Hobbling along on an injured ankle, Patrick Mahomes threw for 195 yards and two touchdowns Saturday, leading the Kansas City Chiefs to a 27-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars and a spot in their fifth straight AFC title game.
Mahomes missed most of the second quarter after his ankle was landed on by a Jacksonville defender. But the All-Pro quarterback returned in the second half and, relying on guts and guile, led the Chiefs on a 75-yard TD drive in the fourth quarter that helped to ensure a date with the Bengals-Bills winner for a spot in the Super Bowl.
If Cincinnati wins Sunday, the AFC title game will be played at Arrowhead Stadium. If Buffalo wins, it will be in Atlanta.
“I mean, it’s a credit to the guys around me,” Mahomes said. “The offensive line kept me clean in the pocket, knowing that I couldn’t move, and guys made plays around me. That’s what a great team does, is when somebody gets a little banged up, everybody around them steps up.”
The question on everyone’s mind — Will Mahomes be available next week? — might be no question at all.
“Yeah, X-rays were negative and they haven’t diagnosed anything yet,” he said, “but I’ll be good to go.”
Travis Kelce had a career-high 14 catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns for Kansas City. Isiah Pacheco ran for 95 yards, while Marquez Valdes-Scantling hauled in the eventual clinching touchdown with about 7 minutes left in the game.
The Jaguars, who rallied from a 27-0 deficit to beat the Chargers in the wild-card round, squandered two chances to mount another late rally. The first ended when Jamal Agnew had the ball pop loose inside the Chiefs 5 with about 5 1/2 minutes to go, and the second when Jaylen Watson made a leaping, one-handed interception to take the ball away again.
The Jaguars’ last-gasp chance ended when Kansas City recovered an onside kick with 24 seconds to go.
Trevor Lawrence finished with 217 yards passing with a touchdown toss to Christian Kirk, who was briefly hurt midway through the fourth quarter but returned to finish the game. Travis Etienne added 62 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Long before Mahomes hobbled to the sideline in pain, he was at his creative best, driving the Chiefs downfield on their opening possession. There was a shortstop-style sidearm sling to JuJu Smith-Schuster, a key third down pass to Kelce as he was being dragged to the turf, and the flip pass to his tight end that gave Kansas City a 7-0 lead.
The Jaguars came right back, taking advantage of a big kickoff return and a short field. Lawrence, whose four touchdown throws helped to stun the Chargers last week, proceeded to hit Kirk for the matching touchdown.
Then, the complexion of the game changed.
Mahomes was moving up in the pocket when Key brought the full weight of his body down on the star quarterback’s right ankle. Mahomes hobbled to the huddle and managed to get through three more plays to end the first quarter, then was on the field two more plays before Harrison Butker kicked a 50-yard field goal.
During the Jaguars’ ensuing possession, Mahomes — who had gotten his ankle taped — got into a heated argument with Chiefs coach Andy Reid and the training staff. He then threw down his coat and headed to the locker room, forcing Chad Henne to take over midway through the second quarter, just as he did two years ago in a playoff win over Cleveland.
The 37-year-old journeyman, who once started for the Jaguars, led Kansas City on a 12-play, 98-yard touchdown drive.
“Yeah, I did not want to go and they kind of gave me the ultimatum that I wasn’t going back in unless I went in there,” said Mahomes, who cheered them on from the sideline, wearing a puffy winter coat on a cold, sleeting night.
“They’re trying to take care of me. We’ve got a lot of great people over here, but it’s going to take a lot to keep me out of a football game.”
As the second half began, that familiar red No. 15 jersey was trotting back onto the field.
His right ankle heavily taped. Mahomes was still struggling to move around, but simply his presence seemed to calm the Chiefs — and their angst-filled fan base. Butker added a second 50-yard field goal late in the third quarter to extend their lead to 20-10, putting the pressure on the AFC South champions.
But the Jaguars proved in the wild-card round that they can deal with deficits. And rather than wilt amid the crowd noise, they rose to the occasion, putting together a 75-yard touchdown drive that kept them in the game.
Their comeback ended, though, with two late turnovers and a failed onside kick.
STATS AND STREAKS
Mahomes improved to 5-0 in the divisional round of the playoffs. He’s thrown 28 TD passes and three interceptions in 10 home playoff games. … Henne was 5 of 7 for 23 yards and a score. … Jacksonville had eight wins as an underdog this season, tied for the most in the Super Bowl era.
The Chiefs wait to hear whether they play the Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium or the Bills in Atlanta for a spot in their third Super Bowl in four years. The Jaguars turn their attention to the free agency and the NFL draft.
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