Patrick Mahomes guides Kansas City Chiefs to first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years
KANSAS CITY, Mo. —
Fifty years of frustration, anguish, and heartbreak floated to the heavens Sunday in the form of a collective roar.
The Kansas City Chiefs are headed to the Super Bowl.
Led by the phenomenal play of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and a defense that hardened like ice, the Chiefs secured their spot in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday with a 35-24 victory over the upstart Tennessee Titans in the AFC championship game at a frigid-but-rollicking Arrowhead Stadium.
The temperature at kickoff was 17 degrees, with a wind chill of 5, and the day didn’t get warmer. Still, players and their bundled-up families shrugged off the cold so they could bask in the moment, hugging, dancing amid the confetti, and cheering the end of a drought two years older than the stadium itself.
“I mean, it’s amazing. It really is,” Mahomes said. “To be here, to be a part of Chiefs Kingdom and to be able to do it here at Arrowhead, these people deserve it. And, we’re not done yet.”
The Chiefs, who lost to Green Bay in the first Super Bowl, last made an appearance on the NFL’s biggest stage with a Super Bowl IV victory over Minnesota in January 1970.
The magnitude of the moment was not lost on the 73,656 people at the game.
“This town has been hungry, thirsty, whatever you want to call it for a long time,” said punter Dustin Colquitt, who has been with the Chiefs since 2005 and is the team’s longest-tenured active player. “So it feels nice just to deliver that to them. Looking up, you could tell how excited – nobody moved, they were that excited.
“Nobody was in the aisleways. Never seen a football game like that, where nobody’s trying to get closer or do anything like that. They’re just in their seats taking in the moment. That was special.”
In the locker room after the game, the Chiefs passed around and cradled the Lamar Hunt Trophy — named for their founder, and presented to the AFC champion — and now are in the hunt for the Lombardi. They will play the San Francisco 49ers, victors over Green Bay in the late game Sunday, in Miami on Feb. 2 in Super Bowl LIV.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid is 0-1 in Super Bowls, with his Philadelphia Eagles losing to New England 15 years ago. The Patriots spoiled the party for Reid and the Chiefs last season, posting a 37-31 overtime victory at Arrowhead in last year’s AFC championship. What looked to be a victory-clinching interception by the Chiefs was wiped out because Kansas City’s Dee Ford lined up in the neutral zone.
“I think we were all bitter over it,” Reid said. “That’s not a good feeling. It wasn’t just Dee, it was everybody. Everybody took responsibility… I was proud of that driving us through training camp and into the season.”
The Kansas City same team that fell behind, 24-0, to Houston last week before a 51-7 scoring spree in the final three quarters, again found itself staring up out of a hole. Tennessee led, 10-0, in the first quarter, and 17-7 early in the second.
But the home team would come to life in a big way.
“When you play teams that are as good as the Chiefs, as explosive as they are, you kind of knew they were going to make a run,” said Mike Vrabel, coach of the sixth-seeded Titans, who had to upset New England and Baltimore to get this far.
The Chiefs stayed in the game with a pair of touchdown passes to the blistering-fast Tyreek Hill, first on a jet sweep (ruled a pass) that covered eight yards, then a 20-yard strike down the seam.
Then, near the end of the first half, Mahomes seized control with 27-yard touchdown run for the ages.
The signature play of the game — and maybe the Chiefs’ season — came with 23 seconds remaining in the half and Kansas City trailing, 17-14.
Mahomes took a shotgun snap, dropped back to the 35 and surveyed his options. He didn’t see anyone open so he darted left and began a run that could lead the club’s all-time highlight video. Linebacker Derick Roberson made a futile dive at his feet at the 32, then the quarterback twisted away from linebacker Rashaan Evans at the 29.
Dashing up the sideline, with his left foot coming within three inches of the chalk boundary, Mahomes did a tightrope act to stay inbounds. At the 10, he veered to his right, spun away from a strip attempt by cornerback Tramaine Brock at the five, and plunged into the end zone under a last-gasp tackle attempt by defensive end Matt Dickerson.
The Chiefs had their first lead, and Arrowhead erupted. Even fellow Chiefs seemed stunned by the playmaking ability of Mahomes, with receiver Demarcus Robinson waving his arms at him as if fanning a fire.
“If anything, [that touchdown] just shows his will to win and never be denied,” tackle Mitchell Schwartz said of Mahomes. “When people ask what he’s like or how hard he works, that play is Pat. Makes one guy miss, could have taken the easy way out but doesn’t, finds a gap, breaks a tackle or two, fights and gets in the end zone. There’s nothing that’s stopping him.”
Kansas City’s defense was able to limit the damage inflicted by Tennessee running back Derrick Henry, who had rushed for at least 180 yards in each of his last three games, an NFL record. He gained 32 yards in the first quarter, but only 37 more the rest of the game.
Henry had run for 188 yards and two touchdowns against Kansas City in a 35-32 victory during the regular season.
In discussing the performance of the Kansas City defense, the Chiefs’ Frank Clark started down an R-rated path before abbreviating his remarks the way his team curtailed Henry.
“We’re the baddest … on the planet,” Clark said.
The 49ers might disagree. But that’s for another day.
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