Chiefs silence doubters on road back to Super Bowl
The defending champion Kansas City Chiefs arrive at Super Bowl LVIII with a chance to become the first team to repeat as title holders since the New England Patriots captured back-to-back championships following the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
The Chiefs, playing in their sixth consecutive AFC Championship, defeated the No. 1 seed Baltimore Ravens to book their place in the Big Game.
Despite having a resume with that level of consistency, the Chiefs, led by two-time MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, were doubted throughout the season. Time and time again they proved they belong among the NFL’s elite.
The questions started immediately for the Chiefs after they were defeated 21-20 at home in the NFL kickoff season-opening game by the Detroit Lions.
That play was one of many drops during the night and with tight end Travis Kelce out of the game with injury, Mahomes was forced to defend the play of his wide receiving corps.
“Other guys have to step up and they're going to have to step up in moments,” Mahomes said after the loss. “Sure, there'll be times (after Kelce returns) that he gets doubled and so we're just going to have to rely on these other guys that are young and talented to step up and make plays, and I believe that they will."
The Chiefs won seven of the next eight games they played heading into their bye week, including division victories over the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers, with their only loss during that run the return game against the Broncos.
Coming out of their week off with a 7-2 record, the Chiefs were ready to push towards clinching the AFC West Division and possibly the top seed in the conference, but the familiar problems continued to crop up.
Trailing 21-17 with less than two minutes remaining in a Week 11 Super Bowl rematch against the Philadelphia Eagles, Mahomes threw a deep ball to a wide open Marquez Valdes-Scantling streaking towards the end zone.
The Chiefs receiver had the ball go right through his hands as the Eagles were able to gain a manor of revenge for their defeat in the championship game earlier in the year.
Kansas City would drop games to the Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills and Las Vegas Raiders and finish the regular season with an 11-6 record, good enough to take their division, but it would mean that for the first time in the Mahomes era, they would have to win road playoff games to achieve their ultimate goal.
WILD CARD ROUND
The Division victory meant that they opened the playoffs at home against the Miami Dolphins and thanks to the polar vortex, they hosted the fourth-coldest game in NFL history as the temperatures sagged to minus-20 Celsius.
The Chiefs thrived in the weather, while the Dolphins never adjusted to the northern climate and were beaten 26-7.
“It was cold, I’m not going to lie. It was cold,” Mahomes said after the playoff win. “At the end of the day, you have to be mentally tough enough that if something doesn’t work, I’m going to come back and keep firing.”
He did just that, throwing for 185 yards and two touchdowns while also picking up 24 yards on the ground.
On the road, in one of the toughest environments in the league, the Chiefs had to take on Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills to keep their hopes of repeating as champions alive in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Kelce caught two touchdown passes and running back Isiah Pacheco scored a go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter to set the scene for another dramatic finish between the two AFC rivals.
In 2021, the teams feverishly traded scores late with Mahomes using the last 13 seconds of regulation to get his team in position for a tying field goal in a game they would eventually win 42-36 in overtime.
This time, Bills kicker Tyler Bass would miss a 44-yard field goal attempt with 1:43 on the clock that would’ve tied the game as the Chiefs escaped with a 27-24 win.
Mahomes finally had his road playoff victory.
“First of all, this is a great environment, man," Mahomes said of Buffalo after the game. “It really is. We did hear it all week, man, about playing a road game, and we’re here to prove a point and show that we can play anywhere.”
The AFC title game was a warning shot that the Chiefs can beat you on either side of the ball.
In the first half, the offence took control, with Kelce making history in the process.
The 34-year-old passed Jerry Rice on the all-time list of playoff receptions, finishing the game with 11 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown.
Pacheco also scored a first-half TD and ended the contest with 68 yards on 24 carries.
The Chiefs took a 17-7 lead into halftime and handed the game over to their defence in the second half.
The marquee play happened in the third quarter as Ravens’ receiver Zay Flowers was reaching for the end zone when Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed knocked the ball out of his hands inside the one-yard line, leading to a turnover.
Ultimately the Chiefs would only surrender a field goal in the final 30 minutes and capture the Conference title 17-10, earning their spot in the Super Bowl.
Valdes-Scantling, who had problems with drops earlier in the season, made a key late catch to seal the victory over Kansas City.
“We’re going to the Super Bowl," Valdes-Scantling said after the AFC Championship. "That was it. I knew we needed one first down to get us to the goal, and they trusted me to go get one.”
Never a doubt.