Analysis

AFC championship game winners and losers

The last time the Chiefs had won the AFC Championship game was in 1970 and it was actually called the AFL Championship game, so technically this is the first time they have ever won the AFC Championship game. In fact, the Lamar Hunt trophy didn’t exist until the 1984 season. So, Sunday evening was certainly a momentous occasion with Clark Hunt, for the first time in Chiefs history, hoisting the trophy that is named after his father. Winning that game, the way they did was even better. The Chiefs won with stellar performances from offseason acquisitions, Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu and another out-of-this-world performance from Patrick Mahomes. The Kansas City Chiefs are headed to the Super Bowl. I can’t believe I just typed that. The Super Bowl. Unbelievable. So, with the AFC Championship game in the books, let’s go over the five winners and five losers from that game.

WINNER – Patrick Mahomes

On Sunday, Patrick Mahomes put the entire league on notice. It doesn’t matter what the game plan is, defenses cannot stop him. You can double Tyreek, you can double Kelce and then all of a sudden, Pat breaks a 27-yard touchdown run. He avoided two tacklers by outrunning them and then he ran through two more, while spinning his way to the endzone. There was no stopping him. Keep telling me that Lamar is the MVP and I’ll keep referencing plays like that. Mahomes has all the intangibles: arm strength, accuracy, mobility, and a high football IQ. He put all of it on display against the Titans. Mahomes finished the game with 294 yards passing and 3 touchdowns. He added 53 yards with his legs including the aforementioned 27-yard touchdown, giving him four touchdowns total.

LOSER – Brashaud Breeland

It is hard to label any Chief as a loser in this situation, especially on the defensive side and Cornerback Bashaud Breeland did not have an entirely awful performance to my knowledge. However, he did have one needless and very costly penalty that helped keep a Tennessee Titans drive alive, and it led directly to a touchdown. The Chiefs were down 10-7, and they had the Titans in a 3rd and 22 situation at the Kansas City 25. It looked like the Chiefs were going to get out of this one by forcing a field goal and only going down by six. Breeland, however, grabbed Corey Davis’ jersey on the play, leading to a pass interference call and an automatic first down. This hold happened when Davis’ catch was nowhere near the first down marker and he was, in no way, going to get the first down. Breeland is too savvy of a veteran to make mistakes like that. Fortunately, the Chiefs were able to regain the lead before halftime and Breeland seemed to have a decent day since that penalty.

WINNER – Andy Reid

Can you imagine what the headlines would have read had the Chiefs not won this game? “Andy Reid fails to finish once again.” Something like that. Reid has been with the Chiefs organization for seven years and in those seven he has reached the playoffs six times. That’s pretty good. However, in all six of those times, he has failed to reach the Super Bowl. It started with the blown 28-point lead against the Colts in the wild card game, then the divisional round against the Patriots two years later. How about the next year in the divisional round when the Steelers didn’t score a touchdown and still won by two? Or Marcus Mariota catching his own touchdown pass the year after that? And then, to cap it off, Dee Ford was offsides last year, eliminating the interception that would’ve sent the Chiefs to the big game. Andy needed this. He needs the one in two weeks too.

LOSER – Derrick Henry

I’ve never heard the media clamor to one player so quickly.  Sure, the Titans beat the Patriots and the Ravens on the shoulders of Derrick Henry, but the narrative became that there was no way Kansas City could stop him. Sportswriter Peter King was quoted as saying, “(Derrick) Henry is now the most compelling single figure in the final four of the 2019 season.” Did he forget about 15? Did he forget that this Chiefs’ defense had gotten better every single week and was actually winning games for this team? Everybody just assumed that Henry would run wild and the Chiefs wouldn’t have an answer. Frank Clark wasn’t having it. “He’s not hard to hit,” Clark told NFL Network Friday before the game. “He’s just a big guy. 240, 245, 250 [pounds]; honestly, he should be running harder at his weight and at his size. I don’t see no difficulty in tackling him… He’s just easy to me up front because I don’t look at any running back like they can’t be tackled. He’s not one of the best guys at breaking tackles to me, honestly.” The media ran with those quotes like Henry was going to make Clark eat his words. Frank backed it up. Henry finished the game with 69 yards rushing on 19 carries. He only carried the ball three times in the second half. The goal was to make Derrick Henry a non-factor and that’s exactly what Frank Clark and the Chiefs defense did.

WINNER – Frank Clark

As I just mentioned, Frank Clark backed up his confident words on Sunday. However, he wasn’t just a force in stopping Derrick Henry, he closed the game out with a fourth down sack on Ryan Tannehill at the end of the game. Clark finished with 4 tackles including that sack. After the game, Clark was asked about his confident words, “(The Titans) come in here, they say they’re gonna run the ball. I know exactly what they were gonna do, you watching that film, you know what they’re gonna to do. The last two games, (Henry) had 200 yards each game, I knew damn well we weren’t gonna win the game if we let that happen. They come in here, call him the best rusher in the league. We sending his (expletive) home early.” Frank Clark has been a pivotal piece to this revamped defense; however, it didn’t appear that way at first. Clark’s slow start to the season, mixed with injuries and illnesses, may have had Chiefs fans skeptical about the large contract that he received in the offseason. As of late though, Clark has come on strong and is making game-changing plays every week and is a huge reason why the Chiefs were able to win the Lamar Hunt trophy and have a chance at winning the Lombardi trophy in Miami.

LOSER – Ryan Tannehill

The narrative behind the Titans’ season was that sure, they had Derrick Henry, but they didn’t really start doing well until Ryan Tannehill stepped into the starting quarterback role. Since Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota in week seven, the Titans went 9-3 and slid into a postseason berth. That looks pretty good on a resume. In the playoffs, Tannehill was able to knock off the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and then do the same thing to the number one seeded Baltimore Ravens. Ryan Tannehill should be given the keys to the franchise, right? Not so fast. Most of his damage in the regular season was done against non-playoff teams (expect against KC, when Pat was on his first game back from injury and the defense wasn’t where it is today). He did have the luxury of having the top rusher in the NFL in his backfield and in his two games before KC in the playoffs, he was below average. Against the patriots, Tannehill was 8/15 for 72 yards with one touchdown and one interception. However, no one cares as long as Henry has 182 yards rushing and your defense keeps Tom Brady in check. Against the Ravens, Tannehill was 7/14 for 88 yards and two touchdowns. Once again, it’s fine because Henry rushed for 195 and threw a touchdown himself. So, then it was on to Kansas City and the Chiefs were warned that it won’t be just Derrick Henry they would have to worry about, it would be Ryan Tannehill too, who had thrown for 160 yards in two games. Well the Chiefs did stop Derrick Henry. While Tannehill’s numbers were not bad (21/31 for 209 and two touchdowns), a lot of those numbers were due to the Titans playing catch up late in the second half and it was not enough to out-duel Patrick Mahomes. 

WINNER – Sammy Watkins

Sammy Watkins shows up in playoff games. On Sunday, he had 7 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. In the four playoff games that he has played in for the Chiefs, Watkins has caught 19 passes for 366 yards and one touchdown. He makes the clutch third down catches; he makes the hard diving catches. The big debate among Chiefs fans is whether or not he is worth the big contract, because in regular season games he tends to disappear. But are these players getting paid for the regular season? No. That was the old Chiefs team. The Chiefs team that was satisfied with just a winning record and an early playoff exit. This Chiefs team, and several of the new faces, were brought in here to win in the playoffs and hoist the Lombardi trophy. If that’s what Sammy Watkins can help this team achieve, then he is worth it.

LOSER – The Doubters

Anyone out there who is still doubting that Patrick Mahomes is the best player in the NFL, Sunday made you look stupid. It seems like every week members of the sports media try to find someone or some team that’s going to get the best of Mahomes. The Pete Priscos and the Skip Baylesses of the world all hate to see their flavor of the week come crumbling down by the hands of Patrick Mahomes. Why can’t they just accept it? Is it because he doesn’t play in L.A. or New York? Is it because he doesn’t play the quarterback role conventionally like Brady or Manning? And what about this craze with Lamar Jackson? When Lamar came on this year, it was like everybody forgot about Mahomes or the fact that Mahomes is 2-0 against Lamar. However, one of those two is still standing. One of those two is going to the Super Bowl, and it’s not Lamar Jackson. So, bring on the next flavor of the week (Jimmy Garoppolo) for the doubters to go all in on. Pat will be ready.

WINNER – Chiefs Kingdom

It has been 50 years since the Kansas City Chiefs had made it to the Super Bowl. Super Bowl IV saw the Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings 23-7. Quarterback Len Dawson was the Super Bowl MVP and head coach Hank Stram quoted phrases like “Just keep matriculating the ball down the field boys!” and “65 Toss Power Trap”. These are things I know because I read about them or saw them on video. It wasn’t live for me because I wasn’t alive to see it. I’ve been a Chiefs fan since the days of Derrick Thomas, Christian Okoye, and Neil Smith. I witnessed this team do great things under head coaches Marty Schottenheimer and Dick Vermeil and not so great things under Herm Edwards, Todd Haley, and Romeo Crennel. But I’ve never witnessed anything like the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs. Not many Chiefs fans have. However, in two weeks Chiefs Kingdom will get that chance. There is a different feeling around this team and around the fans.

LOSER – The AFC for the unforeseeable future

Sunday showed the rest of the AFC that the Chiefs are not going away anytime soon. The AFC Championship game was the second consecutive one that the Chiefs had played in and the second consecutive one at Arrowhead. The Chiefs have the ability to get to that game every year for as long as Patrick Mahomes is under center. Sure, Pat’s going to get his money and it will be a little harder to pay some of the guys currently on the roster, but we’ve seen how young talent can come in and be developed. Look at how draft picks Mecole Hardman, Juan Thornhill, and Derrick Nnadi are contributing. Also, look at the cheaper additions in Alex Okafor, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Damien Williams. With Patrick’s skillset and the team’s ability to put the necessary pieces around him, the rest of the conference should be concerned.

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