The Kansas City Chiefs claimed their first AFC championship by beating the Tennessee Titans 35-24 in the conference title game Sunday at home at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Chiefs are headed to the Super Bowl for the third time, the last of which came the year before the NFL and AFL merged in 1970.
With the victory, Kansas City avenged last season's overtime defeat to the New England Patriots in the AFC title game.
The Chiefs finished with a 112-85 edge in rushing yards, which few would've seen coming before the game. Damien Williams' three-yard scoring run made it a two-score game in the fourth quarter.
Sammy Watkins caught his first touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes since Week 1 to break things wide open.
Getting this close to the Super Bowl and falling short is always disappointing, but reaching this stage of the postseason would've been unthinkable for the Titans in October when they had dropped four of their opening six games.
- Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs: 23-of-35, 294 yards, three touchdowns; 53 rushing yards, one touchdown
- Sammy Watkins, WR, Chiefs: seven receptions, 114 yards, one touchdown
- Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs: five receptions, 67 yards, two touchdowns
- Ryan Tannehill, QB, Titans: 21-of-31, 209 yards, two touchdowns
- Derrick Henry, RB, Titans: 19 carries, 69 yards, one touchdown
- A.J. Brown, WR, Titans: three receptions, 51 yards
Mahomes Delivers Again for Kansas City
Last week, the Chiefs trailed the Houston Texans 24-0 before scoring four touchdowns to completely alter the direction of their divisional round clash. Shell-shocked, Houston had seven points over the remainder of the game.
Sunday wasn't a carbon copy of that incredible comeback, but Kansas City found itself in another early hole after Tennessee put 10 points on the board. A one-yard touchdown reception by offensive tackle Dennis Kelly made it 17-7 in favor of the Titans with 6:43 left in the first half.
That's when Mahomes went to work. He hit Tyreek Hill for a 20-yard touchdown pass and then ran for a 27-yard score to give Kansas City a four-point edge, 21-17, heading into halftime.
Calling Mahomes "great" might be a bit hasty since he's only in his second season as a starter. But he has undoubtedly reached a level at which throwing for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns is par for the course.
In general, this win differed from the Chiefs' comeback over the Texans in that they didn't have an offensive explosion that put the game out of reach in the second half. Kansas City basically used the Titans' approach against them.
For example, the entirety of Tennessee's offense in the third quarter was limited to a six-play, 17-yard drive.
The Chiefs defense made much-needed improvements since hiring Steve Spagnuolo, climbing from 26th to 14th in defensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders. Kansas City showed Sunday a methodical offense can sometimes be the best form of defense.
Frank Clark's Trash Talk Proves Prophetic
Frank Clark appeared to be tempting fate when he said Derrick Henry was "not hard to hit" in an interview with NFL Network (h/t ESPN.com).
"He's just a big guy. 240, 245, 250 [pounds]; honestly, he should be running harder at his weight and at his size," Clark said. "I don't see no difficulty in tackling him ... He's just easy to me up front because I don't look at any running back like they can't be tackled. He's not one of the best guys at breaking tackles to me, honestly."
Generally it seemed like a bad idea to provide additional motivation to a running back who had 377 yards in his team's last two games.
The Chiefs held Henry in check for the most part, though.
He had the Titans' first touchdown, finding the end zone on a four-yard run in the first quarter.
Having logged 367 carries between the regular season and playoffs, he may have begun to run out of gas. Many were expecting Henry to hit another gear in the second half, and he never did.
The Titans attempted to mount a late charge, fueled by a gutsy fake punt on 4th-and-8 from their own 22-yard line.
A 22-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to Anthony Firkser with 4:18 left in the fourth quarter made things interesting. By the time Tennessee got the ball back, however, only 2:08 remained on the clock. That forced Tennessee to go for it on 4th-and-6, a play that ended in a Tannehill sack to seal the team's fate.
The Chiefs will meet either the Green Bay Packers or San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.