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Kansas City Chiefs beat Tennessee Titans, return to Super Bowl 50 years later

KC falls behind once again, this time 10-0, before rallying in the AFC Championship Game.
Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill catches a touchdown pass in front of Tennessee Titans defensive back Logan Ryan during the first half of the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. [CHARLIE RIEDEL  |  AP]
Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill catches a touchdown pass in front of Tennessee Titans defensive back Logan Ryan during the first half of the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. [CHARLIE RIEDEL | AP]
Published Jan. 20

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With his best imitation of a tightrope walker, Patrick Mahomes high-wired the Chiefs into their first Super Bowl in a half-century.

Oh sure, Mahomes did his usual superb job passing, but it was his 27-yard tap dance down the left sideline late in the first half that gave Kansas City its first lead. From there, it outran run-oriented Tennessee and star back Derrick Henry for a 35-24 victory Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.

At last, for the first time since 1970 and the third time overall, the Chiefs (14-4) are Super Bowl bound.

In two weeks in Miami Gardens, they will play in the championship finale, against the winner of Sunday’s late NFC title game between Green Bay and San Francisco.

“I mean, it’s amazing. It really is,” Mahomes said. “To be here, to be a part of Chiefs Kingdom and to be able to do it here at Arrowhead, these people deserve it. And, we’re not done yet.”

Adding to the joy of the achievement, coach Andy Reid and owner Clark Hunt accepted the Lamar Hunt Trophy — named after his father — emblematic of the AFC title. It was handed over to them by Chiefs Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Bell, with Mahomes and safety Tyrann Mathieu jumping for joy on the makeshift stage.

Next up: chasing the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

“Chiefs Kingdom, we are going to the Super Bowl,’’ Hunt said.

“It’s awesome,’’ the 61-year-old Reid said, asking the crowd to chant “How about those Chiefs?’’

The Chiefs lost in the very first Super Bowl, 35-10 to the Packers. But they charged back three years later to beat the Vikings 23-7 behind Len Dawson, Otis Taylor and animated coach Hank Stram famously urging his team to “keep matriculating the ball down the field, boys!”

As they had done in their past three “elimination’’ games, the sixth-seeded Titans (11-8) got started quickly. The difference at Arrowhead as opposed to Houston, New England and Baltimore was that the Chiefs had Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Damien Williams on offense, and a vastly upgraded defense from when they lost in last year’s AFC title game. Henry was held to 7 yards rushing in the second half.

“They were doubling all these guys,’’ Mahomes said of his spectacular TD run on which he barely stayed in bounds. “I just ran it and got some good blocking at the end and found a way to get in the end zone.’’

A week after they overcame a 24-0 deficit against Houston, the Chiefs had to rally again.

Down 10-0 and 17-7, Kansas City didn’t flinch, building a 35-17 lead while controlling the clock with a strong ground game. Naturally, Mahomes complemented that with sharp passing, spreading the ball on short and deep throws. The dagger came with a 60-yard completion to Watkins for the Chiefs’ 28th straight point midway in the final period.

Mahomes thrust both arms in the air as the crowd sang I Wanna Dance With Somebody.

That somebody will be either the 49ers or Packers in two weeks.

After taking a 3-0 lead on Greg Joseph’s first field goal — with Tennessee’s penchant for scoring in the red zone, he hadn’t been called upon in his previous four games with the team — the Titans got a huge break. Bashaud Breeland appeared to make a diving interception, but replay review showed the ball hitting the ground.

Helped by consecutive offside penalties and a fourth-down pass to former Bucs receiver Adam Humphries for his first career playoff reception, the Titans converted on, what else, Henry’s 4-yard run.

Then the Chiefs got rolling, scoring on three successive series. Hill took it in on a shovel pass, later beat top Titans cornerback Logan Ryan for a 20-yard reception, and Mahomes finished the half with his brilliant jaunt down the left sideline with half the Tennessee defense seemingly expecting him to step out of bounds.

That gave the Chiefs a 21-17 lead. It went to 28-17 on Williams’ 3-yard run to cap a seven-minute drive. Then Watkins toasted Logan for the clinching long pass.

Henry was held to 69 yards on 19 carries after rushing for 588 yards in the past three games as an unstoppable force.

“That’s what we were able to do coming in,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of his team’s running game entering the AFC title game.

“We weren’t (able to do that against KC). I felt we competed all the way there until the end. We got a stop, the offense gets the ball back and they fought. You don’t prepare these types of speeches to talk to the team about at the end of the season or to talk to you guys (reporters) about the end of the season. That’s where we’re at.”

The Chiefs easily outrushed the Titans on Sunday. Mahomes had 53 of those yards and also was 23-for-35 for 294 yards passing.

REID’S RETURN

Reid goes back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2004 season, when his Eagles lost to the Patriots. That 15-year gap is second longest to Dick Vermeil’s 19-year gap (1980 season with the Eagles to the 1999 season with the St. Louis Rams).

TRICKERY

Last week, Henry threw a jump pass for a touchdown against Baltimore. On Sunday, Dennis Kelly emulated his coach, Mike Vrabel. He sneaked free for Ryan Tannehill’s lob, falling back awkwardly but holding on for Tennessee’s second TD. The backup tackle is the only offensive lineman since 2000 with two TDs receiving in a season. He also had one against Jacksonville.

Vrabel caught 12 touchdown passes as a linebacker, including one in the Super Bowl when his Patriots beat Reid’s Eagles.

FOURTH DOWNS

Displaying the gambling nature of both coaches, fourth-down conversions were key on early scoring drives. Humphries, who missed the last six games with an ankle problem, caught a 3-yarder on fourth-and-2 at the KC 29. Two plays later, Henry scored.

On the Chiefs’ ensuing possession, they went on fourth and 2 from the Titans 28. Travis Kelce’s 4-yard reception continued a march to Hill’s first TD.

UP NEXT

Titans: Figuring out if they ran out of gas or were beaten by a more talented team as they head into the offseason.

Chiefs: The Tomahawk Chop will be heard at Hard Rock Stadium in the Super Bowl.

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