KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — With his best imitation of a tightrope walker, Patrick Mahomes high-wired the Kansas City 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 the Chiefs their first lead. From there, they outran the run-oriented Titans and star back Derrick Henry for a 35-24 victory Sunday in the AFC championship.
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, they will play the winner of the 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 Famer 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,” Reid said, asking the crowd to chant “How about those Chiefs?”
The Chiefs lost in the very first Super Bowl, 35-10 to the Green Bay Packers. But they charged back three years later to beat Minnesota 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 Want To Dance With Somebody.”
That somebody will be either the 49ers or Packers in two weeks. They were deciding the NFC crown later Sunday in California.
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 a fourth-down pass to 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. But 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 goes back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2004 season, when his Eagles lost to New England. That gap is second longest to Dick Vermeil’s hiatus
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.
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.
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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