Patrick Mahomes had little problem routing the best defenses in the NFL this season. On Saturday, the Kansas City quarterback did the same to both Mother Nature and his team’s quarter-century of postseason frustration, ignoring freezing temperatures and a snow-covered field to lead the Chiefs to a 31-13 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC divisional playoffs.
The victory, Kansas City’s first playoff win at home since 1994, sends the team to the AFC championship game for the first time since the 1993 season, two years before Mahomes was born.
The Chiefs will play host to the winner of Sunday’s Chargers-New England Patriots game next weekend.
“I’m into history,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I love history if it makes you better. You learn from it and you move forward. That was the important thing for our guys. That’s the approach that we went with.”
The approach Mahomes went with was simply to play, embracing both the challenge and the chill.
“I actually thought it was pretty cool,” he said of playing in snow for the first time. “The wind wasn’t blowing that hard so I could throw the ball pretty well. It was all about the receivers being able to keep their feet under their shoulders to make the catches in the snow.”
For Indianapolis, which had won its previous four postseason games with Kansas City, the loss ended an improbable season that saw it rally from a 1-5 start under rookie head coach Frank Reich to the playoffs, where it notched a wild-card win over the Houston Texans.
“Wow. I was not expecting it to end today,” Reich said. “They outplayed us. They outcoached us in all phases.”
Arrowhead’s natural-grass field, warmed from below by pipes carrying heated water, was wet but playable so Kansas City elected to start the game passing rather than challenging one of the NFL’s top rushing defenses. And Mahomes made that work, completing his first four passes and throwing on 14 of the Chiefs’ first 18 plays, leading the league’s highest-scoring offense to two touchdowns and a field goal on its first three possessions.
“We had good plays called up versus the defense we thought we were going to get. And we got that defense,” Mahomes said. “We hit it pretty fast and got to put some points on the board quickly.”
On the opening drive, Mahomes completed three passes for 61 yards, setting up a 10-yard scoring run by Damien Williams to cap a 90-yard, five-play march — something hearty fans in the crowd of 76,765 celebrated by pelting one another with snowballs.
A 36-yard scamper by wide receiver Tyreek Hill capped Kansas City’s second drive, one kept alive by a third-down offside penalty against the Colts and a fourth-down run by Williams, who finished with a career-high 129 yards.
Neither drive lasted more than three minutes and it marked the 10th time in 17 games this season that the Chiefs had a double-digit lead in the first 20 minutes. Kansas City is 9-1 in those games.
Then on their third possession, the Chiefs added a 39-yard field goal by Harrison Butker.
“It is hard to give that team that kind of a start,” Reich said.
The Colts responded with a murmur of protest, with Najee Goode blocking Dustin Colquitt’s only punt of the first half, allowing Zach Pascal to recover the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
But Mahomes got that back himself with four-yard scramble with 1:40 left in the second quarter, giving the Chiefs a 24-7 halftime lead. All three touchdown drives covered at least 70 yards.
Indianapolis, which failed to get a first down on its first four possessions, had a chance to build some momentum going into the intermission but Adam Vinatieri killed that, bouncing a 23-yard field-goal try off the left upright on the final play of the half. It was the shortest miss of his career.
Though Mahomes’ numbers weren’t spectacular by his standards — he was 27 of 41 for 278 yards and failed to throw a touchdown pass for just the second time this season — the performance was impressive given the circumstances.
Yet as good as Mahomes and the offense were, Kansas City’s defense was arguably better, holding the Colts to 15 first downs and forcing a fumble, which the Chiefs recovered.
“Everybody was flying to the ball, tackling and bringing a lot of energy,” defensive lineman Allen Bailey said.
The Chiefs were particularly effective at containing Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who missed on his first four throws and finished 19 of 36 for 203 yards. No quarterback was sacked less than Luck during the regular season but he went down three times Saturday and was hurried on five other drop-backs.
He did manage to get his team in the end zone, however, threading a 29-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton up the left sideline with less than six minutes to play.
Vinatieri missed the extra point, though, and Daurice Fountain completed a frustrating afternoon for Indianapolis, dropping what would have been an easy touchdown pass in the end zone in the final minute.
And now with the Colts — and history — behind them, the Chiefs can look ahead to a conference championship game for the first time in 25 years.
“We wanted to light up the city,” defensive tackle Chris Jones said. “We didn’t want to take the road down memory lane. I told the team to get used to this feeling.”