Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense were unstoppable after withstanding the Houston Texans’ early rally.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There was no rematch with Tom Brady because the New England Patriots were knocked out in the wild-card round. There will be no marquee showdown with Lamar Jackson after the Baltimore Ravens were upset on Saturday. Instead, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes faced off against Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans in an offense-heavy game on Sunday that will be remembered as much for its dramatic swings as Mahomes’s majesty.
Mahomes and the Chiefs erased a 24-point deficit in the second quarter to win, 51-31. Last year’s most valuable player, Mahomes did not disappoint. He threw four touchdown passes in the second quarter, the first time that has been done in an N.F.L. playoff game since Doug Williams of the Washington Redskins did it in the Super Bowl at the end of the 1987 season. Mahomes hit Damien Williams with a 17-yard pass, then threw three scores to tight end Travis Kelce. All four drives took less than five minutes combined.
“It was just a matter of settling down, calming the storm,” Chiefs Coach Andy Reid said of the team’s early woes. “I was thinking we needed to score some points.”
At one point, spanning the second and third quarters, Kansas City scored six consecutive touchdowns to reel off 41 straight points, making the score, 41-24. There were so many scores that the Chiefs ran out of fireworks, which the team usually deploys after every touchdown. Mahomes finished with 321 yards on 23 of 35 passing and five touchdowns.
After a Texans touchdown made it, 41-31, the Chiefs scored a touchdown on their seventh consecutive drive, sealing the victory and bringing them one step closer to returning to the Super Bowl for the first time in a half-century.
The Chiefs will host the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans on Sunday in the A.F.C. championship game. The game will feature the Chiefs’ run-and-gun offense against the Titans’ powerful running game, led by Derrick Henry.
But first, the Chiefs will want to remedy what went wrong early in Sunday’s game. There was the blown coverage that allowed Watson to hit receiver Kenny Stills for a 54-yard touchdown. The Texans blocked a punt, which was returned for another score. Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs muffed a punt return that the Texans recovered. The Chiefs’ receivers, perhaps rusty after a bye week, dropped several wide-open passes.
The Chiefs overcame all that and more, thanks in part to several decisions made by Houston Coach Bill O’Brien. Deep in the Chiefs’ zone, he opted to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1. Though the kick put the Texans up, 24-0, the conservative call opened the door just enough for the Chiefs to capitalize.
Here is how the Chiefs beat the Texans:
That will do it for Houston.
Frank Clark sacked Deshaun Watson for an enormous 17-yard loss, turning the ball over on downs and sealing the win for Kansas City, who knelt the ball to run the final 1:40 out.
The Texans scored 31 points, which tied for their second-highest total this season, and Watson threw for 388 yards, which is the third-best mark of his career. And Houston lost by 20 points. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are that good.
The Chiefs’ touchdown streak ends.
Kansas City did not score a touchdown! It did score a field goal, though, and is up, 51-31, with 8:06 left in the game.
Harrison Butker’s make from 24 yards broke up a streak in which Kansas City found the end zone on seven consecutive possessions, which is the most in a postseason game since at least the A.F.L.-N.F.L. merger in 1970, if not even farther back.
The most positive part of the drive for the Texans, beyond not actually giving up a touchdown, was defensive end J.J. Watt getting into the backfield to bat a pass to the ground, likely preventing an eighth straight touchdown. Other than that, Watt, who is playing through a severely injured pectoral muscle, has not recorded any statistics.
Slowing the Chiefs ever so slightly was nice, but on Houston’s last offensive possession, desperation seemed to have kicked in for the Texans, with the team trying to make something happen by going for it on fourth-and-4 from Kansas City’s 42-yard line, only to have Deshaun Watson’s wild pass nearly intercepted. They will have to play a smarter game to get back into this.
Kansas City scores again with ease.
So much for Houston getting back into the game.
In a drive that spanned the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, the Chiefs went 72 yards on four plays, with Patrick Mahomes getting his fifth touchdown pass of the day courtesy of an 8-yard pass to Blake Bell.
Mahomes had opened the drive with a 23-yard completion to Travis Kelce, who appears to have no ill effects from a hamstring injury, and he got into the red zone with a 28-yard strike to Sammy Watkins.
Houston’s defense simply can do nothing to slow the Chiefs down. Mahomes is up to 310 passing yards and Kansas City has scored touchdowns on six consecutive possessions.
Houston is not dead yet.
In a desperate attempt to stay in this game, the Texans went 75 yards on nine plays, with Deshaun Watson leaping into the end zone at the end of a 5-yard run, which along with the extra point narrowed Kansas City’s lead to 41-31.
The drive saw Watson aggressively throwing downfield, with the biggest play coming on a heave to Will Fuller, who looked perfectly healthy on a 39-yard gain.
Watson also had key completions to DeAndre Hopkins and Kenny Stills on the drive, showing an ability to take advantage of the Chiefs trying to play it safe thanks to a big lead.
It was Houston’s first scoring drive since early in the second quarter.
This is getting out of hand.
This game is inexplicably turning into a blowout in Kansas City’s favor. After Damien Williams ran the ball in from 5 yards, the Chiefs are leading the Texans, 41-24, with 4:39 left in the third quarter.
Two of the biggest plays of the 77-yard drive came courtesy of penalties. Mahomes had a wild throw into the end zone turn into a 19-yard gain thanks to a pass interference penalty on Houston’s Bradley Roby, and an incomplete pass on third-and-goal turned into a first down thanks to a holding penalty against Zach Cunningham.
Giving Mahomes that kind of leg up almost guarantees that he will find a way to score, and Kansas City now has two rushing touchdowns to go with its four passing touchdowns.
Williams’s rushing line so far? Seven carries for 9 yards and two touchdowns.
In huge news for the Chiefs — in addition to the 41 unanswered points — Travis Kelce is back despite a hamstring injury, and Mahomes found him for an immediate 28-yard catch-and-run in which Houston had to send a whole pack of defenders to stop the huge tight end.
The Chiefs’ defense had given the offense the ball back quickly thanks to Frank Clark showing some determination in running Deshaun Watson down on a third-and-5 play in which Watson was shedding tackles in a way that was briefly reminiscent of his huge completion in overtime last week against Buffalo.
Chiefs open second half with a touchdown.
The Chiefs started the second half the same way they closed the first by all but walking into the end zone on an 85-yard drive that ended with Damien Williams running the ball in from 1 yard. Kansas City now leads, 34-24.
The key play of the drive came courtesy of Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus jumping offsides, which gave Patrick Mahomes a free throw downfield. The Chiefs’ quarterback did not miss, finding Sammy Watkins with a deep pass, and having Watkins dance around a few defenders for a 48-yard gain.
Williams picked up a taunting penalty after the touchdown, and Harrison Butker missed his extra point attempt, but everything else went right for Kansas City despite Travis Kelce’s having remained on the sideline for the entire drive with a hamstring injury that has him questionable to return. The Chiefs have now scored 34 unanswered points.
In other potential injury news, DeAndre Hopkins did not initially come out of the locker room with Houston to start the second half because he was getting X-rays on a rib injury. While his status for the rest of the game has yet to be announced, he jogged to the sideline during Kansas City’s possession.
Chiefs lead, 28-24, at halftime.
Houston could not have started the game better, and it could not have ended the first half worse. After going up, 24-0, with just under 11 minutes left in the half, the Texans somehow went into the locker room down, 28-24.
Everything had initially gone right for the Texans. Their offense was moving the ball with ease, their defense was limiting Kansas City, and their special teams generated two enormous turnovers that led directly to two touchdowns.
But Patrick Mahomes can never be counted out, and the Chiefs’ star quarterback proceeded to throw four touchdown passes in the second quarter, the first time a player has done so in the postseason since Washington’s Doug Williams in Super Bowl XXII.
The matchup between Deshaun Watson and Mahomes has been sensational regardless of who is on top. Watson has completed 14 of 20 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns, while Mahomes has completed 12 of 22 for 143 yards, with three scoring passes to Travis Kelce and one to Damien Williams.
But things turned against Houston to the point that even a hectic final drive at the end of the half, in which Watson took the team 44 yards in 44 seconds, ended up getting the team nothing when Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 51-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide right.
To make matters worse: Kansas City will receive the ball to start the second half.
Chiefs take a lead late in the second quarter.
In a comeback that was startling not just in its speed, but in its improbability, the Chiefs, thanks to a 5-yard touchdown catch by Travis Kelce, are leading, 28-24, with 44 seconds left in the first half.
Starting a drive on its own 10-yard line barely slowed down Kansas City’s offense. Patrick Mahomes led his team 90 yards on eight plays, with the drive culminating in an awkward toss to Kelce just as Mahomes reached the line of scrimmage. It wasn’t pretty, but it was Mahomes’s fourth passing touchdown of the quarter.
The drive included a nice 20-yard catch-and-run by Tyreek Hill, a 20-yard catch by Kelce and two scrambles by Mahomes that went for a combined 35 yards.
The Chiefs had gotten the ball back fairly quickly thanks to a defensive possession that limited the Texans to 27 yards on five plays. Houston failed to convert a third-and-12 in which safety Tyrann Mathieu appeared to interfere with receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans also used their third and final timeout of the half to avoid a delay-of-game penalty.
Fumbled kick return helps Chiefs score again.
The momentum could not have shifted more in this game.
The Texans went up, 24-0, with 10:58 left in the second quarter, but after Patrick Mahomes’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce with 6:37 left in the second quarter, the Chiefs have narrowed that to 24-21.
Kansas City’s three touchdowns came in a span of less than four minutes of game clock, with the third set up by a fumbled kick return in which DeAndre Carter had the ball jarred free by a group of Chiefs players and Darwin Thompson recovered it.
Houston having already burned two of its timeouts on the field-goal drive is suddenly relevant.
The Chiefs are starting to make things interesting.
Given an incredibly short field for a second straight offensive possession, Kansas City made it 24-14 when Patrick Mahomes found Travis Kelce for a 5-yard touchdown pass, whipping Arrowhead Stadium into a frenzy.
The Texans shot themselves in the foot a bit when they tried to get cute with a fake punt in which the ball was directly snapped to Justin Reid on fourth-and-4. Daniel Sorensen spoiled that plan by making a tremendous tackle to set his team up with the ball at Houston’s 33-yard line.
Mahomes needed just three plays and 23 seconds of game clock to score, and this is suddenly a game again.
Kansas City’s offense wakes up, narrows lead.
Kansas City is finally on the board thanks to a 17-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to running back Damien Williams, that along with the extra point, narrowed Houston’s lead to 24-7.
The Chiefs had badly needed an energy boost in a game that was slipping away, and Mecole Hardman delivered one with a 58-yard kickoff return that would have been far longer if he did not briefly step out of bounds.
Given a short field of just 42 yards, Mahomes got 25 of it with a pass to tight end Travis Kelce. His next attempt was to Williams, who easily streaked past Houston’s defense for the touchdown.
The entire two-play scoring drive took just 59 seconds off the game clock.
Field goal makes it 24-0, Texans.
After a 38-yard drive stalled out at Kansas City’s 21-yard line, the Texans briefly considered going for it on fourth-and-1, but ultimately thought better of it and sent out Ka’imi Fairbairn for a 31-yard field goal that stretched Houston’s lead to 24-0.
While the enormous lead makes it less of an issue, Houston had to burn two timeouts on the brief drive, which could potentially take away a scoring opportunity late in the quarter.
First quarter closes with Houston on top.
Houston is leading 21-0, having scored the highest first-quarter points total in franchise history.
The Texans are dominating in every phase of the game. Deshaun Watson has completed 7 of 8 passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns, the team is running for 5.6 yards a carry, the defense has forced Kansas City to attempt three punts, and special teams play has directly led to two touchdowns.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, have had nothing go right. Patrick Mahomes has put the ball in the right spot multiple times, only to have his receivers drop the ball, Kansas City has gone 0 for 3 on third-down conversions, and receiver Tyreek Hill had to be helped off the field after a huge hit from safety Justin Reid on an incomplete pass.
Houston’s current yardage advantage: 114 to 46.
Texans score after another huge special teams play.
It looked like things might be setting down after a hectic stretch in which Houston scored two touchdowns in a span of just 1 minute 53 seconds of game clock. But Bryan Anger’s punt was muffed by Tyreek Hill and the Texans recovered the ball at Kansas City’s 6-yard line. Two plays later, Deshaun Watson connected with receiver Darren Fells for a 4-yard touchdown pass that, along with the extra point, has Houston up, 21-0.
The mistakes are piling up for the Chiefs, who seem absolutely lost on both offense and special teams. Patrick Mahomes will need to find a way to score quickly before this game gets out of hand.
This is the largest scoring deficit of Mahomes’s professional career.
Texans go up, 14-0, after blocked punt.
Continuing their absolutely stunning start against the heavily-favored Chiefs, the Texans’ special teams came up huge, blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown and an early 14-0 lead.
After Kansas City went just 4 yards on three plays, punter Dustin Colquitt lined up to punt the ball away. Those plans were thwarted when linebacker Barkevious Mingo burst into the backfield and blocked Colquitt’s kick. Lonnie Johnson, a rookie cornerback, recovered the ball and ran it into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown.
The crowd at Arrowhead Stadium seemed absolutely overwhelmed by the Chiefs’ terrible start.
Texans strike first with 54-yard Kenny Stills touchdown.
The Houston Texans, who typically started slowly during the regular season, could not have opened the game better. Their opening drive went 75 yards on six plays thanks to Deshaun Watson taking advantage of bad coverage, connecting with Kenny Stills on a 54-yard touchdown in which no defenders were within 10 yards of the wide receiver when he crossed the goal line.
Watson was 4 for 4 on the opening drive, making quick use of the recently returned receiver Will Fuller by throwing to him on a third-and-7 for a 9-yard gain and a first down.
On an otherwise flawless drive, Houston did lose right tackle Chris Clark, at least temporarily, when he came up limping after a Carlos Hyde run.