With 9:55 to go in the second quarter of Sunday's Chiefs-Texans divisional game, Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes let out a fist pump, more than a year in waiting. At one point during Mahomes's injury-interrupted year, the Chiefs QB feared that his season might have been over. He admitted weeks after the injury that he was still frustrated by last season's conference championship loss to the Patriots. That he felt like this season he was actually playing better than he was in his MVP-winning 2018 campaign.
And through one quarter of play against the Houston Texans, Mahomes and the Chiefs had failed to score. They trailed 21-0 after 15 minutes—the home crowd stunned as even its mascot was seen banging its head against a stadium door.
But just under 10 minutes into the second quarter, Mahomes hit RB Damien Williams on a wheel-route to get the Chiefs onto the scoreboard. Sure, at that point in the game, they trailed 24-7, but Kansas City had life and Mahomes let the Arrowhead Stadium crowd know it. As it turned out in their 51-31 victory over the Texans, they just needed some time to get going.
The Chiefs' frustrating first quarter featured dropped third-down passes—a rarity for a team that was the league's best in converting third downs this season. It featured defensive coverage busts. And two huge special teams errors.
Rookie WR Mecole Hardman's kick return with just over four minutes into the second quarter put the Chiefs immediately into Houston territory. Two plays, 42 yards and 58 seconds later, Kansas City had finally scored. The crowd rejoiced—an orb of energy, and as it turned out, offensive production, was released into the stadium.
For as much as Mahomes's play was instrumental in the Chiefs' comeback, special teams plays appeared to be the initial dominos that needed to fall. One series after Hardman's return and Williams's touchdown catch, the Texans attempted a fourth-and-4 fake punt from their own 31-yard line. The play was unsuccessful and Kansas took possession just 33 yards from the end zone. KC scored its second touchdown just three plays later.
Houston kick returner DeAndre Carter fumbled on the very next kickoff, and the Chiefs recovered—returning Carter's miscue to the 6-yard line. Three plays later, Kansas City had scored again—the scoreboard read 24-21. Just four minutes earlier it was 24-0.
"I understand that every single play counts, every single rep in practice counts and that you have to take advantage of every single opportunity you get," Mahomes said earlier in the week.
It took time for Kansas City to seize on its playoff opportunity, but with 4:39 to go in the third quarter, it led 41-24—having scored 41 unanswered points, much to the delight of the home faithful.
The Chiefs led 28-24 at halftime in what was the highest-scoring first half in playoff history. They led 48-31 at the end of three quarters, recording the most points they had in a single game this past season after only 45 minutes of action. And they became the first team in NFL postseason history to win a game by 20 or more points after trailing by 20 or more.
This year, the 24-year-old Mahomes became the fastest player in NFL history to throw for more than 9,000 passing yards and 75 touchdowns, doing so in just 30 games. He looked like his prolific self for the final three quarters of Sunday's contest, finishing with 321 yards and five touchdowns on 23-of-35 passing. Williams scored three total touchdowns himself and TE Travis Kelce tied a postseason record hauling in three of his own on 10 catches and 134 receiving yards.
Texans QB Deshaun Watson threw for 388 yards and two scores, but he spent much of the final 40-plus minutes of Sunday's contest alternating between watching Mahomes and the Chiefs find the end zone and trying—often unsuccessfully—to find the end zone himself. Watson, the No. 12 pick in the 2017 NFL draft, was taken two selections after Mahomes. The two are forever linked. The Clemson product beat the quarterback selected two picks before him in Week 6 of this season, but Sunday's outcome was markedly different.
In the midst of Kansas City's six-straight scoring drives, the team's mascot was caught on camera high-fiving fans in the lower bowl. The tenor of the game had changed entirely. K.C. Wolf's body language being exhibit A.
The Chiefs' offense had been unleashed, as its defense stiffened and its special teams improved. "All we were preaching, offense, defense, special teams, is let’s do something special," Mahomes said to CBS' Tracy Wolfson after the game. "Everyone was already counting us out. Let’s keep fighting and go one play at a time." KC certainly followed its leader's orders and is now set to host Tennessee next weekend after the Titans upset Baltimore Saturday night.
Mahomes will hope for more fist pumps and more scoring. Every single opportunity matters even if slow starts can seemingly be easily overcome.
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