The Kansas City Chiefs are headed to Super Bowl LIV in Miami. After a close first half left the home team with a four-point lead at the break, and after that lead stood heading into the final 15 minutes due to a scoreless third quarter, Patrick Mahomes and Co. turned on the jets in the fourth quarter, scoring twice in less than eight minutes to open up a lead the Tennessee Titans couldn't erase. When all was said and done, the Chiefs won the AFC Championship Game, 35-24, booking Andy Reid's second trip to the Super Bowl as an NFL head coach.
The Titans shot out to an early 10-0 lead and answered the Chiefs' first TD late in the first quarter with one of their own, but after what we saw from the Chiefs in their 51-31 win over the Texans last week, no one could have believed Tennessee was safe up 17-7 with less than seven minutes left in the first half. Sure enough, the Chiefs scored twice in the span of four minutes to take a 21-17 lead into halftime, with the last score coming onto score from 27 yards out.
After the break, a third-quarter chess match led to a stalemate until the final frame commenced. That's when the Chiefs offense took off, following a touchdown 10 seconds into the fourth quarter with a big 60-yard TD pas to Sammy Watkins to push the lead to 35-17. Though the Titans would rally to score on the subsequent drive, just over four minutes remained following their score. Getting the ball back just prior to the two-minute warning, Tennessee's last chance at a rally fell flat.
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Patrick Mahomes threw for three touchdowns and ran for another to lead his team to the win. The Chiefs held Titans star Derrick Henry to just 69 yards on 19 carries, doing what their predecessors could not and neutralizing Tennessee's primary offensive weapon.
Let's take a deeper dive into how the Chiefs cruised past the Titans to advance to Super Bowl LIV:
Why the Chiefs won
The main reason Kansas City won on Sunday wears a jersey with No. 15 on it. Patrick Mahomes might not get this year's MVP honors like he did in 2018, but there was absolutely no denying his otherworldly presence in his most important game of the year. And that's an understatement. The gunslinger didn't just wow us with more beautifully lofted touch passes and perfectly placed bullets, but he also paced Kansas City's offense on the ground, consistently finding space on scrambles to lead the Chiefs in rushing yards. The latter damage was particularly important in the second half, with Mahomes' legs allowing K.C. to play ball control after touting its signature instant-score efficiency before halftime. It helped that Tyreek Hill was his blazing-fast self, scoring twice but, more importantly, picking up big chunks of yardage pretty much every time he touched the ball. Damien Williams, meanwhile, had a quietly crucial role despite the Chiefs all but playing without a designed run game for the first half of action, and Steve Spagnuolo's defense embraced physicality to slow both Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill after an undisciplined start. Tyrann Mathieu, in particular, was all over the place.
Why the Titans lost
It sounds so simple, but the main reason is they weren't built for this kind of matchup. Everyone was rightfully optimistic they could give the Chiefs a run for their money after Tennessee upset K.C. earlier in the year (and then knocked off two other legitimate playoff contenders), but the Titans were always going to have a tough time matching the explosiveness of Andy Reid's squad. Yes, they won some big games with their old-school, smash-mouth style, but that was only going to work for so long. You can dominate time of possession all you want, but when the other team is always capable of putting six on the board in a matter of seconds, well, you need things to fall your way. The Titans didn't make any grave mistakes or mental errors, but by the end of Sunday's contest, they couldn't even control the clock because of Mahomes' breakout. A little more passing-game oomph before the fourth quarter would've helped, but the truth is their heralded offensive line didn't always pave holes for Henry -- or protect Tannehill particularly well -- down the stretch. They were creative early on, we'll give them that. But they were always less talented.
Down 17-7 in the second, the Chiefs looked in danger of falling way behind for the second straight week -- and, perhaps, out of the playoffs entirely. But then Mahomes turned it on. First came a couple of first-down ropes to Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins. Then came the touchdown that confirmed K.C. was far from dead, a 20-yard precision lob from Mahomes to Hill that simply could not have been thrown better. The score put the Chiefs back within seven points, showcased their quick-strike ability to erase deficits and set up a string of 21 unanswered points from the home team.
Play of the game
Mahomes alone was responsible for a handful of highlight-reel plays, including the pass to Hill to pull Kansas City within one score, but none was more impressive than his 27-yard scramble down the sideline -- and then through a pair of Titans defenders -- right before halftime. No. 15 has wheels, too!
"This is the best quarterback (Patrick Mahomes) in the National Football League and he shows it every time!"
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said while crashing Patrick Mahomes' postgame interview with CBS Sports' Tracy Wolfson following Kansas City's win over Tennessee.
The Titans are finished after an inspiring postseason run that included upsets of the Patriots and Ravens, left to answer some big-picture questions (is Tannehill the guy at QB?) in the offseason. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are headed to Miami for Super Bowl LIV, where they'll take on either the Green Bay Packers or San Francisco 49ers and have a chance to earn coach Andy Reid his long-awaited first Lombardi Trophy.
Relive all the action from Sunday's AFC Championship right here: