Chiefs vs. Browns score: Despite Patrick Mahomes concussion, Kansas City reaches third straight AFC title game
Chad Henne came in for Patrick Mahomes in the third quarter and did just enough to hold off the Browns
The Kansas City Chiefs are headed to the AFC title game for the third consecutive season. Andy Reid's club once again is on the doorstep of the Super Bowl courtesy of a 22-17 win over the Cleveland Browns that was action-packed all the way through the final seconds. In the first half, it looked like Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs were going to cruise their way to victory even as the Browns defense held them to kick four field-goal attempts throughout the game. However, once Mahomes was knocked out of the game due to a concussion, the flood gates felt like they were going to open in favor of Cleveland. In the end, Baker Mayfield and the rest of the Browns simply couldn't fully get over the hump.
Backup Chad Henne was forced to come in for the injured Mahomes and he did just enough to keep his team ahead. He completed six of his eight passes for 66 yards and an interception but also had a key 13-yard run that helped solidify the win late in the fourth quarter. Mahomes, meanwhile, finished with 255 yards passing and two total touchdowns as he completed 70% of his throws. Travis Kelce (109) and Tyreek Hill (110) both crossed over the 100-yards receiving mark for the game and the Chiefs, as a team, ran the ball well, totaling 123 yards on the ground on 5.1 yards per carry.
As for the Browns, Baker Mayfield mostly played well and had his team in a position to win, albeit without being able to jump ahead. He finished with 204 yards through the air, one touchdown, and a pick.
For a more detailed look at how this game unfolded, check out our main takeaways below.
Why Kansas City won
The Chiefs came out of the gate pretty hot, scoring back-to-back touchdowns on their first two drives of the day and came away with points throughout their first four possession. They jumped up to an early lead courtesy of a number of chunk plays. In the first half alone, they had 17 first down on 37 total plays. Mahomes wash sharp early, throwing for 233 yards at the break and totaled two touchdowns. That success on the offensive side of the ball gave the Chiefs over a five-minute time of possession advantage through the first two quarters. Even when the Browns offense was on the field, the K.C. defense was doing a strong job at keeping them out of the end zone, allowing just three points for the half.
What was the most impressive piece of Kansas City's win, however, came in the aftermath of Patrick Mahomes being ruled out for the rest of the game due to a concussion. Cleveland was hot off the heels of a touchdown drive that cut the Chiefs lead to just nine. When Mahomes went down with a concussion at the 7:44 mark in the third quarter, it seemed like all the momentum -- and possibly the game -- was going to shift in the direction of the Browns. However, Chad Henne was able to jump in and immediately help the Chiefs convert a fourth-and-1 attempt that eventually led to a field goal to increase their advantage, 22-10. While it wasn't always pretty, Henne and the rest of the Chiefs offense was able to come up with a few key conversions to keep them afloat and eventually stamp their ticket to the AFC Championship.
Why Cleveland lost
The Browns couldn't get out of their own way early on offense. After the Chiefs posted back-to-back touchdown drives to begin the game, Cleveland was putting together a solid second drive but it was quickly derailed due to penalties and poor execution. Lineman Wyatt Teller was flagged for offensive holding that negating a 17-yard reception by Jarvis Landry, and then running back Nick Chubb dropped passes on the next two plays, which contributed to the Browns punting the ball away. While the defense was able to keep Mahomes and company out of the end zone on that ensuing drive, they couldn't escape totally unscathed with Kansas City netting a field goal to go up 16-3 with just over three minutes to play in the half.
Arguably Cleveland's best drive of the day came on that following possession, but a Rashard Higgins fumble that went through the end zone -- on an admittedly questionable helmet-to-helmet non-call by Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen -- squandered any hope the Browns had of scoring a touchdown and cutting the K.C. lead to just six. Instead, the Cheifs regained possession and notched another field goal before the break.
Again, the Browns were likely got a raw deal with the lack of a penalty called on Sorensen but the defense still couldn't stop the Chiefs offense from capitalizing off that break, which dug Cleveland even further in the hole.
In the second half, one of the glaring mistakes made by head coach Kevin Stefanski was challenging a catch made by Tyreek Hill. While it took a circus effort to haul in the pass, it was clear live that Hill was able to bring it in.
With the catch occurring along the Browns sideline, Stefanski seemed to cave under pressure from players and staff making the emotional lobby for him to challenge the play. That proved unwise as the Browns lost a timeout that would have been extremely valuable in the closing minutes of the game.
Finally, Cleveland's undoing in this game was not being able to put Chad Henne away after he came in under duress for the injured Mahomes. They were able to pick him off thanks to a horrid pass but they couldn't capitalize off it, gaining just 12 yards on their ensuing offensive possession and punted the ball away. On the final drive of the game, the Browns had Henne in two third-down and one fourth-down situation and couldn't force the Cheifs to give up possession to give Baker Mayfield, who largely played well throughout the contest, another chance to win it.
There were many ebbs and flows to this game -- including the plays of the afternoon that we'll mention below -- but this third-down conversion to Darrel Williams on Kansas City's game-clinching drive gave the Chiefs a much-needed exhale. For the moment, it looked like K.C. was on the verge of a three-and-out as they went to the line for a thrid-and-4 play at their own 34-yard line. With a timeout in Kevin Stefanski's pocket, a stop there would give the Browns plenty of time to march down the field and make a bid for the win.
Cleveland's defense sold out to the right side of the Cheifs offense, who stacked that area with their key pass-catching weapons. Henne was wise enough to pick that up and look left where Williams was wide open and the two were able to connect for the first down.
After that, the Browns spent their final timeout of the game and -- through some heroics by Henne -- eventually were able to kill the clock for the win.
Play of the game
While there were a number of earlier plays worthy of consideration, the marquee moment in this contest came in the final seconds to clinch Kansas City another trip to the AFC Championship. On a fourth-and-inch situation with the Chiefs lead at just five and 1:17 to play, Andy Reid put backup Chad Henne in the shotgun in K.C. territory. Most figured Henne would run a hard count to try and draw the Browns offsides, give the Chiefs the ball, and ice the game but Reid went for it right then in there, calling for Henne to throw it to Tyreek Hill, who was able to pick up the first and secure the win.
The guts that it takes for Reid to make that call cannot be overstated. If it failed, the Browns likely get the ball back in Chiefs territory with around a minute to go try and win the game and effectively end Kansas City's chances of going back-to-back.
However, that wasn't the only play of the game as the previous play that set up the fourth-down attempt deserves its time in the sun as well. After Myles Garrett was able to sack Henne for a six-yard loss and pin the Chiefs in a thrid-and-14 situation, it looked as if Cleveland was going to get the ball back with a chance to win the game. However, coming out of the two-minute warning, Henne pulled out his best Patrick Mahomes impression and scrambled out left. The veteran got the edge and dipped his shoulder down as he dove towards first down territory, only coming up inches short.
That tremendous effort by Henne on both plays allowed Kansas City to keep their Super Bowl dream intact and advance to the AFC Championship.
As the Browns close out what was one of their most successful campaigns in recent memory, the Chiefs will advance to their third-consecutive AFC Championship, which will be held at Arrowhead Stadium next weekend. Kansas City is just the second team to ever host the conference championship three years in a row. The other team? The 2002-04 Philadelphia Eagles, who were also coached by Andy Reid.
The Chiefs will welcome in the Buffalo Bills -- who beat the Ravens in the divisional round -- on Sunday, January 24 at 6:40 p.m. ET on CBS. The winner of that game will represent the AFC in Super Bowl LV.
The Chiefs are going to the AFC title game for the third consecutive season.
STONES by Andy Reid to call that!
What a fake by the Chiefs. Holy cow.
FIRST DOWN!!!!!!— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 17, 2021
The Chiefs are at least lining up like they'll go for it. I wouldn't be surprised to see a hard count.
Oh man his elbow is down! He's gonna be short. Good spot.
They're marking Henne just short. Wow. What an incredible play. He looked like Mahomes running there! And I think he got to the line to gain.
Myles Garrett comes in with the sack on second down. Wow. Enormous play. Drove Mitchell Schwartz backwards.
The Chiefs will have to run another play before the two-minute warning. If the Browns can get a stop on third down, they can get the ball back with around 1:15 or 1:20 to go.
Huge play by Williams, breaking the tackle just in front of the first-down marker and getting it across. Busted coverage by Cleveland.
What an enormous break for the Browns right there. Wow.
Of course, the first timeout spent was due to the poor decision to challenge Hill's catch earlier in the second half.
Poor usage of their first two timeouts is looming large over Cleveland right now.
Cleveland punting it back to the Chiefs with about four minutes left. Huge opportunity for Darrel Williams (and I guess Le'Veon Bell) to try to salt this away.
Higgins was marked short, but it doesn't matter as Baker picked it up with a sneak.
WHAT A MOVE by Higgins. I think he *just* got to the first-down line.
CB Bashaud Breeland is being evaluated for a concussion.— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 17, 2021