Kansas City Chiefs – 35 – Tennessee Titans – 24
The Ryan Tannehill fairytale narrative was fun while it lasted, huh? The wins over New England and Baltimore had fans in Miami yanking their hair out and screaming “seriously, this guy?”, but under the bright lights in the AFC Championship, when Tannehill needed to go toe-to-toe with Patrick Mahomes to win it for the Titans, people all over South Beach simply nodded and said “I told you so”.
Despite getting out to a 10-0 lead early, Tennessee simply couldn’t bend the game to their will the way they did against the Patriots and the Ravens. The Chiefs much-maligned (by me, as well as others) defense finally solved the puzzle, and Derrick Henry was held under seventy yards for the since November 3rd.
The Chiefs undoubtedly looked at Tannehill on the Titans sidelines and needing to choose between him and the behemoth running back, decided that in a battle of quarterbacks, they liked their guy. It was a smart bet that neither New England nor Baltimore was willing to make, with the Chiefs mediocre defense going all-in to stop the run with huge fronts that simply dared the Titans to put the ball in Ryan Tannehill’s hands.
While the Titans signal caller didn’t throw an interception, he was sacked three times in meaningful situations. Henry finished the game with just 69 yards and one touchdown, with his longest rush being a thirteen-yard effort. Against a constantly loaded box, Henry couldn’t steamroll the Chiefs, and once Mahomes and company regained the lead, Tennessee started to look to pass more and more.
We can get into the semantics of whether the Titans gave up on Henry too early (he was on pace for well over 100 yards), but I think the real story here is the efficiency of the Chiefs offense, which took three consecutive trips to the end zone after starting off with a punt on their first possession.
The Chiefs pass-happy offense used running back Damien Williams to soften the Titans secondary and create some bite on play action. He rushed for only 45 yards on 17 carries but added a touchdown and 44 receiving yards. The Chiefs were consistent enough going to him, though, and it opened up space in the flat and put the Chiefs receivers in a higher percentage of man situations. Tyreek Hill caught five passes for 67 yards, two of them ended up in the end zone, both early in the game, with the Chiefs trailing. Sammy Watkins made the game’s signature play, a sixty-yard catch and run touchdown to take the lead away just before halftime. He would end the game with seven catches for 114 yards.
This is the second consecutive playoff game where we’ve witnessed Patrick Mahomes (21/35, 294 yards, 3 TDs) execute a comeback to get the win. Going into the Super Bowl, you’ve got to think that the Chiefs will try to execute a similar defensive game plan against San Francisco, and if they do, can they contain Jimmy G and George Kittle just as easily down the stretch?
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Image Source: AP Images