Another remarkable rally and offensive masterpiece led by Patrick Mahomes has the Kansas City Chiefs back in the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1969 season. The second-seeded Chiefs rallied from a first-half deficit with 28 consecutive points to down the sixth-seeded Titans, 35-24, in Sunday's AFC Championship Game to claim a berth in Super Bowl LIV.
Here's what we learned from Sunday's AFC Championship Game.
- Slow starts? Kansas City chortles at slow starts. A week after falling behind 24-0, Patrick Mahomes wiped out a 10-0 first-quarter deficit as fast as a hiccup. The Chiefs scored touchdowns on three straight drives to close the half with a 21-17 lead and skated their way through the second half at a chilly Arrowhead Stadium that was warmed by delirious fans. After K.C. got down 17-7, Mahomes and Co. blasted their way for 342 yards compared to 39 yards for Tennessee to essentially put the game away before garbage time began with 7:30 left in the fourth quarter. Mahomes was a magician all game, throwing dimes and darting pigskins all over the field. Tennessee took away the deep shots early, keeping the field compressed. It mattered naught for the K.C. QB, who picked up chunk gains at will. Pass to Tyreek Hill for 20. Travis Kelce for 18. Demarcus Robinson for 24. Damien Williams on the outside flat for 17. Then the kill shot. Holding an 11-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, Mahomes escaped pressure and found Sammy Watkins for a deep strike. The QB made difficult throws look easy, dancing away from pressure and dicing up the Titans secondary. We've become so used to Mahomes conjuring magic, ridiculous throws seem pedestrian when he unleashes the ball from awkward platforms. Mahomes finished 23-of-35 for 294 passing yards and three TDs. The spectacular QB also led the Chiefs with 53 rushing yards and a game-changing TD run. Once again, the reigning NFL MVP proved he's the biggest advantage currently going in football. No deficit is too big with Mahomes on the field. Now he'll get to show off in the Super Bowl.
- The bell struck midnight for the NFL's Cinderella. Everything went right for Tennessee early. Derrick Henry was churning. Ryan Tannehill took advantage of play-action for chunk gains. A.J. Brown blasted out of the gate with a big run-after-catch. The Titans scored 17 points on their first three drives. Tannehill, who passed for 72 yards and 88 yards in the past two playoff games, generated 114 passing yards through three drives of the AFC Championship Game. Then it all came screeching to a halt. After taking a 17-7 lead, the Titans earned 33 total yards and earned two first downs on their next four possessions. Deficit: 35-17. Ball game. Such is life facing Patrick Mahomes.
- Kansas City's offensive weapons tilt the field and open the entire operation. With Hill, Kelce, Watkins, Hardman and Robinson burning downfield, defenses are put in unwinnable binds. The Titans did their best to slow the deep shots. Mahomes didn't take the bait early, instead biding his time in the pocket against repeated three-man rushes, and burned Tennessee with his legs. The QB escaped the pocket time after time and picked up first downs with his legs. Combine a dynamite arm, with Mahomes' athletic ability outside the pocket, and you have an unstoppable force. Defenders can't just leave coverage when the K.C. QB exits the pocket, knowing he can cock back and chuck it deep at any moment. Knowing such, Mahomes did damage with his legs Sunday. The biggest run came late in the first half with the Chiefs driving. Mahomes looked like he'd be sacked, stepped out of a tackle, refused to go out of bounds, turned upfield, ran through several tackles and dove into the end zone. The determined TD run gave Kansas City the lead at halftime, one they'd never relinquish. The Chiefs got the run game going in the second half, but when Andy Reid needed a play, he put the ball in Mahomes' hands. On a big third down, with the Titans desperately needing a stop to attempt a comeback, Reid didn't just run the ball into the pile and punt. Mahomes took a deep shot to Hardman that drew a huge defensive pass interference on Titans DB Tramaine Brock, salting away more clock. With the Chiefs' offensive line dominating down the stretch, K.C. showed it is a potent offense with zero fear.
- Derrick Henry entered the game on a roll, bulldozing defenders like they were crash-test dummies. The Titans RB generated 62 yards and a TD on 16 first-half carries. As Tennessee trailed in the final two quarters, the big RB was an afterthought. Henry rushed just three times in the second half for seven yards. Yes, the deficit took Tennessee out of its game plan, but credit the K.C. defense for corralling Henry even early in the bout. The running back had a long run of just 13 yards, and the Titans earned just four first downs on the ground in the game. The Chiefs plugged the holes and didn't let Henry get going upfield, even when he picked up yards. The back end of the K.C. D played with aplomb. Tyrann Mathieu flew all over the field. The Honey Badger had a nose for the football, earning nine tackles, including a crushing one for loss, and a big pass defended late. The defensive front brought pressure on Tannehill in the second half, compiling three sacks, two by lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon. It was apropos that Frank Clark took down Tannehill on a sack to seal the victory. One of the best defenses down the stretch of the season, the Chiefs proved they can play any style needed. When you have Mahomes on your side, it's always a benefit, but the K.C. D stepped up in big spots when needed.
- Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones returned from a calf injury. His presence provided a big boost for K.C. on pass-rushing downs. While the box score might look meager, two tackles and one QB hit, it belies the influence the man in the middle brought. Jones played just 23 of 57 snaps, but many of those were in high-leverage situations, and he generated a bevy of pressures. The defensive lineman repeatedly got into the backfield, quickly disrupting plays and forcing Tannehill from the pocket. He aided stuffing Henry early in the second half, as the Titans couldn't find holes in the middle. When Jones is healthy and setting up shop in the backfield, it's a game changer for Kansas City's D, even if it's only on a part-time basis like Sunday. With two weeks to heal further, Jones could be a big player in Super Bowl LIV.
- The Chiefs hoisted the Lamar Hunt Trophy for the first time since it was renamed for their legendary owner. K.C. had not won the AFC/AFL championship since 1969 (AFL Championship at the time). The Chiefs last played in the Super Bowl 50 years ago -- won SB IV on Jan. 11, 1970 (1969 season). That drought is officially over. Andy Reid gets back to the Super Bowl for the second time in his career by beating a Tennessee team he came in with a 1-8 record against. Reid now boasts at least two career wins against every NFL franchise. After coming up short last season, the Chiefs bring an exciting squad to Miami, providing fresh blood to the Super Bowl after three straight seasons with the New England Patriots representing the AFC.