KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Playing on one leg after a first-quarter ankle injury and needing a touchdown to restore breathing room on the scoreboard, Patrick Mahomes showed his mettle in the fourth quarter Saturday during a 27-20 AFC Divisional round win.
Mahomes, who was visibly gimpy and lacked his trademark mobility, connected on 4 of 6 throws for 48 yards, including a 6-yard dart to Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the back of the end zone.
It was the latest chapter in the Legend of Mahomes, whose second TD toss of the game made it 27-17 and provided the winning points as Kansas City is poised to host* a record fifth straight AFC Championship Game.
"It was a good drive by everybody," said Mahomes, who finished 22 of 30 for 195 yards with two touchdowns. "I think everybody had a part in that drive. Everybody was making plays and that’s what championship teams do. Whenever stuff’s not going their way and the game gets tight, how are you going to respond?"
Mahomes had been forced from the game to have a sprained ankle X-rayed in the second quarter, but returned for the second half and improved to 5-0 in the Divisional round during his career.
“Of course, that affected the whole team and everybody in the stands,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said of the emotion when Mahomes was hurt. “I felt like everyone in there, but Pat is tough as nails.”
Jacksonville threatened to make things interesting with a lengthy march into the red zone before cornerback L’Jarius Sneed poked the ball free from Jamal Agnew around the 5-yard line.
Linebacker Nick Bolton won the wrestling match for the loose ball at the bottom of the scrum, giving the Chiefs the ball back with a 10-point lead and only 5:29 remaining.
“There were a whole bunch of Chiefs players, so it wasn’t as bad as some of them have been in the past,” said Bolton, who had a team-high 10 tackles. “I had a couple guys around me grabbing the football. I think it was me, Willie (Gay Jr.), Juan (Thornhill), LJ (Sneed) — like four or five of us.”
The ensuing drive didn’t go anywhere, but it allowed Kansas City — which beat Jacksonville 27-17 on Nov. 13 during the regular season — to burn more clock and forced Jacksonville to burn two timeouts.
After the punt, rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson sealed the game with a slick one-handed interception, which all but ensured the Chiefs a fifth straight appearance in the AFC Championship Game.
"I turned my head, the ball was there and I didn't have time to put two hands out, so I just tried to grab it [with] one and it happened," Watson said. "I didn't feel like I played great, so I needed to make a play for my teammates and the time presented itself and I just so happened to make that play."
Jacksonville managed a field goal with 25 seconds left but failed to recover the onside kick, allowing Kansas City to run out the clock.
The site of the championship game will be determined Sunday* when Cincinnati plays at Buffalo in the other AFC Divisional game.
If the Bengals win, the game will be in Kansas City.
If the Bills win, the game will be in Atlanta after the NFL adjusted the playoff format in the wake of canceling the Buffalo-Cincinnati game after Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field.
Mahomes’ injury status will dominate the conversation heading into next week no matter where the game is played.
He probably will need to be more mobile against Cincy or Buffalo — teams that beat Kansas City during the regular season.
“He’s the best quarterback in the NFL, so when he goes down, we’ve got to up our level of play and try to give the offense as many opportunities as possible down the stretch,” Bolton said. “I feel like on defense we did a helluva job winning in key situations and forcing field goals when we needed to.”
Mahomes was hurt when Arden Key climbed on his back as he fired a 4-yard completion to tight end Blake Bell on a short scramble late in the first quarter.
Nearly everyone inside GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium held their breath as Mahomes got to his feet with a noticeable limp. That included his Chiefs teammates.
Key had caught Mahomes’ right leg under him and rolled up on his ankle.
After a timeout, Kansas City’s All-Pro quarterback stayed in the game.
Mahomes even completed a 7-yard pass to tight end Travis Kelce before hobbling to the sideline to get his ankle retaped when the quarter ended, which helped move the Chiefs into field-goal range for a 50-yard go-ahead kick from Harrison Butker.
During the next defensive series, Kansas City’s medical staff seemed to insist that Mahomes head to the locker room for X-rays, which were negative, Reid said after the game.
With Kansas City up 10-7 after another Jaguars punt, Chad Henne took over for Mahomes, leading a clutch 98-yard touchdown drive.
Henne, who spent five seasons in Jacksonville from 2012-17, went 5 of 7 for 23 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown to Kelce as the Chiefs’ lead grew to 17-7.
“That’s why you pay guys like Chad to be ready for those opportunities,” defensive end Frank Clark said. “That’s a good veteran leadership move what Chad did.”
Running back Isiah Pacheco had 49 yards rushing on the drive and finished with 12 carries for 95 yards.
The Jags inched closer with a 41-yard field goal shortly before halftime, but both offenses bogged down in the third quarter.
Mahomes returned after halftime but struggled until opening Kansas City’s third drive with a 27-yard heave to tight end Noah Gray.
That set up Butker’s second 50-yard field goal for a 20-10 lead in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
Jacksonville refused to wilt, needing only seven plays to march 75 yards before a Travis Etienne touchdown run made it a one-score game again.
Next came the game-winning touchdown drive capped by Valdes-Scantling's only reception of the game.
"It was just a slant route," he said. "I saw I had zero coverage, one-on-one with that guy (cornerback Tyson Campbell). The back motioned out, the linebacker went with him and I knew they were going to double Trav. That left me one-on-one, so I just knew I had to get across and let Pat find me."
After a Jags three-and-out to start the game, the Chiefs marched 83 yards on a 12-play touchdown drive capped by an 8-yard touchdown toss from Mahomes to tight end Travis Kelce.
Jamal Agnew’s 63-yard kickoff return energized visiting Jacksonville, which tied the game with a 10-yard touchdown from Trevor Lawrence to Christian Kirk.
The Jags caught the Chiefs in a blitz, which left rookie defensive end George Karlaftis in coverage on Kirk.
Kansas City answered with a field goal on the drive Mahomes was injured.