The Kansas City Chiefs won on Sunday and advanced to their third straight AFC championship game. And nobody was talking about that after the game.
Patrick Mahomes, considered by many to be the NFL’s best player, suffered an injury in Sunday’s AFC divisional-round playoff game against the Cleveland Browns. He was hit on a called run play and was unsteady as he got up. The Chiefs said he was being evaluated for a concussion and ruled him out shortly after.
Kansas City survived, barely, getting past Cleveland, 22-17. The Chiefs came up with a few big plays in the fourth quarter, most notably a fourth-down pass from Chad Henne to Tyreek Hill with a little more than a minute to go to advance. Moving on to the AFC title game is a great accomplishment and would normally be celebrated, but concerns about the franchise quarterback took precedent.
The Chiefs play the Buffalo Bills next Sunday with a Super Bowl berth on the line, and all of the focus leading up to the game will be on Mahomes and whether he’ll be cleared to play.
The Chiefs won Sunday, and it seemed like an afterthought.
Chiefs lose Patrick Mahomes in third quarter
The entire tenor of the game changed when Mahomes left the game.
The Chiefs ran Mahomes on an option play on third-and-short, despite Mahomes already dealing with a toe injury. Mahomes was dragged down by linebacker Mack Wilson and stayed down. When he got up, he staggered and teammates had to help him stand up. Mahomes went to the locker room to be evaluated for a concussion and Chad Henne took over at quarterback.
Andy Reid didn’t say Mahomes suffered a concussion.
Reid on Mahomes:
"He got hit in the back of the head and kind of knocked the wind out of him...he's doing great right now, which is a real positive, passed all the deals that he needed to pass so we'll see where it goes from here."
— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) January 17, 2021
Henne led a drive for a field goal, but the Browns marched on a 75-yard touchdown drive right after that. Suddenly the Chiefs, who seemed to be cruising, led just 22-17 with 11:07 to go. Their superstar quarterback was back in the locker room out for the game.
Henne threw a nice pass to Hill that Hill somehow managed to keep from hitting the ground for a 23-yard gain. On third-and-5, Henne made a great throw to Travis Kelce for 24 yards. Henne made a big mistake after that. He lofted up a deep pass and it was picked off in the end zone by safety Karl Joseph. The Browns had the ball, trailing by less than a touchdown.
The Chiefs needed their defense to come up big, and it did. Kansas City got a stop and forced a punt with a little more than four minutes left. Then a swing pass from Henne to running back Darrel Williams for 5 yards on a third-and-4 kept the clock moving. The Browns needed a stop on third-and-14, but Henne took off on a run and dove for the first down, falling inches short of the first down. With less than two minutes left at their own 49, the Chiefs kept their offense on the field for fourth-and-inches, and Hill caught a short pass to ice the game. It was a gutsy call by head coach Andy Reid, and the Chiefs made him look smart.
The Browns had a chance to win, and all offseason they’ll think back to one huge momentum turn near the end of the first half.
Browns’ fumble in second quarter looms large
One sequence probably cost the Browns an upset win. Rashard Higgins caught a pass but was hit by safety Daniel Sorenson – who led with his helmet but no penalty was called — and fumbled into the end zone as he reached out for the goal line. The Chiefs got the ball on a touchback, a brutal blow for the Browns. Cleveland could have run some time and perhaps scored a touchdown to cut Kansas City’s lead to 16-10. It got the ball first in the second half too. Instead it was Kansas City’s ball and with 1:34 left, the Chiefs drove for a field goal and a 19-3 halftime lead.
It wasn’t exactly Earnest Byner’s fumble or Red Right 88, but it will go alongside the devastating playoff miscues in Browns history.
That wasn’t the Browns’ only mistake. Nick Chubb dropped multiple passes. Baker Mayfield threw an interception to safety Tyrann Mathieu to start the second half. Cleveland couldn’t run the ball in the first half and didn’t do much to stop Mahomes in the passing game before he left with an injury. Letting Henne pick up 13 yards on third-and-14 was bad. Still, Higgins’ fumble was by far the biggest error in a winnable game.
The Chiefs will take the win and move on. Not that the win was the focus after the game.
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