Many of us believed that the Kansas City Chiefs would easily defeat the Tennessee Titans on Sunday night. My score prediction was Chiefs 35, Titans 17. I'll take partial credit for nailing the Titans' score. But offensively, I was way off.
Fans love when the Chiefs are firing on all cylinders on offense, hitting big play after big play and looking like an offensive juggernaut that's unstoppable. Outside of a missed extra point by Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker, the Chiefs looked just that — unstoppable on the first two drives to take an early 9-0 lead through the beginning of the second quarter.
From the second quarter to midway through the third, the Titans would go on a 17-0 scoring run behind the legs of running back Derrick Henry and rookie quarterback Malik Willis. The Chiefs' offense looked out of sync and uncomfortable. The Titans consistently got pressure without blitzing and won up front against the Chiefs' offensive line all night. On the defensive side of the ball, it looked to be another week of the defense struggling to stop the run.
The ordinarily loud Arrowhead crowd was quiet. It was as if the fans couldn't figure out how a game that started so promising had turned so quickly. The game had turned gritty and ugly, which tends to favor the style of Titans head coach Mike Vrabel.
The turning point
With over nine minutes left in the third quarter, the Chiefs looked to be putting it together offensively but stalled out at the Titans' 29-yard line. Butker's 47-yarder was no good. The kicking woes that have been hurting the Chiefs all season continued.
As the Chiefs' offense sputtered the next two drives, their defense came alive, holding the Titans' offense to 12 total yards on their next three possessions. While the defense started to come alive, so did the crowd.
On a third-and-9 with just under 11 minutes left in the fourth, Willis took the shotgun snap and quickly threw a short pass left to running back Dontrell Hilliard. Chiefs second-year linebacker Nick Bolton came flying in and laid a huge hit dropping Hillard for a loss of four yards. And there it was: the spark the Chiefs needed.
On the next drive, an incomplete pass followed by a sack for a loss of seven yards left the Chiefs facing third-and-17 with 7:11 left on the clock. The Chiefs were running out of time to turn things around.
Facing a third down with that distance seemed almost impossible to convert. But the impossible seems to be where quarterback Patrick Mahomes finds comfort.
Mahomes took the snap, dropped back and went through his progressions. No one was open; the pressure started to come, so he bailed right. The Titans were in man-to-man coverage, so all defensive backs and linebackers backs were turned chasing their assignments in coverage. Mahomes took off, and suddenly, what looked like a broken play turned into a 20-yard gain and a first down for the Chiefs.
Four plays later, the Chiefs had first-and-10 at the Titans15. Then, facing third-and-9 at the 14-yard line. With the Chiefs pass-catchers covered on third down, Mahomes bailed right and took it up the sideline for a 14-yard touchdown run. At 17-15, the Chiefs need a two-point conversion to tie the game.
On his third try (due to penalties), Mahomes took off, running in the conversion. The game would eventually go into overtime, and the rest is history.
The bottom line
Good players make great plays. But great players make great plays when everything is on the line, and all odds are against them.
Mahomes ended the game with 68 pass attempts, completing 43 for 446 yards. But it wasn't his arm that won the game for the Chiefs. When nothing seemed to be clicking, and the team needed him the most, he reminded everyone why he is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.
He took over, put the team on his back and, with pure determination, willed his team to a game-tying touchdown and, ultimately, a victory with his legs. Although it was not pretty, and no one saw the Chiefs winning in this fashion, in the words of head coach Andy Reid after the game, "You have to be able to win a game like that."
And now, with the Buffalo Bills' loss, a first-round bye is suddenly feasible once again.