Patrick Mahomes’s run gives Kansas City its first lead.

Patrick Mahomes’s run gives Kansas City its first lead.


Patrick Mahomes’s run gives Kansas City its first lead.

Patrick Mahomes pulled off a run that looked like something from the Lamar Jackson playbook, stepping out of two tackles, racing down the sideline and fighting through traffic at the goal line for a 27-yard touchdown. After having trailed, 10-0, at one point, the Kansas City Chiefs are leading the Titans, 21-17.

The Chiefs are truly rolling, going 86 yards on nine plays after getting the ball back just after the two-minute warning. The drive had been set up when the Chiefs’ defense finally came up with a great stretch of plays, forcing a three-and-out. While Tennessee will get one more brief possession in this half, Kansas City will receive the ball to start the second half.

Kelly is the heaviest player to catch a postseason touchdown pass.

Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed a 1-yard touchdown pass to tackle Dennis Kelly to put Tennessee ahead, 17-7, early in the second quarter.

Chiefs quickly answer with Tyreek Hill’s second touchdown.

No one answers a scoring drive better than Patrick Mahomes, and the Chiefs quarterback kept his team squarely in this game by following the Titans’ latest touchdown by going 63 yards on just five plays. He hit wide receiver Tyreek Hill with a 20-yard touchdown pass in which Hill barely seemed to be covered by Tennessee.

Mahomes is having no problem with the Titans’ underwhelming pass defense so far. He has completed 9 of 13 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns.

Titans take advantage of penalty to extend lead.

Tennessee was handed a huge gift in the form of a pass interference penalty against Kansas City on a third-and-22 play, and that was just the boost the Titans needed to finish off a 75-yard drive, culminating with Ryan Tannehill completing a 1-yard touchdown pass to tackle Dennis Kelly, who had been declared an eligible receiver in the jumbo package. Tennessee now leads, 17-7, early in the second quarter.

The biggest play of the drive — beyond the touchdown pass to the 6-foot-8, 321-pound Kelly — was the long third-down conversion attempt in which Tannehill completed a pass to Corey Davis that was 12 yards short of a first down. Kansas City was flagged for interference on the play, giving Tennessee a short field and a first down. From there it seemed like just a matter of time until the Titans scored. The drive took 9 minutes 7 seconds of clock time, which is huge considering Tennessee’s best bet to win is keeping Patrick Mahomes off the field.

Titans lead, 10-7, at end of first quarter.

At the end of the first quarter, this game has been as exciting as Las Vegas expected when setting an aggressive over/under at 52.5 points. The Titans moved down the field with ease on their first two drives, and Kansas City, after a slow start, looked electric on its second chance with the ball.

Going into the second quarter, Tennessee has the ball, a distinct advantage in both total yards and time of possession, and a 10-7 lead. Derrick Henry has 32 rushing yards on eight carries and Ryan Tannehill, who was held to fewer than 100 passing yards in each of his first two playoff games, is already at 83.

Tyreek Hill put the Chiefs on the board with a touchdown catch.

Credit…Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Kansas City waited until they were behind, 24-0, to come alive last week, but was spurred into action with just a 10-point deficit this week. The team went 74 yards on 10 plays, scoring when Tyreek Hill took a short pass from Patrick Mahomes in the backfield and raced around the left corner for a 8-yard touchdown, narrowing the Titans’ lead to 10-7.

Just like Tennessee, Kansas City showed some aggressiveness by eschewing the kicking game and going for a conversion on fourth-and-2 from Tennessee’s 28-yard line. They converted with a 4-yard pass from Mahomes to Travis Kelce. The Titans have been sending quite a bit of pressure early, but Mahomes has held strong, and managed to evade a sack to complete a crucial 26-yard pass to Tyreek Hill, who showed some awareness by coming back to the ball and trapping it just before it hit the turf.

The Chiefs used their first timeout on the drive, and Tennessee had a brief delay of game when linebacker Rashaan Evans had to come off the field with an injury.

Titans extend lead with Henry’s touchdown run.

Credit…Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Derrick Henry took a direct snap and plowed his way into the end zone on a 4-yard run, giving the Titans an early 10-0 lead. The run was the culmination of a 58-yard drive in which Tennessee rolled the dice on a fourth-and-2 play from Kansas City’s 29-yard line rather than attempt a long field goal.

The drive, which followed a three-and-out from Kansas City’s offense, had begun with two strong runs by Henry, which gained a total of 16 yards. Ryan Tannehill then got away with a rare mistake when cornerback Bashaud Breeland stepped in front of a pass for a play that was initially called an interception, but was ruled incomplete following a review. A few penalties, a few more runs, and the huge fourth down pass from Tannehill to wide receiver Adam Humphries let the Titans score fairly easily.

Titans take 3-0 lead with rare field goal.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

After a promising opening drive stalled out, the Titans got an early lead with a 30-yard field goal by Greg Joseph, giving them an early 3-0 lead. The team had not made a field goal since Week 13.

Tennessee had looked far different on its first drive than it did in the last two weeks. On the second play of the game, Ryan Tannehill made a point about his passing ability by throwing long to rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown, who cut through defenders for a 37-yard gain. Two plays later, he picked up a second first down with a 12-yard catch-and-run to Corey Davis. The team did not get much traction with running back Derrick Henry, but his style lends itself more to wearing teams down rather than big gains early in the day.

Chris Jones will be active for Chiefs.

Credit…Denny Medley/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Chris Jones was not on Kansas City’s final injury report heading into the game, and is expected to be active. The defensive tackle missed last week’s win over Houston with a calf injury, but had a breakout season in 2019, earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Jones led the team with nine sacks, and could be key in helping slow down Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, but he had to pass a pregame workout to be declared active. The Chiefs are also expecting tight end Travis Kelce to play through a lingering knee injury. Running back LeSean McCoy is inactive for the Chiefs, and Kansas City’s biggest absence is one they knew of in advance: rookie safety Juan Thornhill, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Week 17.

Tennessee, meanwhile, had several key players on its injury report heading into today, but linebacker Jayon Brown (who missed last weekend’s game with a shoulder injury) and wide receiver Adam Humphries (who has not played since Week 13) will be active.

Head coaches have plenty of conference championship experience.

Credit…Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The head coaches of the Titans and Chiefs are no strangers to conference championships. Coach Andy Reid has led Kansas City to the A.F.C. championship game in each of the last two seasons and previously led the Philadelphia Eagles to the N.F.C. championship game five times in 14 seasons — winning once. As a Green Bay assistant from 1992 to 1997, he went to the N.F.C. championship three times, winning twice.

Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel is in the A.F.C. championship game for the first time as a head coach, but he regularly advanced to the game as a player. He played for a shot at a Super Bowl appearance as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers following the 1997 season — losing to John Elway’s Denver Broncos — and with the New England Patriots, where he played in the conference championship five times over a span of eight seasons, winning four times.

Damien Williams views the Chiefs as underdogs.

Credit…Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Kansas City has a whole host of skill players, but an interesting one to watch in this game will be running back Damien Williams, who was expected to play a secondary role to LeSean McCoy this season but emerged as the team’s more explosive option. Williams had 124 rushing yards in Kansas City’s bye-week-clinching win over the Chargers in Week 17, and while he had just 68 yards from scrimmage in the divisional round, he scored three touchdowns.

Williams had 109 yards from scrimmage against Tennessee in Week 10, but had a fumble returned for a touchdown. As a result, he is not buying into the narrative that Kansas City is a huge favorite. “The type of person I am, I can’t have somebody beat up on me and then come to my house and then think they’re going to beat up on me again,” he said to reporters on Thursday. “People are looking at them as the underdogs but I feel we’re the underdogs right now. They’ve already got one up on us.”

Las Vegas expects a high-scoring game.

Credit…Jim Brown/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Don’t let Tennessee’s focus on the run fool you: All indications ahead of this game are that it could easily turn into a high-scoring affair. Las Vegas set the over/under for the game at 52.5 — six points higher than the prediction for the N.F.C. championship game — and considering that the teams combined for 67 points in Week 10, that number could easily push higher.

The reasons for the high scoring prediction are fairly obvious. Kansas City was ranked 26th in the N.F.L. against the run this season — a major issue now that the team is facing Derrick Henry — and Tennessee, asked to slow down Patrick Mahomes, was ranked 24th against the pass. While the Chiefs’ secondary, led by safety Tyrann Mathieu, has been a strength, there may be some passing opportunities for the Titans thanks to the absence of rookie safety standout Juan Thornhill.

Frank Clark gives Derrick Henry some extra motivation.

Defensive end Frank Clark was a great addition for Kansas City this season, but he may have done his team some harm by giving Tennessee running back Derrick Henry some added motivation ahead of this game. Henry has rushed for at least 180 yards in three consecutive games — and ran for 188 yards against Kansas City in Week 10 — but Clark said a running back as large as Henry, who is 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, should actually run quite a bit harder. “He’s just easy to me up front because I don’t look at any running back like they can’t be tackled,” Clark said. “He’s not one of the best guys at breaking tackles to me, honestly.”

Baltimore safety Earl Thomas made similarly dismissive comments about Henry and the Titans before last weekend’s divisional round. That came back to haunt the star safety, as at one point in Henry’s 195-yard game, the running back effectively used Thomas as a lead blocker (above) on a long run. Tennessee beat the top-seeded Ravens, 28-12.



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