A hobbled Patrick Mahomes leads Chiefs past Jaguars in AFC divisional round
Hobbling along on an injured right ankle, Patrick Mahomes threw for 195 yards and two touchdowns Saturday night, leading the Kansas City Chiefs to a 27-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars and a spot in their fifth consecutive AFC title game.
Mahomes missed most of the second quarter after his ankle was landed on by a Jacksonville defender. But the All-Pro quarterback returned in the second half and, relying on guts and guile, led the Chiefs on a 75-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that helped to ensure a date with the Bengals-Bills winner for a spot in the Super Bowl.
If Cincinnati wins Sunday, the AFC title game will be played at Arrowhead Stadium. If Buffalo wins, it will be in Atlanta.
“I mean, it’s a credit to the guys around me,” Mahomes said. “The offensive line kept me clean in the pocket, knowing that I couldn’t move, and guys made plays around me. That’s what a great team does, is when somebody gets a little banged up, everybody around them steps up.”
The question on everyone’s mind — Will Mahomes be available next week? — might be no question at all.
“Yeah, X-rays were negative, and they haven’t diagnosed anything yet,” he said, “but I’ll be good to go.”
Tight end Travis Kelce had a career-high 14 catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns for Kansas City. Isiah Pacheco rushed for 95 yards, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling hauled in the eventual clinching touchdown pass with about seven minutes left in the game.
The Jaguars, who rallied from a 27-0 deficit to beat the Chargers in the wild-card round, squandered two chances to mount another late rally. The first ended when Jamal Agnew had the ball pop loose inside the Chiefs’ five-yard line with about 5½ minutes to go, and the second when Kansas City’s Jaylen Watson made a leaping, one-handed interception to take the ball away again.
The Jaguars’ last-gasp chance ended when the Chiefs recovered an onside kick with 24 seconds to go.
The Buffalo Bills that went to four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s have kept their connections with the city and see a team with super potential.
Trevor Lawrence passed for 217 yards and had a touchdown throw to Christian Kirk, who was briefly hurt midway through the fourth quarter but returned to finish the game. Travis Etienne contributed 62 yards rushing and a touchdown.
“I don’t really have the words right now,” Lawrence said. “The Chiefs did more today than we did.”
Long before Mahomes hobbled to the sideline in pain, he was at his creative best, driving the Chiefs downfield on their opening possession. There was a shortstop-style sidearm sling to JuJu Smith-Schuster, a key third down pass to Kelce as he was being dragged to the turf, and the flip pass to his tight end that gave Kansas City a 7-0 lead.
The Jaguars came right back, taking advantage of a big kickoff return and a short field. Lawrence, whose four touchdown throws helped to stun the Chargers last week, proceeded to hit Kirk for the matching touchdown.
Then the complexion of the game changed.
Mahomes was moving up in the pocket when Arden Key brought the full weight of his body down on the star quarterback’s right ankle. Mahomes hobbled to the huddle and managed to get through three more plays to end the first quarter, then was on the field two more plays before Harrison Butker kicked a 50-yard field goal.
During the Jaguars’ ensuing possession, Mahomes — who had gotten his ankle taped — got into a heated argument with Chiefs coach Andy Reid and the training staff. He then threw down his coat and headed to the locker room, forcing Chad Henne to take over midway through the second quarter, much as he did two years ago in a playoff win over Cleveland.
The 37-year-old journeyman, who once started for the Jaguars, led Kansas City on a 12-play, 98-yard touchdown drive.
“Yeah, I did not want to go, and they kind of gave me the ultimatum that I wasn’t going back in unless I went in there,” said Mahomes, who cheered on the Chiefs from the sideline, wearing a puffy winter coat on a cold, sleeting night.
“They’re trying to take care of me. We’ve got a lot of great people over here, but it’s going to take a lot to keep me out of a football game.”
Then the fans suddenly were cheering for him again.
Mahomes, in that familiar red No. 15 jersey, trotted onto the field to start the second half, his right ankle heavily taped. He was still struggling to move around, but simply his presence seemed to calm the Chiefs — and their angst-filled fan base.
“It was a short leash,” Reid acknowledged. “If I felt like he wasn’t able to handle it, he would have been out.”
Butker added a second 50-yard field goal late in the third quarter to extend Kansas City’s lead to 20-10.
“We know that if it’s up to Pat, he’s going to be in there. I’m sure he had some words with everyone on the sideline that he wanted to be in there as fast as possible,” Kelce said afterward.
“It’s just a different feeling when one-five is in there. He can make anything happen, even on one ankle.”
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But the Jaguars proved in the wild-card round that they can deal with deficits. And rather than wilt amid the crowd noise, they rose to the occasion, putting together a 75-yard touchdown drive that kept them in the game.
Their comeback bid ended, though, with two late turnovers and a failed onside kick.
“When you get this far, you don’t want to only go this far,” Jaguars linebacker Foyesade Oluokun said. “You want to keep going.”
Stats and streaks
Mahomes improved to 5-0 in the divisional round of the playoffs. He has thrown 28 touchdown passes and three interceptions in 10 home playoff games. ... Henne was five for seven for 23 yards and a touchdown. ... Jacksonville had eight wins as an underdog this season, tied for the most in the Super Bowl era.
The Chiefs wait to hear whether they play the Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium or the Bills in Atlanta for a spot in their third Super Bowl in four years. ... The Jaguars turn their attention to free agency and the NFL draft.
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