The Chiefs overcame all adversity to come up with the big win, one made especially sweeter for Chiefs owner, chairman and CEO Clark Hunt, who brings the trophy named after his father back to Kansas City for the third time in five years.
“Congratulations to (head coach) Andy [Reid], our coaching staff, [and] the players on a tremendous performance tonight,” Hunt said during his press conference after the game. “Andy and the guys did a tremendous job and were able to overcome [adversity] and get it done. I also want to mention the fans tonight. They were incredible. I had multiple people mention to me what a great atmosphere this was, how loud it was, and the energy level. Of course, that’s always true of any game here at GEHA Field at Arrowhead, but I thought it was particularly true tonight and getting to celebrate winning the Lamar Hunt Trophy with our fans is very, very special to our family and then to our organization.”
Sunday’s big win served as vindication for Hunt and the Chiefs’ organization. Many questioned the direction of the team after their big offseason move which saw former Chiefs star wide receiver Tyreek Hill traded to the Miami Dolphins for multiple draft picks.
But these draft picks ended up playing a massive role in Sunday’s outcome – much to the delight of Chiefs general manager Brett Veach, who praised this year’s rookie draft class for stepping up during critical moments of the game.
“We didn’t go into the offseason just throwing darts,” Veach told reporters after the game. “We knew we had tough decisions to make, but at the same time, we put together a really good plan and we trusted in our process and we trusted in our coaching staff to lead these young individuals.
“It was crazy tonight to look up and see 35 (CB Jaylen Watson) has an interception, 23 (CB Joshua Williams) has an interception, 6 (S Bryan Cook) has a tip, 24 (WR Skyy Moore) has the punt return, 10 (RB Isiah Pacheco) — he’s been big all year — and (DE) George (Karlaftis) had a sack. The whole crew stepped up, and that’s what you need to do to win these types of games. It’s a long season, you have to have tremendous depth. These guys were amazing all year and they’ll continue to get better.”
Of course, none of this is possible without the leadership and sheer excellence of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Coming into the game with the high-ankle sprain he suffered just a week ago, Mahomes hobbled his way for every yard possible, including a late third-down scramble in which he sacrificed his body on a big hit to help set up the game-winning field goal.
“Andy and I were talking about Patrick earlier in the week, and I mentioned to him that the great ones always find a way to get it done, particularly when they’re facing adversity,” Hunt explained. “And Patrick certainly showed that tonight. Tremendous performance all the way around. Clearly, his ankle didn’t feel very good in the fourth quarter. And the game couldn’t have had a better finishing sequence than having Patrick make that run, get the penalty (that) put us in field goal position that ultimately led to the win. Watching the play, I was like, ‘Well, Superman put his cape on and got it done for us.’”
The night was encapsulated with a victory celebration in front of a raucous
Burrowhead Arrowhead crowd that lived up to its booming reputation all night long. Despite earlier reports of the NFL holding future conference championship games at neutral sites, Hunt believes that the league should stick with its current format so that teams can continue to celebrate with their home crowd.
“I think Andy said it best that we’d be happy to play the game in a McDonald’s parking lot and that was true,” Hunt said. “Andy’s teams are just as good on the road, typically, as they are at home, so it wasn’t something that we shied away from. On the other hand, we were very excited to get to play in front of our great fans. One of the things that I’ve learned over the last five years is how special these championship games are when you get to play them at home and you get to celebrate with your fans.
“And I know that my dad was a proponent at times of taking the AFC and NFC Championship Games to neutral sites, but I think based on our experience, I think it’s best to give the team that earned that right — the chance to play the game at home.”
Looking ahead, Sunday night’s big win officially books the Chiefs’ trip to Phoenix, Arizona, where they will play against the Philadelphia Eagles in this year’s Super Bowl. A lot of the attention will be on Reid, as he faces off against his old team, but this will also be a reunion for Veach, who began his career as an assistant coach and scout for the Eagles in 2004.
Although the Eagles were one of the best teams in the league this season, Veach says he welcomes the challenge that awaits them.
“It’s special and they’re a really good team,” Veach said when asked about the matchup against Philly. “From the start of the season, they came out of the gate and were undefeated. They built that team with a talented quarterback, but their fronts are amazing. Their offensive line is really talented. Their defensive line — it seems like they have 30 guys who can rush the passer. It’s going to be a really tough game.
“As coach would say, ‘We look forward to the challenge.’ It’ll be a lot of fun.”