Fifty years and one week ago, the Chiefs won their first (and only) Super Bowl championship. In the half century since, Kansas City has never returned—until now. On Sunday, the Chiefs earned the right to return to football’s grandest stage. Kansas City defeated the Tennessee Titans 35-24 on Sunday, sending the team to Super Bowl LIV on February 2. One more win could launch Patrick Mahomes into living legend status, redefine Andy Reid’s legacy, and bring the Chiefs franchise full circle a half-century after their last championship.
On Sunday, Mahomes added another page to the second chapter of what will be a damn good book. Unlike most of Mahomes’s career, he impressed on Sunday with his legs. Mahomes ran six times for 56 yards (9.3 yards per rush) in this game, excluding two kneel downs, almost as much as Derrick Henry’s 69 yards on 19 carries for the Titans. But the Mahomes run everyone will remember was the one that gave the team the lead for good. Mahomes had his Michael Jordan moment with 23 seconds left in the first half. His 27-yard scramble became a scamper-turned-sideline-tip-toe act with a spin and—wait, he scored!?!
Patrick Mahomes with the RUN OF HIS CAREER! pic.twitter.com/0MkGBulSwb— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) January 19, 2020
Kansas City’s comeback from a 24-0 deficit to take a 28-24 lead over the Texans in the first half last week—the fastest comeback of that size in NFL history—was the more outstanding game. But this play was more memorable than any individual play last week. The Chiefs’ comeback from a 10-0 first-quarter deficit to take a 21-17 lead at halftime was punctuated by this play from this player, creating a legendary moment for what could be a legendary title run and a legendary career.
Mahomes’s scrambling broke Tennessee’s defense. The last time these teams played in Week 10, Mahomes was playing his first game back from a dislocated kneecap. He didn’t rush once in that game. On Sunday, the first play Reid called was a run play designed for Mahomes, a signal of how differently this game would go. The Titans’ bend-don’t-break defense was already being stretched by the speed of receiver Tyreek Hill and route-running of tight end Travis Kelce, and Mahomes’s running added pressure that made the team snap.
He wasn’t the only one rushing. Running back Damien Williams added 17 carries for 45 yards to bleed the clock late. Williams had one rushing touchdown, giving him nine touchdowns in his first five career playoff games, tied for the most ever. The Chiefs’ speed wrecked the Titans, but on defense the Chiefs nearly wrecked themselves. Kansas City had nine penalties for 61 yards, including cornerback Bashaud Breeland’s pass interference penalty on third-and-22 that kept a Titans drive alive in the red zone, which Tennessee turned into a touchdown. Kansas City also had a number of offsides/encroachment penalties from trying to guess the Titans’ snap count, perhaps overconfident from snap count information given to defensive end Frank Clark by his agent.
The Chiefs overcame those mistakes on defense because Mahomes was virtually flawless. The former MVP completed 23 of 35 throws for 294 yards (8.4 yards per attempt), three touchdowns, and no turnovers. His 12 incompletions were either throwaways, drops by his receivers, or passes that hit his own players in the back because they didn’t know the right play. Mahomes accounted for four Chiefs touchdowns and played even better than his numbers indicate.
Mahomes will be heading to the Super Bowl in his second season as a starter. Last year, he became the youngest MVP since Dan Marino, who made the Super Bowl in his second season with the Miami Dolphins. This year, Mahomes will be the fifth-youngest Super Bowl starter ever (Marino was the youngest). Mahomes will be playing Super Bowl LIV at the Dolphins’ stadium in Miami Gardens. Marino’s Dolphins infamously never made the Super Bowl again, but the Chiefs don’t need to look at Marino for a reminder that Super Bowl trips are not to be taken for granted. Their 50-year gap between appearances is the longest ever for any NFL team (not including teams that have never made the big game—sorry, Lions and Browns fans). Reid, the former longtime Eagles coach, will be making his first Super Bowl appearance in 15 years, finally getting his second conference-championship win after appearing in the game six times. Reid already has the seventh-most regular-season wins and sixth-most playoff wins of all time, but he’s known as the winningest coach to never win a Super Bowl. A championship would remove the mental asterisk fans apply to his legacy.
The Chiefs captured the AFC trophy, named for the late Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, and the trophy was handed to Hunt’s son Clark, the current team owner, on Sunday. Asked about the accomplishment, Reid was ecstatic. He also was clear. “We love every minute of this,” Reid said on the podium as confetti rained around him. “But it’s not done. It’s not done.”