It probably felt like an eternity for the team in 2019, coming off the loss to the Patriots in last year’s AFC Championship game to get back to this moment, but they did. All the hard work, the injuries, the painful losses, and then the 24-0 deficit against the Texans last week are in the rear-view mirror. They host the AFC Championship Game for the second straight season and this time they won’t let the Lamar Hunt Trophy get away. The Titans played two very physical games coming into the game against the Chiefs, defeating the Patriots and the Ravens to get there. This game was a “revenge game” for the Chiefs losing a heartbreaker to the Titans earlier in the season, but would once again face some adversity early in the game.
I was determined to watch this game, with it being the day my wife and I got back to port from our cruise I still had to drive 4-ish hours to my inlaws and see my daughter. Luckily, we were able to get off rather quickly and board one of the first buses back to the cars. It was smooth sailing from there and we got back in time to watch the game. My wife is very understanding of my job and how important sports are to me in general, so I’m a pretty lucky man in that regard. This was the game, maybe not full redemption but a chance for the Chiefs to finally get over that hump. It’s why they felt the need to move up to get Patrick Mahomes, they were aggressive in their need for a quarterback to win them the big games, and in his second season starting, he had his second chance to get to a Super Bowl.
But if you think this game was all about Patrick Mahomes, you’d be very wrong. This Chiefs defense was emasculated against the Titans in week ten; Derrick Henry ran wild for 188 yards averaging 8.2 yards per rush and near the end of the game when the Chiefs had the lead, Tannehill was able to get first downs with his legs and run Chiefs defenders over in the process. This was a game for them to come out and establish themselves, and show that Henry wouldn’t be able to do that again. This was personal, and Frank Clark was out talking his talk before this game, it was up to the defense to back it up.
Mike Pennel was on the street before he was brought to this team and that man made an impact immediately. Stopping the run is his specialty and even if he isn’t great in the pass rush, this is why he was brought in. The center attempts to turn his hips to the hole to make it more difficult for Pennel to get there, but he just takes the center with him. Ragland does a great job attacking the fullback downhill and truck sticks the man out of the way to get the first contact on Henry while Pennel bulls over the center to help clean up. This team was not playing with Henry this time around.
These were the types of plays the Chiefs front seven made routinely in this game to stop Henry from getting going. They knew if they forced Tannehill to make throws they had a great shot to win this game. The first clip we see Chris Jones, who isn’t even at 100%, manhandle the guard and throw him off his spot. Reggie is going to take on the block from Taylor Lewan, who is a damn good tackle, and shrugs off the block like it’s nothing. Lewan even stands there a little shocked that Ragland just pushed through it to force Henry to improvise. He’s forced right into Jones’ arms where he goes nowhere.
Teams tend to run away from Frank Clark if given the option because he’s an excellent edge setter, he rarely gets pushed off his spot and he can force running backs to alter their course by flashing to the outside while still maintaining his leverage. That’s exactly what happens on this play, Clark sets a hard edge on the tackle and flashes to the outside trying to locate the football. Meanwhile, Damien Wilson is filling his gap quickly while sliding under a block from the center. The flash from Clark causes some hesitation from Henry and Wilson gets in the backfield to initiate contact on Henry while he runs into his tackle because Clark didn’t allow him to advance.
When everyone filled properly against the Titans and blocked up holes, Henry rarely had anything going for himself. Outside of a few intermediate runs, he had a pedestrian day, with the Chiefs only allowing him to rush for 69 yards on 19 attempts. That’s an average of 3.6 yards per rush; great for the Chiefs defense. That put the game in the hands of Ryan Tannehill and let’s just say that’s not really his strong suit.
Creating pressure isn’t always easy to do and the Chiefs didn’t need to do it to force Tannehill into mistakes. On the back of a strong play-action game Tannehill had a great season, but as the run game begins to falter, things began to break down. At the time of this throw, the only receiver that was open was his outlet back to his left. He’s looking downfield; usually the linebacker wouldn’t be as close as Hitchens was to the seam receiver. On a straight dropback, Hitch has the ability to run with the receiver up the seam. This is a difficult throw to make without the safety over the top, but Fuller is right there also closing the gap and Tannehill tries to fire it in there, coming up empty. Probably should have been intercepted by Fuller, but it was deflected.
The Titans were able to get some big plays early on in the game, but they dried up as the game went along. Receivers stopped getting as wide open and plays broke down around Tannehill resulting in more third and longs and more hits. Kpass was the beneficiary of one such situation; with Spags sending Neimann as a blitzer, that drew away the running back as a help blocker to Tannehill’s right. Kpass is able to hand fight around the guard and beat him with his feet to record the sack on Tannehill.
Then we get to the fun one, Dan Sorensen was a playoff hero in the previous game and here he is getting the opportunity to level the Titans quarterback. He doesn’t miss; as Tannehill tries to pick up the first down on a third and ten with his legs, Sorensen comes off his man, following Tannehill with his eyes, and takes him down short of the first down with a great tackle. Watch Damien Wilson at the end putting the flex on for ‘em, they were having fun and it showed throughout the game.
That fun wasn’t just on one side of the ball, fortunately enough for the Chiefs. After another sluggish start to the game for the Chiefs, they found their footing much quicker than in the previous game. This game didn’t have the fireworks of the divisional round, but the Chiefs offense was a much smoother operator in the full sense of this game and it focused around three players, Patrick Mahomes, Sammy Watkins, and Tyreek Hill. Let’s start with Hill, the way teams have to approach playing against the Chiefs’ shifts when he is on the field due to his multifaceted tools. He can attack at any point on the field.
Watching him run routes in the past year, we got to see the more cerebral side to them and that’s what made him a top five receiver in the NFL. Before the snap, in the first clip, Hill knows where Kelce is going on his route, he knows how to back off the corner on him, and he knows where he’s going to be in the next 2 seconds. He uses a jab step to put the corner covering him into Kelce’s path and then slants across the field. The linebacker is looking to get in his way, but Hill just steps around him and into the open field. I’m sure a better throw would have scored Hill, but I love watching him work as a receiver and not just a weapon.
Then we get to see one of the many ways that Reid uses Hill with the end around game. His speed can be harnessed and overloading the left side with a bunch formation is an unfair way of exploiting his speed for, essentially, free yards. He is such an amazing player and truly worth being looked at as one of the top receivers in the sport.
Sammy Watkins has a very different reality to his existence in this offense and while I still hold the belief that he’s a top talent at the wide receiver position, it’s not hard to see why people have reservations about him. His value in the regular season varies from week to week, but he belongs in the playoffs. He was getting open all game for Mahomes and this was one of the things I noticed from him, especially in the playoffs. He ran his routes with more purpose and wanted to sell them. He uses the cushion provided to push the corner downfield and then come back on the curl after the corner-post sell job. He locates Mahomes running outside of the pocket and works his way with him and catches the pass for a first down.
The connection with Mahomes was very inconsistent throughout this season for Watkins, but when I watched them in the playoffs they seemed to get some chemistry going. That’s a huge boost for a receiver, getting on the same page with the quarterback, and Watkins struggled with that during the regular season. Then we get to watch Watkins put the icing on the cake for this game with his first touchdown since week one, how much sweeter does it get than in the playoffs to go to the Super Bowl?
That was the game-sealing touchdown for the Chiefs in this game, but I am going to shift back to the most important offensive player for the Chiefs, and that’s Mahomes. I mentioned in my last piece how he became an unstoppable player when he reached full health and this is exactly what I meant by that.
This was the moment when I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Chiefs were going to go to the Super Bowl. This is my favorite angle of his touchdown run near the end of the first half. Eric Fisher does a great job to attack with his feet in the direction of the edge and then be patient. He waits for the move of the defender and then rides him around Mahomes, who trusts him to do exactly that. When no one opens up downfield, he takes it upon himself to make this a special play. You can see for yourself everything that goes into this touchdown from the broken tackle to the look back and then the fight to get into the endzone. Mahomes would not be denied and that would become a theme for this playoff run.
Adding in the element of hurting teams with his legs made Mahomes a dual threat quarterback. Not in the sense of a Lamar Jackson, but he understands more about when to take the free yards and how he can manipulate defenders with his arm talent and using that against them with his legs. His will to not be denied resonated with the team and is got them into the Super Bowl.
This was more than just bringing the Lamar Hunt trophy back to Kansas City, it was about getting Andy Reid back into the Super Bowl where he belongs. He is one of the greatest coaches of all-time and he was going to have another chance to prove that he belonged there. This is a special team and two weeks from this game we were going to get to see them fight for the mountaintop, a place we knew they belonged. But before that let’s go back to Frank Clark for our closing statements.