NFL: Patrick Mahomes returns to lead Chiefs past Jags, into AFC championship
Patrick Mahomes was badly limping around on his right ankle early in the second quarter and Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid had a message for him: Either go to the locker room for examination or sit out the rest of the game.
Mahomes threw his helmet down to the ground in response, but it turned out the headgear slam wasn’t his last toss of the day.
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Mahomes returned from the ankle injury for the second half and Travis Kelce caught two touchdown passes as the Chiefs recorded a 27-20 victory over the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday to advance to the AFC Championship Game for the fifth straight season.
The top-seeded Chiefs will face either the second-seeded Buffalo Bills or third-seeded Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC title game. The Bills and Bengals meet Sunday.
Mahomes missed most of the second quarter due to the ankle injury but X-rays were negative. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns, and backup quarterback Chad Henne also threw a scoring pass.
“I did not want to go,” Mahomes said of the locker-room visit. “They kind of gave me the ultimatum that I wasn’t going back in unless I went in there.”
Kelce’s 14 receptions (for 98 yards) tied for third most in NFL postseason history and Marquez Valdes-Scantling added a touchdown catch for Kansas City. Nick Bolton (fumble recovery) and Jaylen Watson (interception) each had key takeaways in the fourth quarter.
The five straight visits to the conference championship game match the Oakland Raiders (1973-77) for the second-longest streak in AFC title game history. The New England Patriots hold the record of eight straight from 2011-18.
“We have the ultimate team right now,” Kelce said. “We’re playing great ball in all three phases.”
Trevor Lawrence was 24-of-39 passing for 217 yards, one touchdown and one interception for the fourth-seeded Jaguars. Travis Etienne rushed for a touchdown, Christian Kirk had a scoring reception and two-time NFL tackles leader Foyesade Oluokun had 14 stops.
Jacksonville was one of the final four AFC teams after being 4-29 over the previous two seasons. The Jaguars posted the third-largest postseason comeback in NFL history in last weekend’s wild-card round when they recovered from a 27-0 deficit to beat the Los Angeles Chargers 31-30.
“I told them I’m proud of them for the season we put together,” first-year Jacksonville coach Doug Pederson said. “Nobody expected us, the Jaguars, to be in this football game from the beginning of this season until today.”
Lawrence, in his second season, was balancing the pain of the setback with the team’s stunning rise.
“Equal parts crushed that we’re done playing and the road ends for us this year,” Lawrence said. “And equal parts proud of what we did. … To come up short, it stings. Nobody thought we would be here and we had our shot. We’ll be back. I’m confident in that. This is more the beginning than it is the end of something.”
Jacksonville trailed by 10 entering the final quarter but traveled 75 yards on seven plays to move within 20-17 on Etienne’s 4-yard run with 11:49 remaining.
Mahomes countered with his own 75-yard touchdown drive. On the 10th play, he tossed a 6-yard scoring pass to Valdes-Scantling to push the lead back to 10 with 7:08 left.
Lawrence guided the Jaguars on another drive but Jamal Agnew fumbled the ball at the Kansas City 4-yard line with Bolton recovering with 5:29 remaining.
On Jacksonville’s next drive, Lawrence was intercepted by Watson with 3:48 left. Riley Patterson later kicked a 48-yard field goal with 25 seconds remaining but his ensuing onside kick was recovered by Kansas City’s Kadarius Toney.
Mahomes was hurt late in the first quarter on a play in which he was tackled by Jacksonville’s Corey Peters and Arden Key. Mahomes fell awkwardly to the ground as Key landed on Mahomes’ right lower leg.
Henne replaced Mahomes with 9:59 left in the second quarter and drove the Chiefs 98 yards on 12 plays for a touchdown.
But Mahomes returned at the outset of the second half with the ankle heavily taped. He didn’t appear overly hindered.
“It’s a credit to the guys around me,” Mahomes said. “The offensive line kept me clean in the pocket knowing I couldn’t move and guys made plays around me. That’s what a great team does. When somebody gets a little banged up, everybody around them steps up.”
Mahomes tossed an 8-yard scoring pass to Kelce with 7:56 in the first quarter. Jacksonville knotted the score on its next possession when Lawrence threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kirk.
Kansas City moved ahead 10-7 on Harrison Butker’s 50-yard field goal, the possession in which Mahomes injured the ankle.
When Henne entered, the ball was on the Chiefs’ 2-yard line and he drove the club downfield in Mahomes-like manner. Henne’s 1-yard throw to Kelce made it 17-7 with 3:54 left in the half.
Patterson booted a 41-yard field goal for the Jaguars with 27 seconds remaining.
Butker booted another 50-yarder with eight seconds left in the third quarter to give Kansas City a 20-10 advantage.
–Field Level Media
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