Chiefs beat Jaguars, return to AFC title game

AP photo by Ed Zurga / Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker (7) celebrates a field goal during Saturday's home win against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Patrick Mahomes pleaded with Andy Reid to let him stay in the game for the Kansas City Chiefs.

In addition to trying to convince the head coach, the 27-year-old quarterback argued with trainers, assistant coaches and anyone else within earshot on the home sideline to let him play through an injured right ankle.

"I'm not coming out of a playoff game," Mahomes would say later, "unless they take me out."

Well, the Chiefs did, forcing him to get X-rays late in the first half of Saturday's matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round.

When the results came back negative, though, and Mahomes proved he could protect himself in the halftime locker room, Reid decided to let his All-Pro quarterback back on the field — and he gamely led his team to victory.

Mahomes finished with 195 passing yards and two touchdowns, the second capping a 75-yard drive late in the fourth quarter, and lifted Kansas City to a 27-20 victory over the Jaguars and into a fifth straight AFC championship game.

Mahomes also vowed to be ready for next weekend against the winner of Sunday's game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills. If the Bengals win, the Chiefs will be back at Arrowhead Stadium; if the Bills win, they're headed to Atlanta and the neutral turf of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Chad Henne led a 98-yard touchdown drive while Mahomes was out, Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce had a career-high 14 catches for 98 yards and two scores, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling hauled in what proved to be the clinching touchdown pass with about seven minutes left in the game.

"It's a credit to the team I have around me, the coaches around me and the organization in general," Mahomes said. "We try to do whatever we can to be in this position, to get to the AFC championship game and find a way to the Super Bowl."

The Jaguars, who rallied from a 27-0 deficit to beat the Los Angeles Chargers a week earlier in the wild-card round, squandered two chances to mount another late rally. The first opportunity ended when Jamal Agnew had the ball pop loose inside the Kansas City 5-yard line with about 5 1/2 minutes to go; the second one died when Jaylen Watson made a leaping, one-handed interception near midfield.

The Jaguars' last-gasp chance ended when Kansas City recovered an onside kick with 24 seconds to go.

Trevor Lawrence passed for 217 yards and had a touchdown toss to Christian Kirk, who was briefly hurt midway through the fourth quarter but returned to finish the game. Travis Etienne added 62 rushing yards and a touchdown.

"When you get this far, you don't want to only go this far," Jaguars linebacker Foyesade Oluokun said. "You want to keep going."

Said Lawrence: "I don't really have the words right now. The Chiefs did more today than we did."

Long before Mahomes hobbled to the sideline in pain, the MVP of the NFL's 2018 season and Kansas City's Super Bowl victory three years ago was at his creative best, driving the Chiefs downfield on their opening possession. There was a shortstop-style sidearm sling to JuJu Smith-Schuster, a key third down pass to Kelce as he was being dragged to the turf, and the flip pass to his tight end that gave Kansas City a 7-0 lead.

The Jaguars came right back, taking advantage of a big kickoff return and a short field. Lawrence, whose four touchdown throws — after four interceptions — helped to stun the Chargers last week, proceeded to hit Kirk for the matching touchdown.

Then the complexion of the game changed.

Mahomes was moving up in the pocket when Arden Key brought the full weight of his body down on the quarterback's ankle. Mahomes hobbled to the huddle and managed to get through three more plays to end the first quarter, then was on the field two more plays before Harrison Butker kicked a 50-yard field goal.

During the Jaguars' ensuing possession, Mahomes got into a heated argument with Reid and the training staff. He then threw down his coat and headed to the locker room, forcing Henne to take over midway through the second quarter, just as the 37-year-old journeyman did two years ago in a playoff win over the Cleveland Browns.

"Yeah, I did not want to go, and they kind of gave me the ultimatum that I wasn't going back in unless I went in there," said Mahomes, who cheered on Henne's scoring drive from the sideline, wearing a puffy winter coat on a cold, sleeting evening.

"That was a turning point in the game," Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said. "We had them at the 2-yard line, and we let them off the hook. But those are opportunities where we need to be better."

And when the second half began, that familiar red No. 15 jersey was trotting back onto the field.

"It was a short leash," Reid acknowledged. "If I felt like he wasn't able to handle it, he would have been out."

His right ankle heavily taped, Mahomes struggled to move around, but his presence alone seemed to calm the Chiefs — and their angst-filled fans. Butker added a second 50-yard field goal late in the third quarter to extend the lead to 20-10, and when the AFC South Division champs answered with a touchdown of their own, so did the Chiefs, who were best not only in the AFC West but the entire conference to earn the No. 1 seed.

Mahomes drove them downfield for one last score that proved to be the margin of victory. He improved to 5-0 in the divisional round of the playoffs and has thrown 28 touchdown passes and three interceptions in 10 home playoff games during his NFL career.

"We know that if it's up to Pat, he's going to be in there. I'm sure he had some words with everyone on the sideline that he wanted to be in there as fast as possible," Kelce said afterward. "It's just a different feeling when one-five is in there. He can make anything happen, even on one ankle."