*For the second straight season, the Kansas City Chiefs are headed to the AFC Championship Game, but their return trip took a never-before-seen path. Trailing by 24 points in the first half, the second-seeded Chiefs -- led by the spectacular play of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce -- rallied all the back and defeated the No. 4 Texans, 51-31, in Sunday's AFC Divisional Round Game at Arrowhead Stadium. *
Here's what we learned from Kansas City's win:
- The Chiefs were beating themselves for an entire quarter. A blown coverage. A blocked punt returned for a TD. Four big dropped passes. A muffed punt leading to a score. A 24-0 deficit. Then, like a big brother spotting his little brother nine points in a game of basketball to 11 in the backyard, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs created their own chaos, streaking for 41 straight points to blow the game open. K.C. went from down big to the lead in the blink of an eye. The Chiefs, behind the 2018 MVP rifling darts all over the field, scored four straight TDs to close the first half with a 28-24 lead. Those four scores came in just 4:50 of game-play. The Chiefs became the first team in NFL history, regular season or playoffs, to trail by 24-plus points in the first half and be tied or leading entering halftime, per NFL Research. Mahomes and Andy Reid never let off the gas pedal. The QB reminded the world he's the most dynamic signal-caller in the league. Given loads of time from his O-line, Mahomes shredded a suspect Houston defense, picking up 20-yard gains like a youngster pops M&Ms. The QB became the first player in NFL playoff history to pass for 300-plus yards, rush for 50-plus yards and throw five TDs in a game. Mahomes finished with 321 yards passing, 9.2 yards per attempt and five TDs and added 53 yards rushing. The Chiefs offense was so explosive, they scored 51 points in 32 minutes of play, including seven straight TD drives. Mahomes and Reid once again showed they can be unstoppable when it's all clicking. How big of a show did the Chiefs put on in the final three quarters? Arrowhead actually ran out of fireworks.
- Texans coach Bill O'Brien will be questioning several second-quarter decisions that helped turn the tide against his team. First, he eschewed going for it on fourth-and-inches at the K.C. 13-yard-line, calling a timeout and kicking a field goal to go up 24-0. After the Chiefs answered with a quick touchdown, O'Brien made another crucial decision. Facing a fourth-and-4 from its own 31, Houston dialed up a fake punt. Justin Reid was stuffed after two yards on a great play by safety Daniel Sorensen, who read the play the whole way. K.C. used the short field to score another TD in 23 seconds. And the flood gates opened. Agree or disagree with either decision, the choices proved pivotal in the loss. The Texans then fumbled the ensuing kickoff and missed an end-of-half field goal, seeing their two-dozen-point lead wiped out. From there, the Houston defense disintegrated, unable to get a second-half stop until they were down 20 points. Few gave the Texans a chance to slow or stop Mahomes entering the game. The way the blowout occurred, however, is a different brand of embarrassing for O'Brien.
- Travis Kelce dominated every matchup the Houston defense attempted. Cornerbacks? No contest. Safeties? Burned with ease. Double teams? Please. After a third-down drop on the opening series, the tight end was uncoverable, gobbling up chunk gains. Kelce compiled a whopping 10 catches on 12 targets for 134 yards with three TD snatches. Even a brief hamstring injury couldn't slow Kelce. When the TE is getting open with ease as he was Sunday, the Chiefs offense is unstoppable. Kelce creates mismatches at all levels. Houston's decision to try covering Kelce with rookie corner Lonnie Johnson early proved faulty and the Chiefs made them pay. All adjustments thereafter failed as Kelce and the Chiefs rolled with the ease of a drop of rain running down a slick hill.
- Deshaun Watson did his best to keep pace with Mahomes, but didn't have the play-caller, blocking or consistent explosive plays to overcome the sieve defense on his side. Watson came out dialed in, adjusting plays at the line and divebombing a Chiefs defense knocking off the rust, including a 54-yard TD strike to Kenny Stills on the opening drive. Watson battled to try to keep the game close, throwing for 388 yards and two TDs, adding a TD scamper and no turnovers. The QB found DeAndre Hopkins nine times for 118 yards, including several big chunks. The Texans offense, however, didn't have enough against a surging K.C. defense. Watson was sacked four times and suffered several dropped passes from his targets. The magic Watson lived on in the Wild Card Round, however, dissipated as the game wore on. The QB's gutsy play wasn't enough to stick with a dominant offensive performance from Mahomes.
- After a wobbly start, the Chiefs defense stiffened, holding Houston to just seven second-half points. Tyrann Mathieu made his presence felt all over the field, including a huge pass break-up of Hopkins on a crucial third-and-long near midfield that forced a punt late in the first half with K.C. still trailing. Mathieu once again keyed a secondary that made Watson & Co. work for everything for the final three quarters. Frank Clark came off the edge to help disrupt the QB, picking up three sacks, including the game-ender. The Chiefs D played outstanding down the stretch but hadn't faced a quarterback quite like Watson in that run. On Sunday, they proved they can pass that test too.
- With the comeback W, the Chiefs will host the upstart Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium next Sunday, Jan. 19, at 3:05 p.m. ET. K.C. lost 35-32 at Tennessee in Week 10 on a last-second blocked field goal. It marked the Chiefs' last loss of the year. On that afternoon, Mahomes threw for 446 yards and three TDs, but the K.C. defense allowed Derrick Henry to gallop for 188 yards and two TDs. The Chiefs defense has played much better since that day, but Henry has proven in the playoffs he's a beast K.C. hasn't faced since November.