’ ankle injury, the All-Pro quarterback appeared to be in good spirits following the game.
“It feels better than I thought it would feel now,” Mahomes said. “Obviously, I have a lot of adrenaline going right now. So, we’ll see how it feels [moving forward], but I’ll hop right into treatment tonight and try to do whatever I can to be as close to 100% by next week. Luckily for us, we played the early game on Saturday, so we get an extra half a day that I can let that ankle rest.”
Aside from Mahomes, Coach Reid also mentioned that L’Jarius Sneed injured his nose late in the game. Fortunately, Reid added that the injury didn’t appear to be serious.
The Chiefs will now turn their attention to Sunday’s Divisional Round matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills to determine who they’ll take on in the AFC Championship Game.