The defending champs are still alive. Whether they'll have superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes remains to be seen.
The Kansas City Chiefs opened their postseason with a 22-17 win over the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Divisional Round on Sunday, looking very much like the NFL's best team for the first three quarters after a 14-2 regular season.
But the win wasn't without huge concerns. Mahomes was clearly a bit hobbled after injuring his toe in the first half and was evaluated for a concussion after leaving the game in the third quarter, as he looked very woozy following a hit. He was ruled out with a concussion in the fourth quarter.
Prior to that, kicker Harrison Butker missed a chip-shot field goal and an extra point that would have widened the lead.
That opened the door for the Browns to make a fourth-quarter push, and they cut the deficit to five points with 11 minutes remaining. But Chad Henne—conjuring the memories of backup-quarterbacks-turned-postseason-legends before him like Frank Reich and Nick Foles—executed a clutch 4th-and-1 conversion with a pass to Tyreek Hill with just over a minute remaining, ending the game and pushing Kansas City to the AFC Championship Game.
Rany Jazayerli @jazayerli
All season long, the Chiefs held slim leads at the end of the game, and needing to run out the clock, Reid trusted Patrick Mahomes to make passes to get the first down even at the risk of stopping the clock. But today, he trusted *Chad Henne*. And the Chiefs won. What a coach.
It was an incredible moment of trust from Andy Reid after Henne threw an interception earlier in the fourth quarter. And if the Chiefs ultimately repeat as champions, it's a moment their fans will never forget.
Patrick Mahomes, K.C.: 21-of-30 for 255 yards and a touchdown, three rushes for 14 yards and a touchdown
Chad Henne, K.C.: 6-of-8 for 66 yards and an interception
Travis Kelce: Eight catches for 109 yards and a touchdown
Baker Mayfield, CLE: 23-of-37 for 204 yards, a touchdown and an interception
Nick Chubb: 13 carries for 69 yards, two catches for four yards
Kareem Hunt: Six carries for 32 yards and a touchdown
Rashard Higgins: Five catches for 88 yards and a fumble
Henne Was a Hero, but Everything Hinges on Mahomes' Health
Henne entered the pantheon of Chiefs legends Sunday, rescuing Kansas City at the precise moment it appeared Cleveland was going to mount a comeback with Mahomes sidelined. But while Reid is a brilliant offensive mind and the Chiefs are loaded with talents like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, their competitive advantage has always hinged on one factor: Mahomes is the best quarterback alive.
The Chiefs weathered the storm for a little over a quarter, already holding a lead, as they turned largely to the running game and defense. To Henne's credit, he also made some critical, and clutch, throws.
But if the Chiefs have to face the extremely talented Buffalo Bills next week without Mahomes, they'll be in trouble. Serious, serious trouble.
Henne and the Chiefs averted disaster Sunday. But if they want to repeat as champions, they need Mahomes.
The Future Is Bright in Cleveland
Sunday was an opportunity missed for the Browns, who had a chance to orchestrate a comeback with Kansas City's best player sidelined. They'll be kicking themselves all offseason for failing to capitalize.
But the Browns are building something special. Baker Mayfield proved this season that he's a franchise player worth building around. Nick Chubb has emerged as one of the game's best running backs. Myles Garrett leads a defense with real potential. And the Browns will get Odell Beckham Jr. back next season.
Plus, the Browns were downright unlucky at times Sunday. Higgins in particular will rue his fumble into the end zone:
The Browns had a fantastic season. They ended an 18-year playoff drought. They eliminated their bitter rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, from the postseason. They went from 6-10 last year to 11-5. Sunday was a heartbreaker, but it may also be an indicator of better days ahead.
Kansas City will host the Buffalo Bills next Sunday at 6:40 p.m. ET on CBS. Cleveland enters its offseason.