Sunday was rematch time at Arrowhead Stadium, where Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs looked to avenge an October upset to Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans. With a trip to the AFC Championship Game on the line, they did just that -- and then some, overcoming a 24-point hole to embarrass their AFC South visitors in a 51-31 rout.
The Chiefs' road to avenging the regular-season loss began a lot harder than expected. Despite entering as two-score favorites, the Chiefs came out like a team unprepared for the postseason Sunday, with drop after drop stalling early offensive drives, a busted coverage allowing Watson perhaps the easiest deep-ball touchdown pass of his season, and a number of other untimely miscues -- like a blocked punt and a muffed punt inside the 10-yard line -- letting Houston take a 21-0 lead through the first 15 minutes of action.
As soon as Bill O'Brien settled for a field goal on a fourth-and-inches deep inside K.C. territory, however, the tables turned. Houston went up 24-0, yes, but then the Mahomes machine finally revved its engine. A failed fourth-and-4 fake punt in their own territory aided the Chiefs' second-quarter comeback (credit Daniel Sorensen for the open-field stop), but otherwise, it was all Kansas City explosion that erased Houston's lead, with Mahomes firing a whopping four TDs in the second quarter alone -- three of them going to Travis Kelce as part of an ultra-efficient aerial attack to put the home team in front 28-24 at the break.
The Chiefs completed a wild comeback, and there's a lot to go over. Will Brinson and the Pick Six Superfriends break down both of Sunday's divisional round games on the Pick Six Podcast. Listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.
The Chiefs' explosiveness carried into the second half, during which Mahomes continued to spread -- and move -- the ball up and down the field, helping Kansas City rack up 41 unanswered points in less than two full quarters of game time. Watson got his own team back on the board toward the end of the third quarter, but it didn't come until after the Chiefs had blown the contest wide open.
Let's take a deeper dive into how the Chiefs advanced to the AFC title game:
Why the Chiefs won
We've talked all year about Patrick Mahomes and the explosiveness of the Chiefs' offense, sometimes because of their potential rather than their week-to-week production, but you know what? Kansas City came in hot, and while they briefly looked like a sure bet to become the latest victim of a stunning upset through 15 minutes, they went right back to hot -- and then some -- when it mattered. Mahomes could have stopped playing after the second quarter and still had an MVP-caliber stat line (four touchdown passes in one quarter!), not to mention more acrobatic throwing angles and a quietly impressive impact on the ground, while Travis Kelce had an equally dominating outing as part of K.C.'s ultra-efficient aerial attack. To be honest, words just don't do justice to the incredible ease with which Andy Reid's squad moved the ball from the second quarter on. Even with a non-existent rushing attack aside from Mahomes scrambles, they found space time and again, somehow making up for a lifeless opening quarter by piling up 41 unanswered points in less than two full quarters. Missing Chris Jones and Juan Thornhill, Steve Spagnuolo's unit also forced enough big plays to derail the Texans' momentum, with Frank Clark sacking Deshaun Watson three times and holding steady throughout the night.
Why the Texans lost
Houston was going to have trouble preventing a big Mahomes performance no matter what. The condition of the Texans' secondary dictated that. So while Houston's defense -- the pass rush, the defensive backfield, the whole thing -- deserves criticism for how it crumbled, we really can't call that side of the ball the main reason for their defeat. (We also can't let the "D" off the hook. If it weren't for some bad drops by Chiefs wideouts early on, K.C. legitimately might've scored 40 by halftime.) What we can call out are coach Bill O'Brien's in-game decisions. Was he wrong to settle for a field goal up 21 in the second? Not necessarily, but the way his offense was moving, kicking on a fourth-and-inches deep in K.C. territory practically gave the Chiefs momentum, not his team. Not long afterward, he did opt for a fourth-down try, albeit on a fake punt in his own territory, and that helped jump-start the Chiefs even more. O'Brien certainly wasn't horrendous, but if it weren't for some of his attempts to stay the course rather than keep the pedal to the metal where appropriate, the Chiefs might not have had as much time to victimize a vulnerable defense. Houston needed a near-perfect game plan. Instead, they got conservative when they should've taken a risk and vice-versa (DeAndre Hopkins trying to lateral to Watson, who then nearly fumbled, with the Texans barely clinging to a first-half lead pretty much summed up the whole night.)
The Chiefs had just gotten done scoring for the first time Sunday, cutting Houston's lead to 17 points, when the Texans ran into a fourth down and opted not to punt and play defense but rather attempt a fake-punt run inside their own territory. It failed. From that point forward, the Chiefs owned the game, needing all of two plays and 59 seconds to score a second straight touchdown and then going on a touchdown tear to claim the lead and blow the contest wide open. Houston gift-wrapped the home team momentum when it really didn't need to.
Play of the game
In a game that saw the Chiefs go seven straight possessions with a touchdown and Houston rush out to a 24-point lead, there were no shortage of highlight-reel plays upon which to feast our eyes. But from an athletic standpoint, none might have been more subtly impressive than Mahomes' go-ahead TD pass to Kelce in the second quarter. Down three points on third-and-goal, with just 50 seconds left in the half, No. 15 scrambled to his left before dragging his foot just behind the line of scrimmage and somehow tossing a shovel pass across his body for the score.
"This isn't basketball, but it's starting to look like it."
This quip from CBS Sports' Tony Romo on the broadcast of the Chiefs-Texans showdown describes Sunday's affair quite well. Not only was it a back-and-forth of video-game proportions, but it highlighted just how fast, how efficient, how explosive and high-scoring Kansas City can be when it's firing on all cylinders. Can the Chiefs expect to have that kind of space every week for the remainder of the playoffs, let alone after falling in a 24-point hole? Absolutely not. But we know now, for sure, that Mahomes and Co. are capable of going toe to toe with the best of them on their Super Bowl run -- mainly because of Mahomes' arm and legs by themselves.
The Texans are obviously done for the year, going home with a 10-6 record and 1-1 mark in the playoffs. For the second straight year, the Chiefs are headed to the AFC Championship. Instead of hosting the New England Patriots, however, Kansas City will be up against this year's top playoff underdogs, the Tennessee Titans, who are fresh off a rout of the Baltimore Ravens and will come to Arrowhead on Sunday, Jan. 19, for a 3:05 p.m. kickoff.
Relive all the action from Sunday's Divisional clash below: