In one of the rare blitzes of the night, the Titans rushed five. Pass rusher DeMarcus Walker beat right guard Trey Smith, sacking the quarterback for a loss of seven yards. That meant third-and-17 — with the hope for a Chiefs victory all but lost.
On the next play, the pocket collapsed. Mahomes took off — and after cutting through three Titans’ defenders, he gained 20 yards and a fresh set of downs.
“That was a good one,” recalled head coach Andy Reid after the game. “They turned their back on him – they were playing man coverage. And so, they turned their back and he made some things happen.”
Mahomes explained what he noticed on what ended up being the first true step of the Chiefs’ miraculous Sunday night comeback.
“I definitely saw a lane to get it close enough that I thought we’d be able to go for it,” he said. “When you’re in that situation, you know that if you can get it to a fourth-and-5, fourth-and-4, Coach Reid’s probably going to give you a chance there. And then as I was running, I felt the – I think it was the safety — kind of over-pursuing so I kind of shot my shot and went out there. I actually tried to get outside again which didn’t work out for me; I’m not fast enough. But it was a good play and like I said we just battled at the end of the day. It wasn’t like we were designing it up we were just going out there and trying to make some stuff happen.”
After a misfire to tight end Noah Gray, Mahomes threw three straight first downs to Marquez Valdes Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Jerick McKinnon. The Chiefs dialed up McKinnon the next two plays, but they were only able to gain a yard, bringing up third-and-9 at the Titans’ 14.
Mahomes glanced to his left and then saw nothing but green grass to his right. He had done it before against the Titans on a much bigger stage — why not get to the end zone? Mahomes juked defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons — who had a shot — and then barreled his way through two more defenders for the touchdown.
A few penalties (of many on the night) later, and Mahomes scrambled left for a two-point conversion to tie the game.
“[The Titans] had good plans,” said Mahomes. “They did a good job. The touchdown run? I probably could’ve just thrown it to JuJu, but I had like fully committed to run at that point.”
Smith-Schuster saw what Mahomes saw.
“I made eye contact with him, I thought he was going to throw it, but he just ran it in,” said Smith-Schuster. “A touchdown is a touchdown at the end of the day. I knew it was man [coverage] — and at that point, I was just trying to get a block. I got a block for him, he made a guy miss, scored and then came back on the two-point conversion and kind of did the same thing on the left side. Making blocks, man.”
“We were just battling at the end of the game,” added Mahomes. “We were just trying to find a way to win, and our defense kept us in the game long enough to do that.”
As the offense struggled most of the night, the defense made proper adjustments to ensure that Mahomes would have a chance. It allowed only 10 yards and a single first down the entire second half.
That bought Mahomes enough time to find his... inner Mahomes. In overtime, Mahomes connected with tight end Travis Kelce on second-and-11 for 18 yards despite a dangerous throw as he fell to the ground. Kelce torqued his body back to ensure he made the catch.
“[Kelce’s] the first read — but how they were playing, I thought they were going to kind of double him. So I looked to Skyy [Moore] and they went with Skyy. So I threw it late. That’s what makes Travis so great: I threw it late — he probably had a chance to get picked — but he came back to the ball and made a big-time catch. For him to still be out there it’s like every single play and battling, it was a big-time game for him — and he made a lot of big plays there at the end.”
Later in overtime, Mahomes turned to his much-less-talked-about tight end, Noah Gray, for a 27-yard gain to get the Chiefs in field-goal range. Gray high-pointed the ball, tipped it up and came down with it in what had to be the biggest moment of his young, two-year career.
“It’s funny,” started Mahomes. “I think I said it in training camp: I feel like I don’t target Noah enough because a lot of times plays are called either to him or he’s one of the options I can give him a chance on. And it seems like I don’t throw it to him. He’s always open — and so as the season’s going on and as our careers go on I want to give him more and more chances, because I think he can be a big part of this offense.
“That whole tight end room has been great for us this season. But for [Gray] to make that catch in that moment? I mean, that was a tough catch that he made; that was a big one for us. That was probably the reason that we were able to get down there and win.”
Somehow, someway, using his full collection of pass-catchers to the tune of a career-high 68 passes on the night, Mahomes and the Chiefs willed their way to victory.
It was not pretty, but the best teams win when they don’t have their best night. That was an understatement for the Chiefs against the Titans.
“You have to be able to win a game like that,” said Reid. “Where everything just isn’t perfect and your emotions are up and down. You got to fight through that, persevere through that and be able to rally. Some of these guys step up and rally.
“We were so close on so many plays — and rather than get frustrated, step up and let’s go.”