Sammy Watkins outraces defense for 60-yard touchdown.
After Kansas City had forced another Tennessee punt, Patrick Mahomes and Sammy Watkins broke this game wide open with a 60-yard bomb of a touchdown pass in which Watkins outran the entire Tennessee defense and Mahomes threw deep across the field to find the speedy wide receiver. To add insult to injury, Tennessee was called for holding on the play in which they fell behind, 35-17.
The drive had been fairly nondescript ahead of the deep pass, which came on third-and-6 from Kansas City’s 40-yard line. And with just 7:33 remaining in the game, it seems like an absolutely backbreaker for a Titans team that mostly relies on grinding out games with the run.
Damien Williams extends Kansas City’s lead.
Think the Chiefs are just a passing team? Think again. Kansas City ran the ball nine times for 51 yards, contributing the bulk of the yardage on a 73-yard drive early in the fourth quarter before Damien Williams’s 3-yard touchdown that extended the Chiefs’ lead, 28-17.
The drive was a mix of handoffs to Williams and Darwin Thompson and scrambles in which Mahomes read the coverage and decided to keep the ball himself. For Williams, it was his fourth touchdown of this postseason.
The Titans led by 10 at two points in the game, but now trail by 11.
Kansas City cold could be an issue in the fourth quarter.
It’s 19 degrees in Kansas City, and it will only get colder with the sun going down at the start of the fourth quarter. The Chiefs are leading, 28-17, to start the fourth quarter after a scoreless third.
The weather does not particularly favor either team, as Kansas City is used to it and Tennessee’s run-heavy approach is weather agnostic, though deep passes to A.J. Brown may be problematic.
A slower start to the third quarter.
It seemed like every drive of the first half ended in a scoring play — only two didn’t — but the third quarter began with consecutive punts. The latest came by way of the Chiefs getting a huge stop on third-and-10 when safety Daniel Sorensen absolutely flattened Ryan Tannehill four yards short of converting on a run in which Tannehill had been showing off his underrated wheels.
Kansas City had given the ball back to Tennessee fairly quickly despite having the opening drive of the half extended by way of a successful challenge in which it was shown that Sammy Watkins was in-bounds on a crucial third-down catch. The drive fizzled five plays later when Patrick Mahomes’s pass to Tyreek Hill fell incomplete on a third-and-10 from Kansas City’s 47-yard line.
Can Henry wear down the Chiefs?
Derrick Henry averaged 188.5 yards rushing in the first two games of the playoffs, wearing down New England’s and Baltimore’s defenses with his bruising running style. Henry did much of his damage against the Patriots in the first half, and simply ran over the Ravens in the second half.
The Chiefs today moved many of its defenders up near the line of scrimmage to help shut down Henry — with mixed results. His 62 yards on 16 carries in the first half resulted in one touchdown and allowed the Titans to control the time of possession, limiting the time on the field for the explosive Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. But Mahomes made the most of his opportunities, giving the Chiefs the lead late in the first half. Expect Tennessee to do more of the same in the second half, relying on Henry to eat up yards and eat up time.
Patrick Mahomes’s touchdown run changed the game’s momentum.
Patrick Mahomes capped Kansas City’s 86-yard drive by thundering into the end zone himself.
Game slipping away from Titans at halftime.
It was a wild first half in Kansas City, with Tennessee largely being able to do what it wanted on offense. Yet the Titans still went into halftime trailing, 21-17.
The Titans got 62 rushing yards and a touchdown from Derrick Henry, and 120 passing yards and a touchdown from Ryan Tannehill, which helped them build leads of 10-0 and 17-7. But Kansas City didn’t relent after punting on its first possession, following that with touchdowns on its next three.
Patrick Mahomes is up to 172 passing yards and 36 rushing yards, and has exploited the Titans’ secondary thanks to the speed of Tyreek Hill, who has 52 yards and two touchdowns.
The Titans only failed to score on one full possession — beyond a kneel-down with seven seconds left in the half — and dominated time of possession with 19:08 to Kansas City’s 10:52. But the game was clearly slipping away from them at the end of the first half, and Kansas City getting the ball to start the second half won’t help.
The saving grace for Tennessee is that the team has typically finished games far stronger than it started, with the run-heavy strategy centered around Henry to wear teams down creating opportunities for Tannehill.
Patrick Mahomes’s run gives Kansas City its first lead.
Patrick Mahomes pulled off a run that looked like something from the Lamar Jackson playbook, stepping out of two tackles, racing down the sideline and fighting through traffic at the goal line for a 27-yard touchdown. After having trailed, 10-0, at one point, the Kansas City Chiefs are leading the Titans, 21-17.
The Chiefs are truly rolling, going 86 yards on nine plays after getting the ball back just after the two-minute warning. The drive had been set up when the Chiefs’ defense finally came up with a great stretch of plays, forcing a three-and-out. While Tennessee will get one more brief possession in this half, Kansas City will receive the ball to start the second half.
Kelly is the heaviest player to catch a postseason touchdown pass.
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed a 1-yard touchdown pass to tackle Dennis Kelly to put Tennessee ahead, 17-7, early in the second quarter.
Chiefs quickly answer with Tyreek Hill’s second touchdown.
No one answers a scoring drive better than Patrick Mahomes, and the Chiefs quarterback kept his team squarely in this game by following the Titans’ latest touchdown by going 63 yards on just five plays. He hit wide receiver Tyreek Hill with a 20-yard touchdown pass in which Hill barely seemed to be covered by Tennessee.
Mahomes is having no problem with the Titans’ underwhelming pass defense so far. He has completed 9 of 13 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
Titans take advantage of penalty to extend lead.
Tennessee was handed a huge gift in the form of a pass interference penalty against Kansas City on a third-and-22 play, and that was just the boost the Titans needed to finish off a 75-yard drive, culminating with Ryan Tannehill completing a 1-yard touchdown pass to tackle Dennis Kelly, who had been declared an eligible receiver in the jumbo package. Tennessee now leads, 17-7, early in the second quarter.
The biggest play of the drive — beyond the touchdown pass to the 6-foot-8, 321-pound Kelly — was the long third-down conversion attempt in which Tannehill completed a pass to Corey Davis that was 12 yards short of a first down. Kansas City was flagged for interference on the play, giving Tennessee a short field and a first down. From there it seemed like just a matter of time until the Titans scored. The drive took 9 minutes 7 seconds of clock time, which is huge considering Tennessee’s best bet to win is keeping Patrick Mahomes off the field.
Titans lead, 10-7, at end of first quarter.
At the end of the first quarter, this game has been as exciting as Las Vegas expected when setting an aggressive over/under at 52.5 points. The Titans moved down the field with ease on their first two drives, and Kansas City, after a slow start, looked electric on its second chance with the ball.
Going into the second quarter, Tennessee has the ball, a distinct advantage in both total yards and time of possession, and a 10-7 lead. Derrick Henry has 32 rushing yards on eight carries and Ryan Tannehill, who was held to fewer than 100 passing yards in each of his first two playoff games, is already at 83.
Tyreek Hill put the Chiefs on the board with a touchdown catch.
Kansas City waited until they were behind, 24-0, to come alive last week, but was spurred into action with just a 10-point deficit this week. The team went 74 yards on 10 plays, scoring when Tyreek Hill took a short pass from Patrick Mahomes in the backfield and raced around the left corner for a 8-yard touchdown, narrowing the Titans’ lead to 10-7.
Just like Tennessee, Kansas City showed some aggressiveness by eschewing the kicking game and going for a conversion on fourth-and-2 from Tennessee’s 28-yard line. They converted with a 4-yard pass from Mahomes to Travis Kelce. The Titans have been sending quite a bit of pressure early, but Mahomes has held strong, and managed to evade a sack to complete a crucial 26-yard pass to Tyreek Hill, who showed some awareness by coming back to the ball and trapping it just before it hit the turf.
The Chiefs used their first timeout on the drive, and Tennessee had a brief delay of game when linebacker Rashaan Evans had to come off the field with an injury.
Titans extend lead with Henry’s touchdown run.
Derrick Henry took a direct snap and plowed his way into the end zone on a 4-yard run, giving the Titans an early 10-0 lead. The run was the culmination of a 58-yard drive in which Tennessee rolled the dice on a fourth-and-2 play from Kansas City’s 29-yard line rather than attempt a long field goal.
The drive, which followed a three-and-out from Kansas City’s offense, had begun with two strong runs by Henry, which gained a total of 16 yards. Ryan Tannehill then got away with a rare mistake when cornerback Bashaud Breeland stepped in front of a pass for a play that was initially called an interception, but was ruled incomplete following a review. A few penalties, a few more runs, and the huge fourth down pass from Tannehill to wide receiver Adam Humphries let the Titans score fairly easily.
Titans take 3-0 lead with rare field goal.
After a promising opening drive stalled out, the Titans got an early lead with a 30-yard field goal by Greg Joseph, giving them an early 3-0 lead. The team had not made a field goal since Week 13.
Tennessee had looked far different on its first drive than it did in the last two weeks. On the second play of the game, Ryan Tannehill made a point about his passing ability by throwing long to rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown, who cut through defenders for a 37-yard gain. Two plays later, he picked up a second first down with a 12-yard catch-and-run to Corey Davis. The team did not get much traction with running back Derrick Henry, but his style lends itself more to wearing teams down rather than big gains early in the day.
Chris Jones will be active for Chiefs.
Chris Jones was not on Kansas City’s final injury report heading into the game, and is expected to be active. The defensive tackle missed last week’s win over Houston with a calf injury, but had a breakout season in 2019, earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Jones led the team with nine sacks, and could be key in helping slow down Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, but he had to pass a pregame workout to be declared active. The Chiefs are also expecting tight end Travis Kelce to play through a lingering knee injury. Running back LeSean McCoy is inactive for the Chiefs, and Kansas City’s biggest absence is one they knew of in advance: rookie safety Juan Thornhill, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Week 17.
Tennessee, meanwhile, had several key players on its injury report heading into today, but linebacker Jayon Brown (who missed last weekend’s game with a shoulder injury) and wide receiver Adam Humphries (who has not played since Week 13) will be active.
Head coaches have plenty of conference championship experience.
The head coaches of the Titans and Chiefs are no strangers to conference championships. Coach Andy Reid has led Kansas City to the A.F.C. championship game in each of the last two seasons and previously led the Philadelphia Eagles to the N.F.C. championship game five times in 14 seasons — winning once. As a Green Bay assistant from 1992 to 1997, he went to the N.F.C. championship three times, winning twice.
Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel is in the A.F.C. championship game for the first time as a head coach, but he regularly advanced to the game as a player. He played for a shot at a Super Bowl appearance as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers following the 1997 season — losing to John Elway’s Denver Broncos — and with the New England Patriots, where he played in the conference championship five times over a span of eight seasons, winning four times.
Damien Williams views the Chiefs as underdogs.
Kansas City has a whole host of skill players, but an interesting one to watch in this game will be running back Damien Williams, who was expected to play a secondary role to LeSean McCoy this season but emerged as the team’s more explosive option. Williams had 124 rushing yards in Kansas City’s bye-week-clinching win over the Chargers in Week 17, and while he had just 68 yards from scrimmage in the divisional round, he scored three touchdowns.
Williams had 109 yards from scrimmage against Tennessee in Week 10, but had a fumble returned for a touchdown. As a result, he is not buying into the narrative that Kansas City is a huge favorite. “The type of person I am, I can’t have somebody beat up on me and then come to my house and then think they’re going to beat up on me again,” he said to reporters on Thursday. “People are looking at them as the underdogs but I feel we’re the underdogs right now. They’ve already got one up on us.”
Las Vegas expects a high-scoring game.
Don’t let Tennessee’s focus on the run fool you: All indications ahead of this game are that it could easily turn into a high-scoring affair. Las Vegas set the over/under for the game at 52.5 — six points higher than the prediction for the N.F.C. championship game — and considering that the teams combined for 67 points in Week 10, that number could easily push higher.
The reasons for the high scoring prediction are fairly obvious. Kansas City was ranked 26th in the N.F.L. against the run this season — a major issue now that the team is facing Derrick Henry — and Tennessee, asked to slow down Patrick Mahomes, was ranked 24th against the pass. While the Chiefs’ secondary, led by safety Tyrann Mathieu, has been a strength, there may be some passing opportunities for the Titans thanks to the absence of rookie safety standout Juan Thornhill.
Frank Clark gives Derrick Henry some extra motivation.
Defensive end Frank Clark was a great addition for Kansas City this season, but he may have done his team some harm by giving Tennessee running back Derrick Henry some added motivation ahead of this game. Henry has rushed for at least 180 yards in three consecutive games — and ran for 188 yards against Kansas City in Week 10 — but Clark said a running back as large as Henry, who is 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, should actually run quite a bit harder. “He’s just easy to me up front because I don’t look at any running back like they can’t be tackled,” Clark said. “He’s not one of the best guys at breaking tackles to me, honestly.”
Baltimore safety Earl Thomas made similarly dismissive comments about Henry and the Titans before last weekend’s divisional round. That came back to haunt the star safety, as at one point in Henry’s 195-yard game, the running back effectively used Thomas as a lead blocker (above) on a long run. Tennessee beat the top-seeded Ravens, 28-12.