Chiefs punch fifth straight AFC championship ticket with win over Jaguars

NFL

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs advanced to the AFC Championship for the fifth straight season with a 27-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs probably don’t want to make a habit of this, but they won a playoff game with quarterback Patrick Mahomes on the bench at the end of the first half because of a right ankle injury.

Backup Chad Henne was in for one possession, not counting a kneel-down at the end of the first half. He made it count, leading a franchise playoff record 98-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter that helped the Chiefs stay in front in in the AFC divisional round.

Mahomes returned to the game in the second half and was effective, so he is expected to be available to play in next week’s AFC Championship Game against Buffalo or Cincinnati.

Mahomes was 22-of-30 passing for 195 yards and two touchdowns. He said the tender ankle affected his throwing on certain passes.

“There was just a couple throws here and there where I tried to plant off that foot and it didn’t let me kind of plant like I usually do,” Mahomes said. “And so, a couple throws I didn’t make. I told Coach I want to still throw it downfield, and so we were able to make some throws there after the first few drives, and I think he got a little confidence that I could protect myself.”

Describe the game in two words: Tough break. Not a literal break, but the Mahomes injury came at the worst possible moment for the Chiefs: in the playoffs.

Pivotal play: Isiah Pacheco‘s 39-yard run in the second quarter happened with Henne in and Mahomes on the sideline and was the big play on the 98-yard touchdown drive led by the backup quarterback. The play led to the score that put the Chiefs ahead 17-7.

Eye-popping Next Gen stat: Pacheco got to a top speed of 20.97 mph on his 39-yard run, the top speed of his career according to NFL Next Gen stats. The 39-yard gain was 36 yards over expected.

Under the radar stat that matters: Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker was 3-of-7 during the regular season on field goals of 50 yards or more. But he made two of 50 yards against the Jaguars. — Adam Teicher


Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t ready to compete with the AFC’s elite teams — yet. But they’re closer than they have been in five years. Winning the AFC South in Week 18 was a surprise — helped significantly by the Tennessee Titans‘ late-season swoon — and it put the Jaguars in the playoffs a year or two earlier than most expected. But the loss in Kansas City on Saturday night highlighted the weaknesses the Jaguars have to address before they can consistently compete — and beat — the Chiefs, the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals for AFC supremacy.

The Jaguars got some key defensive stops and big plays during the second half of the season, such as Rayshawn Jenkins‘ interception return for a touchdown against Dallas as well as his strip sack and Josh Allen‘s fumble recovery for a touchdown against the Titans, but the Jaguars were unable to come up with one against the Chiefs. They pressured Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the first half but were unable to get to him in the second half when he was clearly struggling. They also allowed tight end Travis Kelce to pretty much roam the field untouched until after he caught a pass.

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Chiefs’ D thwarts Jags’ drive with red zone fumble recovery

The Chiefs recover Jamal Agnew’s fumble near the goal line to stifle the Jaguars’ drive.

Describe the game in two words: Missed opportunities. All week the Jaguars talked about capitalizing on opportunities because they didn’t do that in the first meeting against the Chiefs. There was no bigger opportunity than Mahomes hobbling around for the entire second half, but the defense gave up a 98-yard touchdown drive to backup quarterback Chad Henne and couldn’t force Mahomes into a turnover. The Jaguars also missed on three critical plays in the first half, all of which could have led to points.

Linebacker Foye Oluokun was unable to catch a ball deflected by defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton inside the Kansas City 30-yard line, running back JaMycal Hasty dropped a third-down pass that could have put the Jaguars in position to try a long field goal and receiver Christian Kirk dropped a deep throw that would have given the Jaguars the ball inside the Kansas City 15-yard line. The Jaguars eventually got a field goal on the drive where Kirk dropped the pass, but that’s a potential 10 more points (at least) they left on the field.

Pivotal play: The Jaguars committed two fourth-quarter turnovers that doomed their comeback attempt. Jamal Agnew fumbled after a catch at the 3-yard line and quarterback Trevor Lawrence underthrew a pass to Zay Jones that got intercepted. Agnew’s fumble was the team’s first red zone turnover since Week 8. The Jaguars were trailing by 10 points each time they turned it over and ran out of time to complete what would have been their eighth come-from-behind victory this season.

Silver lining: The Jaguars’ offense finished 10th in yards and points per game in 2022, and there’s optimism it could be even better next season with the arrival of receiver Calvin Ridley, especially if the team re-signs tight end Evan Engram. The Jaguars traded for Ridley in November and if he’s cleared from his suspension for gambling in February, then he can join the team when the offseason program begins in April. Ridley will give the Jaguars a No. 1 receiver to pair with Kirk, who is one of the league’s better slot receivers, and Jones. — Michael DiRocco

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