KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs are back in the AFC championship game.
How they returned to the brink of their first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years was unlike anything anybody could have imagined.
After digging a 24-0 hole against Houston early in the second quarter Sunday, Patrick Mahomes and the rest of the high-flying Chiefs embarked on the biggest comeback in franchise history. Their young superstar proceeded to throw for 321 yards and five touchdowns, Travis Kelce and Damien Williams reached the end zone three times apiece, and Kansas City reeled off 41 consecutive points in a 51-31 victory over the Texans in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to win a playoff game by at least 20 points after trailing in that game by at least 20 points. And Mahomes is the first player in NFL history with at least 300 passing yards, at least five TD passes and at least 50 rushing yards in a playoff game.
“Yeah, I mean, obviously we didn’t start the way we wanted to, but all we were preaching — offense, defense and special teams — is let’s do something special,” Mahomes said. “Everybody’s already counting us out, let’s keep fighting and just go one play at a time, and we found a way. Obviously, this is a huge win and now we’ve got the AFC championship game at home.”
The Chiefs (13-4), who lost to the Patriots in overtime in last year’s conference title game, will play Tennessee next Sunday for a spot in Miami. The Titans stunned Lamar Jackson and the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night.
“We’ve already played them and we know they’re a tough team,” Mahomes said of the Titans, who beat Chiefs in November. “They’re a team that battles all the way until the end. They’re a team that’s really hot, playing really good football right now, so we know it’s going to take our best effort. And, whatever way, we’ve got to find a way to win. That’s the biggest thing you saw here today was we’ve just got to find a way no matter what.”
Kelce finished with 10 catches for 134 yards, Williams ran for two scores while catching a TD pass, helping the Chiefs win their seventh consecutive game and reach back-to-back AFC title games for the first time.
Watson, meanwhile, threw for 388 yards and two touchdowns while running for another, but not even his heroics could bail out the Texans (11-7) after they were outscored 28-0 in the second quarter. They continued to allow Kansas City to pull away during a dismal third, their epic collapse leaving the reborn Houston franchise 0-4 in the divisional round.
The Chiefs certainly gave them the perfect opportunity to finally break that streak in the first quarter.
On defense, Kansas City blew overage on Kenny Stills on the opening possession, allowing him to walk into the end zone from 54 yards. On offense, they wasted timeouts, dropped a series of easy passes and managed just 46 yards. And on special teams, the Chiefs had a punt blocked for a score and fumbled a return that set up another touchdown.
Indeed, the Texans were humming right along after finishing on a 22-3 run to beat Buffalo last week, while the mountain of miscues made by the Chiefs made them only the fourth home playoff team to trail 21-0 after the first quarter.
Then it was the Texans’ turn to struggle.
They had stretched the lead to 24-0 before the Chiefs, whose largest deficit overcome had been 21 points, put together a comeback for the ages. Mahomes hit Williams with a quick touchdown toss to begin it, then Houston curiously faked a punt at its own 31-yard line and was stuffed, giving the Chiefs a short field and another easy touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, Texans return man DeAndre Carter had the ball pop loose and into the arms of Darwin Thompson, whose return set up a second Mahomes-to-Kelce touchdown in a matter of seconds. And a third came after the Chiefs forced a punt — a successful one, for a change — and they drove 90 yards to take a stunning 28-24 halftime lead.
“I mean, it was amazing,” Mahomes said of Kelce. “The first thing I said to him when I saw him there at the end, I was like, ‘Man, I mean, you’re a monster, man. You are.’ I mean, the way he was fighting through injury and still making plays all day long.”
The comeback became a clobbering by the time the third quarter ended.
The Chiefs’ breezed downfield to start the second half, and Williams finished the drive with his first TD run. Their overhauled defense under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo sacked Watson on fourth down to get the ball right back, and Mahomes and Co. required just six more plays to position Williams for another TD run and a 41-24 lead.
It was the most unanswered points in a playoff game since the Jets had 41 against the Colts in the 2002 wild-card round.
Even when the Texans finally cracked the scoreboard, when Watson scrambled to his left and dived over the pylon, the Chiefs rendered the touchdown moot. In four plays they went 72 yards to set up the fifth TD pass by Mahomes, the strike to little-used tight end Blake Bell giving coach Andy Reid’s team a postseason-record seven straight TD drives.
It also gave a festive crowd that turned out early in freezing weather and a slight drizzle a chance to celebrate early.
Houston played without S Jahleel Addae (hamstring) and TE Jordan Akins (hamstring). They also lost RT Chris Clark to a knee injury early in the game, and backup Roderick Johnson struggled against the Chiefs pass rush the rest of the game.
Kansas City sat defensive tackle Chris Jones, who strained his calf muscle late in the week and couldn’t make it through pregame warm-ups. WR Tyreek Hill left briefly after a hard hit but eventually returned to the game.
The Texans will spend the offseason wondering how they let a 24-0 lead slip away, and the Chiefs will begin preparing for the Titans in the AFC title game. Kansas City lost lost 35-32 at Tennessee in Week 10, when Derrick Henry ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns against them. It was the most recent time the Chiefs lost a game.