Chiefs end playoff drought at home, burying the Colts

Quarterback Mahomes (23) changes the game for Kansas City Chiefs

 Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes  dives into the endzone for a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts in  the AFC divisional playoff at Arrowhead stadium in Kansas City. Photograph: Larry W Smith/EPA

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes dives into the endzone for a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC divisional playoff at Arrowhead stadium in Kansas City. Photograph: Larry W Smith/EPA

 

The stories passed down about the Kansas City Chiefs’ playoff malfunctions might sound apocryphal, as if embellished over a game of telephone, but they’re not. Really. The fans who jammed Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday can recite detail after grisly detail. So can those who roamed Kansas City’s sideline: many of them added to the misery last year, two years ago, three years ago, five.

One player changed the calculus. His ascension terminated an era of despair. His quarterbacking brilliance inoculated the fan base. In his grand playoff unveiling, Patrick Lavon Mahomes II purged a quarter-century of Arrowhead futility.

After every first down, every score, every defensive stop, fans in the upper deck flung snowballs in glee. They kept coming, much like the top-seeded Chiefs, who blitzed their postseason nemesis, the Indianapolis Colts, 31-13, and advanced to host the AFC championship next Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers or the New England Patriots.

The conference champion receives a trophy named for Lamar Hunt, the founder and original owner of the Chiefs, who have played for the award just once since 1970 (when they won their only Super Bowl title). That was in 1994, the last time, incidentally, that Kansas City won a home playoff game. At the beginning of every season, Hunt’s son Clark, a team co-owner, tells players how important it is to win that trophy.

“We’ve now put ourselves in a position to do it,” Hunt said. “I’m probably going to think about it a lot this week.” As he stood in the Chiefs’ locker room Saturday night, Hunt thought a lot, too, about Mahomes, who in his first season as a full-time starter became the only quarterback other than Peyton Manning to throw for 50 touchdowns and 5,000 yards in a regular season. Three other quarterbacks made their playoff debuts last week, and all three lost.

Mahomes completed 27 of 41 passes for 278 yards without committing a turnover and guided scoring drives on four of Kansas City’s five first-half possessions. When Darrel Williams plowed into the end zone for the final touchdown, with 2 minutes, 26 seconds left, Mahomes peeled away from the crowd and windmilled his fist, aware in that moment of what he – what all of the Chiefs – had accomplished.

And so now, after 47 years, this sentence can be written: the Chiefs, finally, have more playoff victories at Arrowhead than the Colts. It’s okay to read that again, a third time even. “They don’t know about old luck, or Andrew Luck or bad luck against the Colts,” punter Dustin Colquitt, the team’s longest-tenured player, said of Mahomes and first-year Chiefs like Sammy Watkins (six catches, 62 yards) or Damien Williams (25 rushes, 129 yards). “So why not us?”

The Chiefs had lost their last six home playoff games, and 10 of 11 overall, often in unspeakable fashion. Once, they did not allow a touchdown. Last year, they blew an 18-point half-time advantage. The worst defeat – and that distinction, mind you, is debatable – came five years ago, when they led by 28 points in the third quarter and, yes, lost.

To the Colts. All of Kansas City’s anguish connected with Indianapolis – four straight playoff losses since 1996 – preceded Mahomes, who seems impervious to it all. “I think we all almost expect it every week now,” Hunt said of Mahomes’ command. “I mentioned earlier in the year that the first couple of games we thought: ‘Okay, is this an outlier? Is this something that’s going to last?’ But he literally has done it every week.”

Mahomes

The Chiefs scored on their first possession. And their second. And their third. And, after a brief break, their fifth. The points accumulated like the snow that blanketed the region overnight and deep into Saturday. The slicker the surface, the wackier the conditions, the more comfortable Mahomes (23), seems.

About 45 minutes before kickoff, he did not run out of the tunnel so much as he strutted, skipping toward the 35-yard line, where he began warming up, his passes accurate, his footing true. In the game, Mahomes extended plays, sidestepped rushes, flipped passes across his body ? connecting with Travis Kelce (seven catches, 108 yards), Tyreek Hill (eight catches, 72 yards), with Damien Williams (five catches, 25 yards).

It perplexed the Colts, who could not cover, tackle or feel remotely positive about anything until 5:56 before halftime, when Najee Goode blocked a punt that Zach Pascal recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Any chance Indianapolis had of drawing closer faded when a diving Mahomes crashed past an end zone pylon from 4 yards out, extending the Chiefs’ lead to 24-7. Then the Colts’ Adam Vinatieri – whose kick in the snow 17 years ago catalysed the New England dynasty – clanged a 23-yard field goal attempt off the left upright.

Of course, now he misses in the snow, muttered Raiders fans everywhere. Vinatieri later missed an extra point, leaving the Colts 11 points behind, and all hope dissolved. The Chiefs’ defence, suspect all season, sacked Andrew Luck three times and held Marlon Mack, who last week blasted the Houston Texans for a franchise-record 148 rushing yards, to all of 46.

“We played checkers,” Colts tight end Eric Ebron said. “They played chess.”

Before Luck completed a pass, Kansas City led 17-0, on touchdown runs by Damien Williams and, on a dazzling reverse, Hill. With misdirection, precision and, at times, brute force, the Chiefs asserted themselves in a way the Colts had not encountered: not once during a three-month surge from 1-5 to 10-6 did Indianapolis face a top-five offence.

The Chiefs are a top-one offence. Mahomes is a top-one quarterback. The chants of “MVP” reverberated loud and long. So many times over the years, Kansas City confronted a quarterback deficit in the playoffs. John Elway and Manning, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger – all foiled the Chiefs.

Already they have advanced deeper than any predecessor since Joe Montana helmed the team 25 years ago. They know how fleeting this moment can be, and if they win next Sunday, surpassing the teams of Montana and Trent Green and Alex Smith and all the others, Mahomes will add to his growing legend – to stories that delighted fans will pass down, stories that may seem apocryphal, but are not. – New York Times

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