Multiple Kansas City Chiefs players, including Mahomes, said they relished the fact that this year’s postseason forced them to play on the road. After spending so many championship Sundays at Arrowhead Stadium, they had to play Josh Allen in Buffalo and Lamar Jackson in Baltimore. Las Vegas sportsbooks considered them to be underdogs in both games.
They might very well be underdogs in Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas on Feb. 11, too. And if they are, the mentality is clear: So be it.
“There were so many doubters, but it is hard to doubt (Mahomes). It’s hard to doubt (Reid),” [safety Deon Bush] said. “We’ve got Hall of Famers in the building, and we have a bunch of character people. We worked hard and we always believed. We never doubted ourselves at all.”
There stands tight end Travis Kelce, donning a sweat-soaked T-shirt, with a succinct message for his teammates that he wants to make sure every last one of them hears through the noise.
“When they doubted us,” he says, before moving toward a cluster of teammates. “Nobody,” he says, clapping the hand of lineman Trey Smith.
“(Bleeping),” Kelce says, smacking red the palm of spot-start lineman Nick Allegretti.
“Stopped,” Kelce says, which brings him to the locker of receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
The march down the line takes a brief pause, and Kelce pulls Valdes-Scantling closer. “You didn’t (bleeping) stop,” he says.
We’d hear his buzzword — doubt — again in a walk-off message from Jones at the lectern.
“Ya’ll doubted us,” Kelce said. “We didn’t doubt it.”
The Chiefs wanted to make their post-game talk all about the non-believers — because they believe the proverbial outsiders provided them that motivation. That, however, is only tangentially representative of their most compelling story.
Which is this: They were at their worst this season — we didn’t imagine that — but yet here they stand anyway.
And if you can’t get them at their worst, or their most vulnerable, when will you ever?
1. Defense wins
The Chiefs took a tougher path to the Super Bowl than they ever have.
But they also took an unconventional one: on the backs of their defense.
Mahomes dominated the first half — and particularly the first quarter — but the defense dominated all four quarters.
Same as they have all season.
They turned last week’s blip against the Bills into just that — a blip — and bossed an offense that ranked among the top-five in most categories this season.
They turned the Ravens over three times, twice on plays near the end zone.
It has been a bit of a culture shock to recognize the defense is as responsible for why the Chiefs are where they are as the offense, even if it’s just on occasion. Or a lot of occasions. Heck, Mahomes at one point this year even remarked, “We can punt.”
If you’re on the Baltimore side of this, you might be pointing at the play-calling, and frankly, there is a point of confusion. Against a Chiefs defense that has one real weakness — stopping the run — the Ravens called for five handoffs through three quarters.
The offense struggled to do anything against the Chiefs defense and two turnovers in the end zone was too much to overcome. The Ravens were in position to make it a three-point game early in the fourth quarter, but rookie receiver Zay Flowers had the ball stripped while he dove for a touchdown.
Jackson would add an interception into triple coverage, that took away an option to kick a field goal to make it a one-possession game. The offense would outgain the Chiefs, but the turnovers were the difference in the game.
“Offense, we put nothing on the board, we scored once — that’s not like us, you know?” Jackson said. “You drill the ball down the field, that’s cool, but we’ve got to put points on the board. I feel like my team’s just angry, not frustrated, because we know how hard we worked to get here.”
“We had a couple opportunities to score down there that we didn’t get the touchdowns, and it really was a defensive struggle, if you step back and look at the whole game, and they were able to score points and we weren’t,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said in the postgame news conference.
Kansas City didn’t score after the half. They led 17-7 in the fourth quarter. Jackson threw to Zay Flowers, and that looked like an end-zone touchdown. Instead, though, it was a turnover as Flowers had the ball knocked from his hands at the goal line. Kansas City recovered it.
That attempt to score was thwarted, and the hits just kept on coming. Again, Flowers was in position to make a touchdown but his pass to the end zone was picked off by Deon Bush—the third of three Ravens turnovers. Turnovers and penalties tell the tale. It was one of the worst games the Ravens played this year.
“I was proud of them. I was proud of the season that they had,” Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said. “I don’t think it was a team that was too highly touted coming into this season by pundits and prognosticators and all that, and I think they proved a lot of people wrong all year. The message is, you know, eyes straight ahead your chin up your chest out, and understand what you did accomplish, and I’m proud of them.”
[Former Ravens wide receiver Qadry Ismail] said he noticed how Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes never got rattled and simply kept making the necessary plays for his team to get the victory.
“Let’s give credit. Patrick Mahomes put on a masterclass,” [WJZ’s Mark Viviano] said. “There’s a reason why he’s probably Hall of Fame worthy already.”
Jackson talked about winning a Super Bowl all season and will have to wait at least another season. However, the Ravens’ franchise quarterback said he wouldn’t allow this postseason defeat to discourage him moving forward.
“I’m very proud of my team,” Jackson said. “We made it all the way to this point. One game away from the Super Bowl, we fell short. Nobody thought we were going to be in this position. But we were. Next time we’ve just got to finish.”
“When you have a player like Lamar, 30 years from now we’ll speak of Lamar Jackson’s name,” wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. “The greats have all been through tough times. I don’t think this will going to stop him from wanting to get to his ultimate goal. If anything, he’s going to work even harder. I just felt like it was his time, but sometimes things happen in life and it doesn’t go the way you planned. It’s about what you do from here.”
Around the NFL
The 49ers will head back to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years following their 34-31 win over the Lions, overcoming a 17-point halftime deficit to do so. It wasn’t the biggest comeback in franchise history — and not even the biggest playoff comeback for the 49ers — but it will go down as one of their most memorable.
And they couldn’t have done it without [quarterback Brock Purdy’s] second half.
“Just the feeling of redemption, coming back, it’s huge,” Purdy said in his post-game news conference. “To see the clock hit zero and you’re up, it was special to all of us.”
The Lions took control of the game early with a scalding offensive attack, rushing for three touchdowns while building a 24-7 halftime lead. Purdy and the 49ers, meanwhile, were stuck in neutral. After a missed field goal on their first drive, the Niners drove 75 yards for a score, but a bad interception under pressure by Purdy led to the Lions’ third TD of the half.
Purdy was 7-of-15 passing for 93 yards, with a TD and an INT in the first half, struggling to push the ball down the field, all while the Lions scored on four of their five possessions. Even with the 49ers getting the ball first to start the second half, things weren’t looking great. Then again, they weren’t looking so hot last week against the Packers.
Alex Van Pelt previously held the job in Cleveland when head coach Kevin Stefanski was hired ahead of the 2020 season. The Browns parted ways with Van Pelt following his third season at the helm.
Dorsey gets another shot as an OC in the NFL after being fired by the Bills midway through 2023. In 28 games under Dorsey, the Bills continued to put up yards and points, but their offensive inconsistencies to begin the season led to a change that saw Buffalo win six of its last seven games to reach the playoffs.
The Browns persevered through multiple injuries on the offensive side of the ball to earn a postseason berth in 2023, but the offense struggled in a 45-14 blowout loss to the Houston Texans during Super Wild Card Round.
Dorsey is expected to have a fully healthy quarterback in Deshaun Watson in 2023 after the Browns QB suffered a season-sending shoulder injury in Week 9. It was one of several season-ending losses for the Browns, who also lost running back Nick Chubb and both starting tackles during the 2023 season.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
The Chiefs are in Super Bowl LVIII because the defense put together a masterful performance against a very good offense in Baltimore. The Ravens only managed 81 rushing yards — and only converted three of the 11 third downs they faced.
It started with Kansas City’s physical coverage. The back seven did not allow much space with which the Baltimore receivers could work. That led to quarterback Lamar Jackson holding onto the ball and letting the pressure affect him. He was sacked four times — each time by a different Chiefs defender.
Defensive end Charles Omenihu’s was perhaps the biggest. After the Chiefs built the 14-7 lead, he came around the edge of Jackson’s blind side, tomahawk-chopping his pass and setting up a turnover. From the opposite side, defensive end George Karlaftis used a speed rush to get his own sack late in the game, helping to stop a Ravens comeback. Defensive tackle Chris Jones also ended a drive with a batted pass.