The Kansas City Chiefs took care of business on Saturday, defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-20 in the Divisional Round. The Chiefs overcame a mid-game injury to soon-to-be NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes in order to get it done.
Another playoff victory at Arrowhead means there are a lot of Kansas City winners to discuss, so let’s get to it:
Note: Applying the labels “winners” and “losers” is not intended to be a judgment on the talent or character of any of these players. It’s just a simple way to grade their performance in a single game. No disrespect is intended.
Tight end Travis Kelce: Everyone knew the Jaguars struggled to cover tight ends, and that the Chiefs would rely on Kelce in the playoffs. The best tight end in the game delivered in a big way, with a career-high 14 catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns. On seven occasions in which the Chiefs needed to move the chains, Kelce got the first down. He caught touchdowns from both Chiefs quarterbacks and seemed to get open on every single play. This was one of those performances that will be featured on his Hall of Fame highlight reel.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes: Mahomes started hot, with sidearm passes and jump passes en route to a 12-play touchdown drive and the 11-play drive that led to a field goal. But all of Chiefs Kingdom would have a sick feeling when Mahomes had his ankle bent in a way that no ankle should bend. As he hobbled to the sidelines, an animated Mahomes argued that he shouldn’t be taken out of the game. After running back on the field in a lot of pain, he tried to close out the second quarter but was forced to go to the locker room for X-rays. However, was there ever a doubt he’d be leading this offense again after halftime? Mahomes — on one leg — outplayed Trevor Lawrence and willed his team to victory in the Divisional Round. Soon, we’ll have to worry about what his injury means for the rest of the playoffs. For now, appreciate the gritty toughness of your MVP quarterback.
Running back Isiah Pacheco: With an ailing MVP quarterback and a little-used backup, the Chiefs had to be able to run the ball effectively to beat the Jaguars. The rookie delivered in a big way, going over 100 total yards and averaging 7.9 yards per carry. When Mahomes had to leave the game and Chad Henne was backed up on the 2-yard line, it was Pacheco who picked up 54 yards on the drive, including an explosive 39-yard run to set up a score that would be the difference in the game.
EDGE Frank Clark: Playoff Frank is back! With a sack of Trevor Lawrence, Clark tied Reggie White for fourth all-time in postseason sacks (12). But that wasn’t the only play that Clark made this week. He dominated Walker Little, putting him on the ground on a couple of occasions (including one that got him a tripping penalty) and had a big tackle for loss. But we really knew that the playoffs had begun when Clark went on NFL Network after the game and was asked who he wanted to play next week. Clark’s response?
“I don’t really give a damn, bring them all on.”
Defensive tackle Chris Jones: We’re all rooting for Chris Jones to get his first playoff sack(s), just to break the unlikely streak. Unfortunately, the streak continues for at least one more week, but Jones was still a difference-maker with six pressures and a big tackle in the run game. Sack Nation is a huge factor in keeping this run alive, and they collectively were able to get enough pressure on Lawrence this week to keep him uncomfortable and to make plays on defense.
Specialists Harrison Butker and Tommy Townsend: Harrison Butker has been the cause of some stress for Chiefs fans heading into the postseason, but he’s a significant part of the reason they won this week. Butker was perfect on the day, hitting all three extra points and two field goals — both from 50 yards away. He also made a critical touchdown-saving tackle on a kick return on a huge day for Jaguars’ kick returner. Tommy Townsend showed why he was named an All-Pro, booming his four punts and flipping the field for the Chiefs. Not to mention — a clean job holding for Butker.
Quarterback Chad Henne: He’s the guy we only want to see in garbage time, but Chad Henne was great in relief of Mahomes this week. Going 5 of 7 for 23 yards and a touchdown doesn’t sound like he made a huge impact. But, Henne led a 98-yard touchdown drive to ensure the Chiefs maintained a lead going into halftime. Not many backup quarterbacks could orchestrate that drive with their back to the end zone in a playoff game. But, with Chad, Hennething is possible.
Cornerback Jaylen Watson: The whole Chiefs secondary deserves some credit for their performance against Jacksonville, but the game essentially ended with a spectacular one-handed interception by rookie Jaylen Watson. Consistent with the theme of the season, this group of young defenders is growing up together and making plays in big moments. On this day, it was Watson coming through with the clutch turnover.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo: Many thought that Spagnuolo had some tricks in the bag for the playoffs, and it appears he called a masterful game against the Jaguars, creating blitzes and constant pressure on the Jacksonville offense.
The Chiefs' offensive line: A lot of Chiefs twitter was quick to blame Orlando Brown Jr. for the injury to Mahomes, but looking at the offensive performance as a whole, we should be giving a lot of credit to the entire offensive line. The Chiefs ran for 144 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and allowed no quarterback sacks. That’s a solid day at the office for the line that really had to step up after Mahomes went down.
The third-and-1 offense: A blemish on the record for the offensive line was the Chiefs' inability to convert on third down with one yard to gain. In the second half with a one-score lead, the Chiefs went three-and-out when Noah Gray couldn’t pick up a yard on the tight end sneak. Then, with a chance to really drain the clock in the fourth quarter, Pacheco was stuffed for no gain on another third-and-1. It was a problem all season, and it certainly made this game closer than it had to be.
Running back Jerick McKinnon: The hot streak ended for McKinnon, as he averaged only 2.3 yards per carry and didn’t catch a pass on Saturday. It wasn’t all bad for “Jet,” as we’d be remiss not to mention his solid work in pass protection as always. There will be other opportunities, but it was a very quiet Divisional Round.
Kickoff and punt coverage units: Dave Toub has to feel like he’s playing whack-a-mole with the special teams' issues. Finally, he got a clean performance out of his field goal and extra point kicking units. Unfortunately, the kickoff and punt coverages — which had been stellar all season — gave up several huge returns to Jamal Agnew of the Jaguars. Twice on kickoffs, Agnew nearly went the distance. That could have turned the outcome of this game.