Travis Kelce remains unstoppable
It doesn’t really matter who’s under center; few players produce so consistently when it matters most. No. 87 was all over the place, working the middle against Jacksonville to the tune of 14 catches for 98 yards and two scores. There’s really not much else to be said other than: Kelce’s presence, with or without an imposing No. 1 receiver drawing attention on the outside, is often enough to keep K.C. moving up and down the field. At 33, he’s still at the top of his game.
2) Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The big question coming into this season was how the Chiefs’ young defense would fare in the postseason. The first answer was something that had to make Spagnuolo beam. His defense forced two critical turnovers in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game that helped Kansas City advance. The first came when middle linebacker Nick Bolton recovered a fumble by Jaguars wide receiver Jamal Agnew at the Chiefs’ 3-yard line with 5:29 remaining in the game. The Chiefs led, 27-17, and a Jaguars score would’ve given Jacksonville ample time to complete their comeback bid. The second huge takeaway came on the next possession, when rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson made a one-handed interception off a pass quarterback Trevor Lawrence tried to complete to Zay Jones. The Jaguars never recovered after that, and they only controlled the ball for about 25 minutes of the contest. If the Chiefs are going to reach the Super Bowl, they’ll need more moments like that from this unit.
Chiefs Showcase Balanced Offensive Attack with Patrick Mahomes Ailing
Meanwhile, backup quarterback Chad Henne engineered a scoring drive that started on Kansas City’s 2-yard line. He threw his first career touchdown pass in the playoffs, which gave the Chiefs a 17-7 lead (after the extra point).
Going into halftime, the Chiefs led 17-10, and Mahomes returned in the third quarter, but he clearly favored his ankle. He still led a touchdown drive midway through the final quarter, showing he’s capable of delivering pinpoint passes on one leg. The MVP candidate went 22-of-30 passing for 195 yards and two touchdowns.
Nonetheless, we should take note of the Chiefs’ play-calling with Mahomes hurt for most of the game. Kansas City ran the ball 30 times for 144 yards. Rookie seventh-rounder Isiah Pacheco led the charge on the ground with 95 yards on 12 rush attempts.
Agnew caught a pass from Trevor Lawrence, turned to go upfield towards the endzone and lost the ball in transition. Agnew issued an apology on social media after the game.
Wish I could have that one back, I let this team down no doubt! BUT that one play won’t define me. Damn proud of what this team was able to accomplish. Hell of a run! This one hurts, but we’ll be back. Appreciate you rocking with us all year DUUUVAL. Love!— Mal (@jamalagnew) January 22, 2023
It was a rough fumble for Agnew in a critical moment, but it’s hard after sleeping on it to pin everything on that one play. The Jaguars had a lot of missed opportunities on Saturday evening, but the game played out very similar to how their first meeting with the Chiefs went, failing to capitalize on some critical chances.
Coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Trevor Lawrence agree that shouldn’t be the case any longer.
Winning division titles and competing for a spot in the conference championship game and Super Bowl should be the baseline, they say, for the franchise going forward.
“We worked so hard to get here, and nobody thought we were going to be here, and we had our shot — and that’s what hurts,” Lawrence said Saturday night after the 27-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. “We’ll be back. I’m confident in that. This is more the beginning than it is the end of something.
“This is just getting started for us. We got a taste of it, and guys are already hungry to get this opportunity again.”
Around the NFL
Defense reigns in Santa Clara. As they’ve said for decades, defense wins championships, and San Francisco’s top-ranked unit stood tall Sunday. San Francisco forced two Dak Prescott turnovers and held Dallas under 300 yards of total offense while also denying the Cowboys on 10 of 15 third-down attempts. The low-scoring affair didn’t produce a ton of fireworks, but there were highlights sprinkled throughout the game, starting with Deommodore Lenoir’s perfectly timed interception of Prescott, leading to the 49ers’ first points of the game. CeeDee Lamb found success (10 catches for 117 yards), but Dallas struggled to get anything going on the ground, finishing with 76 yards produced by a group that sorely missed Tony Pollard after he exited with an ugly ankle injury. San Francisco’s defense harassed Prescott all game, recording 17 combined pressures between Samson Ebukam (seven), Nick Bosa (six) and Arik Armstead (four). Each accounted for a turnover caused by pressure, and Ebukam was responsible for San Francisco’s lone sack. Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is attracting a lot of attention for head coaching openings for good reason. He’s proven to be an excellent coordinator who has this defense playing at an elite level at the perfect time of year. It proved to be the difference Sunday.
As the Cincinnati Bengals walked back up the tunnel in Highmark Stadium following Sunday’s 27-10 win over the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round of the playoffs, several players stressed that any of the 50,000 people who snagged presale tickets for a potential game between the Bills and Kansas City Chiefs should seek a refund.
“There was not no stress about that at all, man,” Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase said. “Just proving people wrong, the NFL doing stuff like that for the Bills to go to the Super Bowl. They trying to make it seem like we’re not ready. So we just came in here and proved it. That’s all.”
Although no one seems to have any idea where Brady might end up next season, Julian Edelman did offer a prediction on where Brady WON’T be landing. During this week’s episode of “Inside the NFL,” which airs exclusively on Paramount+, the former Patriots receiver said there’s no way Brady is going to return to the place where he’s spent the past three years.
“If he has another season, it’s not going to be in Tampa Bay,” Edelman said.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
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.
A tweet to make you think
The AFC Championship Game would have been held at a neutral site for Bills-Chiefs.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 22, 2023
Joe Burrow made sure that wasn’t the case. pic.twitter.com/6zGr1N1bSu