Chiefs’ Mahomes overcomes slow first half, gets no OT shot
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes struggled in the first half and dazzled in the second Sunday night.
Nobody knows how he might have fared in overtime.
The Chiefs’ young All-Pro threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns against New England, almost all of it after the break, only to watch the extra session from the bench. The Patriots won the coin toss and never gave him a chance, scoring on the only possession they needed to escape with a 37-31 victory in the first AFC championship game ever played at Arrowhead Stadium.
“I thought if we got the chance we’d score,” said Mahomes, who instead praised the Patriots’ Tom Brady for converting a trio of third-and-10s to give Rex Burkhead a chance to score the winning TD.
“He had a great drive,” Mahomes said. “Big moments, guys made big catches for him.”
Mahomes had plenty of big moments in his own right.
After a dismal first half in which he was 4 of 8 for 65 yards and three sacks, Mahomes caught fire in the third quarter. He needed just four plays to find Travis Kelce for a touchdown that trimmed a 14-0 deficit in half, then kept slinging the ball in what became a back-and-forth fourth quarter.
The Patriots scored two touchdowns. The Chiefs managed three.
Mahomes was behind it all, shredding a Patriots defense that had played reasonably well down the stretch this season. He hit Damien Williams with a short TD flip to get within 17-14 early in the fourth quarter, then found his elusive running back again with a 23-yard completion that gave Kansas City its first lead at 21-17 with 7:45 remaining in the game.
“They blitzed about every down, played man coverage, and they were able to get home a little bit on some of their games,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We made a few adjustments at halftime, should have done that earlier — that’s my responsibility. But I’m proud of the way the guys battled back.”
But the Patriots kept battling, too.
Brady led them the other way, and Sony Michel scored from 10 yards on fourth down, only for the Chiefs’ mop-haired QB to answer with a 38-yard pass to Sammy Watkins that set up Williams’ TD run.
Back came the Patriots, who in their eighth consecutive conference championship game showed no sign of nerves. They caught a break when an interception was wiped out by an offside call, and Burkhead’s TD run with 39 seconds left appeared to have given New England a 31-28 victory.
Then again, Mahomes long ago proved that 39 seconds can last an eternity.
He immediately found running back Spencer Ware for 21 yards, the only meaningful play the backup running back made all game. Then, Mahomes hit Demarcus Robinson for 39 yards to the Patriots 21 with 16 seconds left, giving the Chiefs — without any timeouts — one shot at the end zone.
Mahomes wound up throwing it away, and Harrison Butker’s 39-yard field goal forced overtime.
By that point the Patriots knew full well the best way to stop Mahomes was to keep him on the bench. So their confidence no doubt soared when they won the coin toss for overtime, and Brady took advantage of the opportunity by finding Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski on their march downfield.
Mahomes could only look on as the Patriots ended his dream season.
“They challenged us,” he said. “They came up and played man defense. Not a lot of teams did that this year. The first half we struggled, we couldn’t make much happen. The second half we were up to the challenge, we found ways to win one-on-one matchups.
“We gave everything we had,” Mahomes said. “They ended up making more plays at the end.”