Photo by: Reed Hoffmann/AP
The Kansas City Chiefs have done it. They are going to Super Bowl LVII by avenging their AFC Championship loss of a year ago and finally got the W against Joe Burrow and the Bengals, defeating Cincinnati 23-20 in the AFC title game Sunday. The Chiefs will face Andy Reid’s old team, the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, February 12, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The Eagles rolled past the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Title game. There were plenty of winners and losers from the Jaguars game and in this article, I’ll list the ones that stood and the ones that need to step it up.
Winners from the AFC Championship:
1. Patrick Mahomes, QB
The soon to be 2nd-time NFL MVP, Patrick Mahomes was clearly not 100% in this game, but that doesn’t matter. Michael Vick tried to warn us. Even our guys before the game said he could do it on one leg. On Sunday night, MVPat put together an all-time performance. He was sharp out of the gate, completing 13 of 19 in the first half for 165 yards and a touchdown to give the Chiefs the seven-point lead. Over that stretch, Mahomes did seem to be a little less bothered by the high ankle sprain he suffered during the divisional round a week ago. However, he appeared to have aggravated it in the second half after rolling out to his left and completing an 11-yard pass to Mecole Hardman. To make the throw, Mahomes had to put his full eight on that bad ankle and could be seen with a more pronounced limp for the rest of the game. That said, he was still able to make a couple of insanely clutch plays, including a dart to receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown. Earlier in the game, Mahomes also came up clutch as Andy Reid decided to keep the offense on the field on 4th-and-1 from the Bengals’ 14-yard line. While this was before Mahomes aggravated the ankle, he was still limited in his mobility but extended the play enough to eventually find future HOF tight end Travis Kelce, who was also dealing with back spams earlier in the week for the touchdown. Mahomes still being able to pull off magical play even at less than full strength was a key reason for the Chiefs advancing to the Super Bowl for the 3rd time in the last four seasons.
2. Chiefs’ Defense
Steve Spagnuolo did a hell of a job in this game. Probably one of the best games I’ve seen him coach as Defensive Coordinator. The defense was able to pressure Joe Burrow early and often and sacked him 4 times during the Bengals’ first 3 possessions on the day. That set the tone for the remainder of the game and helped force the quarterback into 2 picks. Burrow even seemed a bit rushed on what was an underthrown ball to Tee Higgins that was picked off on the fourth drive of the game. At that point, their offensive line did seem to find some cohesion right before halftime and throughout the second half, but Sack Nation brought the aggression at the LOS all night that also led to the key sack late on Burrow by Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones who had 2 sacks the whole game helped put the nail in the Bengals’ coffin. Frank Clark unleashed havoc as well with 1.5 sacks. Clark has surpassed Terrell Suggs, a contributor on the Chiefs’ last Super Bowl championship team, for the third most sacks in NFL postseason history with 13.5. “He’s peaking at the right time,” Jones said. “Frank has been playing out of his mind — run game, pass game. He’s doing what he’s been doing for years in the playoffs.” Only Bruce Smith and Willie McGinest have more postseason sacks than Clark, and among all Chiefs, Clark ranks first with five more than Derrick Thomas. Clark and Jones were two of the keys to victory as the Chiefs took advantage of a Bengals offensive line missing three starters and a raucous Arrowhead Stadium that made it difficult for the offense to communicate. The aggression led to them shutting down their running game (Perine and Mixon combined for 41 yards rushing).
3. Skyy Moore, WR/PR
After being plagued by muffed punts throughout his rookie campaign and being removed from return duties as a result, Moore replaced the injured Kadarius Toney and put the Chiefs in position to have the game-winning drive with a 29-yard punt return. That defensive stand and stellar return by Moore to give them a strong field position was enough of a swing in momentum to get the Chiefs in a position to kick the game-winner. With nothing but clear space in front of him, Moore picked up the 29 yards before being tackled at the sideline. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub’s design here was simple, with two key strategic decisions that the Chiefs execute perfectly: the triple-team into the eventual wall led by Deon Bush and Marcus Kemp, as well as the decoy sucking in the right gunner before allowing him to work back outside on his own. If Toub can continue to be creative with his schemes like in the past, it can be incredibly difficult for opposing coverage units to read their keys properly and figure out what is going on, and this is a perfect example of how his creativity can help challenge opposing units going forward.
4. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR
The Chiefs needed the “Next Man Up” mentality from their receivers against the Bengals, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling answered the call in a big way. The speedy 6-foot-4 receiver caught all 6 of his targets for 116 yards, one touchdown, and 5 first downs, generating a 156.3 passer rating when targeted. 73 of his receiving yards came from passes thrown 10 or more yards downfield, and he generated two steps or more of separation on five of his eight targets according to PFF. It has been a remarkable streak of quarterback play that MVS has been able to enjoy, as Aaron Rodgers won back-to-back MVPs in 2020 and 2021 and Mahomes is likely to win the same honor this season. Of course, Mahomes, MVS, and the Chiefs have their eyes on the Lombardi Trophy instead.
5. Harrison Butker, K
Harrison Butker was clutch vs the Jaguars last weekend. Butker made two 50-yard field goals, made all of his extra points and he saved the Chiefs’ season by tackling Jaguars returner Jamal Agnew on his kickoff return. Butker made all three of his field goals and added two extra points in a 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship. Butker drilled field goals from 43, 24, and 45 yards out. His final field goal of the game came with 3 seconds left in the game and broke the 20-20 tie, kicking the Chiefs to the Super Bowl. Butker has hit all 5 of his field goals in his two playoff games this postseason. Butker and his unit will now have two weeks to get ready to take on the Philadelphia Eagles.
Losers from the AFC Championship:
1. Joe Burrow
Not only did Joe Burrow get beat up but got sacked five times, and threw two picks that were picked off by rookies, including one that came in the fourth quarter with just under 7 minutes left to play. The loss to the Chiefs marked Burrow’s first-ever January loss in the NFL, his first-ever loss to Mahomes, and the Bengals’ first-ever loss in an AFC title game. His offensive line was depleted just like the Chiefs did in Super Bowl 55. Thank goodness that won’t happen to us again.
2. The Mayor of Cincinnati
The mayor of Cincinnati made a video earlier last week that he is definitely regretting now. From that video to “Burrowhead” to Eli Apple talking trash on Twitter, the Bengals got a little too cocky going into the AFC title game and the Kingdom made sure to call them out for everything they did. Cincinnati mayor Aftab Pureval made a mistake so avoidable, it made Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai’s late, out-of-bounds hit on Patrick Mahomes look forgivable by comparison. “Yeah,” Mayor Pureval tweeted Sunday night, attaching a video of Travis Kelce’s epic WWE style promo. “Deserved that.” He won’t be the last to step into it. Jabronis just can’t help themselves.