50 years of doubt, frustration vanished for the Chiefs as Patrick Mahomes seized his AFC crown

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – For 12 glorious seconds, nearly 74,000 pairs of eyes at Arrowhead Stadium trailed No. 15 in red as the Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback deked a speedy linebacker, spun through two defenders and dove into the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown run that, for all intents and purposes, ended the AFC championship game.

Nevermind the fact the score gave the Chiefs only a four-point lead, and that there were still two quarters left to go in Kansas City’s historic 35-24 victory, or even that the run was arguably the greatest play of Patrick Mahomes’ career (which is saying something).

To Chiefs fans, after years of postseason heartbreak — more than those outside the state of Missouri understand — it just meant more.

Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes (15), Travis Kelce and Tyrann Mathieu (32) celebrate after the NFL AFC Championship football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Kansas City, MO. The Chiefs won 35-24 to advance to Super Bowl 54. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
The Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes (15), Travis Kelce and Tyrann Mathieu (32) celebrate after winning the AFC championship on Sunday. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

That fan base included actors Paul Rudd and Eric Stonestreet, who each whooped it up during the game. The two were spotted postgame offering congratulations and hugs to Chiefs players and front-office executives. They also posed for photos with the Lamar Hunt Trophy, reveling in the moment.

Eric Stonestreet (L) of "Modern Family" shares a moment with Chiefs general manager Brett Veach. (Terez Paylor/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Stonestreet (L) of "Modern Family" shares a moment with Chiefs general manager Brett Veach. (Terez Paylor/Yahoo Sports)

For one of Chiefs fans’ own to make a play like that — an “I’m the best guy on the field, dammit, and we’re not going to lose this playoff game” play — on the stage he did, against a team that plays a smash-mouth style that has given K.C. fits in the recent past, it represented a physical manifestation for why things are different now.

It’s why, finally, mercifully, the Chiefs’ playoff curse that resulted in a 50-year Super Bowl drought, is officially vanquished.

“It’s over,” fullback Anthony Sherman, who has been a Chief since Andy Reid’s first year (2013), told Yahoo Sports. “We don’t even look at it.”

Patrick Mahomes helps erase generations of Chiefs misery

It’s a realization that wasn’t lost on many longtime Chiefs who were reveling in the glory of Mahomes’ latest franchise-cleansing victory, one that was powered by a run that told the Titans that the Chiefs were not about to lose this game despite trailing 17-7 midway through the second quarter.

“A guy like that, making a play like that … as the other team, I can only [imagine] how unstoppable we felt to them at that point,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce told Yahoo Sports, shaking his head.

On the sideline, Dustin Colquitt, the Chiefs’ longest-tenured player, watched in awe.

“I was like — how is he doing this?” Colquitt asked. “And then he’s going to get in [the end zone]? I don’t know how he keeps doing this, because he’s a big guy [6-foot-3, 225 pounds], and when he starts running … he just knows how to do that last little spin and that last little dive. He just has three eyes or something.”

For 15 seasons, Colquitt has had a front-row seat to the Chiefs’ cacophony of postseason failures. Year after year, they suffered one crushing upset defeat after another.

A blown 28-point lead in 2014. Two straight playoff home losses in 2017 and 2018. Two defeats to New England in 2016 and 2019. For most of those games, the Chiefs were favored, thus contributing to the narrative that head coach Andy Reid couldn’t win the big one.

While all those losses can be attributed to the fact that pro football is famously unpredictable, the truth is that sometimes, it isn’t. Sometimes, one team features one player so talented, so competitive, so completely unstoppable at the peak of his powers that there’s no way he’s going to let his team lose, especially when he has an elite coach at the helm like Reid.

“It’s amazing — Patrick Mahomes is somebody that can carry out everything that’s going on in Big Red’s [Reid’s] mind, and that’s fun to see,” Colquitt said.

Hence, Mahomes’ stunning 50-touchdown MVP season in 2018. Hence, Mahomes’ brilliant mastery of the postseason, where he has tallied 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions, a stat line that was boosted by his 294-yard, three-touchdown day against the Titans on Sunday.

“He had an awesome first year to learn from an awesome dude in Alex [Smith], and this is his third year now under Coach Reid,” right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. “To think he’d be this guy anywhere else … even he would tell you, the combination of those two has unlocked everything he can do.”

One run erased all doubt

Yet, there was every reason in the world to think that the Chiefs’ winning formula in these playoffs may have to be different against Tennessee. Asking for two straight “over my dead body” games in the playoffs from a 24-year-old quarterback, even one as talented as Mahomes, is asking for a lot.

Requesting one against a Titans team that is run-game dominant, stout on the defensive interior, and won’t beat themselves is another matter entirely, especially after Kansas City’s slow start in the AFC championship game for the second straight year.

But it happened before Reid and Mahomes eventually turned the nervous chatter at Arrowhead Stadium into full-throated cheers after K.C. recovered from a 10-0 first-quarter deficit that later became a 17-7 hole.

Reid and Mahomes took control of the moment. First with a 24-yard gain to Demarcus Robinson, then with a 13-yard gain to Sammy Watkins, and then with a brilliantly schemed 20-yard TD pass to Tyreek Hill, which Mahomes perfectly placed after Hill vaporized his defender.

Even heroes need help sometimes, and the Chiefs’ increasingly ornery defense was ready to play Robin to the Mahomes-Reid duo’s Batman. Titans running back Derrick Henry, the other “best player on the field” contender, was held to 69 yards rushing, his lowest output in 10 games. During a second quarter drive in which the Titans could’ve re-established control over the game while up 17-14, Henry rushed once for a yard, another time for zero yards, and Tennessee had to punt after a third-and-long incompletion.

That’s when, despite the fact there was an entire half left to play, Mahomes solidified his standing as Kansas City’s football “Baba Yaga,” the man you send to kill your football boogeymen. Mahomes uncorked eight straight passes, only two incomplete, and capped the drive with the aforementioned touchdown run to put the Chiefs ahead 21-17 just before halftime.

And just like that, you knew it was done. The energy in Arrowhead, once tense, had turned. Tennessee had given the Chiefs its best shot in the first half, and still trailed by four at the break with the Chiefs getting the ball back.

Kansas City did not score immediately after the break, but they eventually would — two touchdowns, in fact — with the last one being a 60-yard bomb to Sammy Watkins, an absolute dime that marked the Chiefs’ 28th straight point and put the Titans in a 35-17 hole they had no chance of digging out of.

After that throw, Kansas City was only seven minutes and 33 seconds from its first Super Bowl appearance in exactly 50 years, and the party was on at Arrowhead, complete with the resounding sound of “MVP! MVP! MVP” chants from the delirious crowd, and resounding cheers for Reid as the confetti fell and he held up the Lamar Hunt Trophy – named after the Chiefs’ former owner, and current chairman Clark Hunt’s father — afterward.

Minutes later, Kelce stared off into space at his locker and grinned. When asked about Reid and Mahomes, and their impact on bringing Kansas City’s single-best football moment in five decades to fruition, a look of happiness and gratitude washed over the face of one of the Chiefs’ most honest, outspoken players.

“I’m just thankful,” Kelce told Yahoo Sports, “that I get to play with them.”

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