Final Score: Kansas City Chiefs 27, Jacksonville Jaguars 20
There’s really only one place to start offensively: the sad reality that Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes is dealing with a visibly painful high ankle sprain. It changed the game — because it changed Mahomes’ capacity to make plays. But when it had to be done, Mahomes stepped up and sealed the game with a touchdown throw to wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Early on, left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. struggled tremendously — ultimately setting the stage for Mahomes’ injury. He and the rest of the offensive line settled down in the second half, but the physical damage had already been done. Brown has to be better. It’s make or break.
Tight end Travis Kelce once again added to his Hall of Fame resume by breaking the all-time record for receptions in a playoff game by a tight end, finishing with 14 catches, 98 yards and two touchdowns. Much like Mahomes before his injury, Kelce elevates his game even further in the playoffs. It’s what makes the two of them so special.
All eyes now turn to Mahomes’ ankle. The soon-to-be named MVP says he will be good to go for the AFC title game — and it seems like he is almost certain to play. But at what level? The Chiefs need him to feel much better than he did on Saturday.
Offensive Player of the Game: Quarterback Chad Henne
When the longtime veteran’s best was needed, he delivered — and not for the first time in a Kansas City playoff game. Henne led a 98-yard touchdown drive when the energy throughout the stadium was as dull as could be. Tight end Travis Kelce and starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes would also have been excellent choices — but it is time to give Henne his due.
To find the difference between the win or loss tonight, you need look no further than turnovers. The Chiefs surrendered 349 total yards at 5.8 yards per play, while Jacksonville gave up a similar 362 yards at 5.4 yards per play. But Kansas City came up with two crucial fourth-quarter turnovers. The Jaguars had none.
On special teams, Jacksonville wide receiver and kick returner Jamycal Agnew made the Chiefs miserable — but he returned the favor by committing a self-induced fumble inside Kansas City’s own 5-yard line that ended a critical drive. On the following Jacksonville possession, quarterback Trevor Lawrence heaved a pass up the right sideline that rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson intercepted.
The pass rush had some good moments, but seemed less active than most of us would have expected. Where the Chiefs excelled most was the part of the defense that analysts questioned most: the secondary.
Kansas City’s young defensive backs were getting their hands on the football throughout the game. Safeties Juan Thornhill and Bryan Cook both made plays at the catch point, while cornerbacks L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie also had positive moments going up against a really solid set of receivers.
In the AFC Championship, both potential opponents have different strengths. While the Cincinnati Bengals’ weapons are more intimidating than those of the Buffalo Bills — and both offensive lines are far from great — the Chiefs will have a good shot to win if they can play sound, disciplined football.
Defensive Player of the Game: Defensive end Frank Clark
Clark added yet another playoff sack to his career resume, moving him to a tie with all-time great Reggie White for fourth-most playoff sacks. Clark made a few other noticeable plays, helping the defense close out a really nice game with turnovers. His continued ascension is something to monitor. Sacking Joe Burrow or Josh Allen next weekend would be huge.