Burrowhead no longer, the Kansas City Chiefs beat their demons and win their third AFC Championship Game in four years to advance to Super Bowl LVII, beating the Bengals on Mahomes’ last-second scramble and Butker Field Goal. Patrick Mahomes put on a great performance on one leg, Chris Jones made timely plays, and the rookies made incredible plays when players went down with injuries. Let’s look at the takeaways from the Chiefs’ 23-20 win.
Patrick Mahomes is an All-Time Great
When the sports media keeps saying you aren’t the best quarterback in the league, even after you have the most passing yards, passing touchdowns, and best QBR in the league, they still wouldn’t say he’s the best in the league. There were serious doubts about the injury to the probable 2022 MVP, his ankle injury was probably more severe than anyone thought, and the Chiefs’ offensive line hasn’t held up great all season, especially against the Bengals.
But Patrick Mahomes had other plans, leading the Chiefs in an incredible exertion of will and a mastery of the game of football. Mahomes led the Chiefs on important scoring drives throughout the game, including a fourth-down touchdown throw to Travis Kelce. There were moments of brilliance and moments of limitations, the ankle injury did start to affect Mahomes as the game wore on, he started to miss players on crossing routes because he couldn’t plant and throw off of his right ankle.
The most fascinating part of his missing throws during the game was who he was throwing the ball to. In the early stages of the third quarter, the Chiefs were without Kadarius Toney, Mecole Hardman, and JuJu Smith-Schuster after the 10-minute mark, and Patrick Mahomes’ only weapon seemed to be Marquez Valdez-Scantling, the unsung receiver who finally seemed to be in rhythm with Mahomes. The duo connected on a late third-quarter touchdown, Mahomes threw a ball on a rope to Valdez-Scantling, just beyond the outstretched fingers of the Bengals’ Mike Hilton.
Then in the fourth quarter, Mahomes had 30 seconds to get the Chiefs 20 yards in scoring position and completed two passes, and ran for his life on a third down play. A play where Bengals’ Defensive end Joseph Ossai, who was chasing Mahomes, shoved Mahomes in the back three yards out of bounds, drawing the late hit personal foul. So the Chiefs were able to get a 40-yard field goal instead of a 55-yard field goal.
Patrick Mahomes has had five years of exemplary football, 2x First Team All-Pro, two 5,000-yard seasons, 5x Pro Bowler, 3x AFC Champion, Super Bowl Champion, Super Bowl MVP, and a 2x League MVP. Those are all-time accomplishments from a player who isn’t even 30 yet, he already is on track to be in the Hall of Fame and is an all-time great.
Chris Jones Had the Game of His Career
For many seasons in a row, Chris Jones has seemed to not live up to the contract he had gotten after the Super Bowl in 2020, he was making plays, but not finishing sacks or huge splash plays like he was in the years prior. The big defensive tackle out of Mississippi State proved everyone wrong this season, earning a first-team All-Pro selection and becoming a finalist for the Defensive Player of the Year.
With all of the accolades and accomplishments in his career, Chris Jones had yet to get a sack in the postseason. There have been moments where Jones has been close to getting the sack where the quarterback either escapes the pocket or Jones didn’t finish the play, famously he didn’t finish the play against Joe Burrow in the AFC Championship Game last year and it led to the Bengals being able to tie the game. But Sunday Night, Chris Jones was a man possessed.
The defensive line for the Chiefs was dominant from the first snap for Cincinnati, Frank Clark and Mike Danna were able to pressure Burrow and force a bad throw. Then the second step back for the Bengals wasn’t much better for Burrow, Frank Clark was able to get on the week side and take down Burrow. Then on the second third down of the game, Chris Jones got home and took down Burrow and get his first postseason sack.
The rest of the game was dominated by Jones, he constantly pressured Burrow throughout the game, causing the once-calm Joe Burrow to miss throws and rush his passes. The best play of the game came on the last drive for the Bengals, on a third down and the Bengals driving, Chris Jones made his final play. I’ll let it speak for itself.
The Rookies had Great Games
The 2022 draft class for Kansas City has been super impressive, to say the least, both first-rounders, Trent McDuffie and George Karlaftis, had incredible second halves of the season and carried that into the playoffs. But all of the draft picks have had a lot of snaps and have played crucial roles on the team this season, especially in the defensive backfield.
Trent McDuffie had to take over the CB1 role after L’Jarius Sneed’s injury in the first quarter on Sunday night and didn’t blink. He seemed to have some issues adjusting to the speed and strength of the Bengals’ wide receivers early in the game. But by the second half, he was making plays all over the place and making great tackles.
The other two rookie corners had their moments too, Jaylen Watson and Joshua Williams were able to make huge plays in the Championship Game, both getting huge interceptions. For many, it was surprising to see the Chiefs roll out with so many rookie players in the defensive backfield, but they have outperformed their expectations and are a strength for Kansas City as they head to the Super Bowl.
George Karlaftis and Skyy Moore are two players who had full-circle moments for their rookie seasons on Sunday night. Karlaftis had a lot of problems with finishing plays and had flashes of being the good player he had the potential to be. He finally started to put it together in the second half of the season, finally getting home and even recovering fumbles. He finally had his moment, getting a sack on Joe Burrow off of a great spin move.
While Karlaftis had been playing better for a long time, Skyy Moore hadn’t been given the opportunities to show what he could do outside of the Chargers’ game in Los Angeles. He had struggled to find a role on the team, especially on special teams, he was forced to return punts all season long and couldn’t handle it because he hadn’t done it before. When the Chiefs moved away from Moore as a returner, he started to get more opportunities on offense. But the rookie had to return a critical punt with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter in the AFC Championship and took it 30 yards closer. A full circle moment for the rookie.
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