The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Cleveland Browns, 22-17, at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday afternoon to advance to the AFC Championship Game for a third-consecutive year.
Despite losing quarterback Patrick Mahomes midway through the third quarter due to concussion protocol, the Chiefs managed to hold off a Browns' rally and win their fourth-straight postseason game.
Leading by five points and facing a 3rd-and-14 in their own territory with just two minutes remaining in the game, backup quarterback Chad Henne scrambled for a 13-yard gain to set up a critical decision at midfield. The Chiefs could punt and give Cleveland an opportunity to win the game, or Kansas City could attempt to end the game right then and there.
Chiefs' Head Coach Andy Reid opted for the latter, and as Henne moved to his right and fired a dart to wide receiver Tyreek Hill to move the chains, Kansas City punched their ticket to the AFC Championship Game.
It demonstrated a certain fight that this team has become synonymous with this team over the years, and once again in the face of seemingly overwhelming adversity, the Chiefs found a way on Sunday.
Mahomes competed 21-of-30 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown before exiting the game, leading Kansas City to scores on each of their first four possessions while playing through a foot injury through much of that time.
The Chiefs' offense got going right out of the gate, as Mahomes completed all four of his pass attempts on Kansas City's opening drive before taking the ball into the end zone all by himself with a 1-yard scoring run.
Cleveland looked poised to respond on their opening series, driving all the way to the Chiefs' 20-yard line, but cornerback L'Jarius Sneed sacked Browns' quarterback Baker Mayfield to disrupt the rhythm of the possession and hold Cleveland to just a field goal.
Mahomes then had the Chiefs back on the board a drive later, firing a 20-yard touchdown strike – on 2nd-and-19, no less - to tight end Travis Kelce to extend Kansas City's advantage to double digits.
Kansas City added a 50-yard field goal a drive later after forcing a Browns' punt, but Cleveland looked to be in the end zone on their ensuing series when wide receiver Rashard Higgins hauled in a 25-yard grab and stretched for the pylon. Chiefs' safety Dan Sorensen made sure to defend every blade of grass, however, hitting Higgins just shy of the goal line to knock the ball free and through the end zone, flipping possession back to Kansas City.
The Chiefs marched down the field in just one minute and 32 seconds following the fumble, adding a field goal just before halftime to complete what turned out to be a 10-point swing.
Cleveland didn't go away though, as Mayfield found wide receiver Jarvis Landry for a 4-yard score early in the third quarter to pull within nine points. The Chiefs then lost Mahomes on their ensuing possession, as the reigning Super Bowl MVP was taken to the locker room to be evaluated for a concussion following a 1-yard rush.
Facing a 4th-and-1 at midfield and with Henne now in under center, the Chiefs' decision to go for it paid off when tailback Darrel Williams took a pitch for a 12-yard gain to move the chains. Williams broke free for a 16-yard rush a snap later, eventually setting up a 33-yard field goal to extend the Chiefs' lead.
The Browns then responded with an 18-play scoring drive - converting three third downs and two fourth downs – to narrow the margin when tailback Kareem Hunt punctuated the series with a 3-yard touchdown run.
Henne threw a pick on the Chiefs' next drive, but the Kansas City defense forced Cleveland to punt with just over four minutes remaining in the game. Unbeknownst to the Browns, they wouldn't possess the ball again.
The 35-year-old Henne found Williams to move the chains before getting sacked two plays later, setting up 3rd-and-14 deep in their own territory. The veteran signal caller took off for 13 yards on the next play, and as Hill hauled in Henne's 5-yard toss a snap later, the Chiefs secured their spot in a third-straight conference title game.
The Chiefs will be the first team in AFC history to host three-consecutive conference title games, and they're just the second team in NFL history to do so, joining the 2002-04 Philadelphia Eagles. Interestingly enough, Reid was also at the helm in Philadelphia for that run of success.
Hill led all pass-catchers with 110 yards through the air while Kelce tallied eight grabs for 109 yards. Williams, standing in for starting tailback Clyde Edwards-Helaire, picked up 78 yards on 13 carries and chipped in four receptions for 16 yards.
The Chiefs will take on the Buffalo Bills next Sunday for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LV.