The Kansas City Chiefs were in this very position a year ago, playing for a spot in the Super Bowl on their home field. They’re focused on making sure the outcome is different this time.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid has been in this position six other times in his long career. Five times, including last year, he left the stadium disappointed.
Reid’s legacy again will be a main talking point Sunday when the Chiefs play the Titans in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium. Reid is 1-5 in conference championship games and lost his only Super Bowl appearance in February 2005 as the Eagles fell to the Patriots.
The Chiefs are playing this game — and perhaps an even bigger one in two weeks — for their coach.
“Just getting him there isn’t the goal,” tight end Travis Kelce said. “Winning this thing for him is. I’ll leave it at that.”
That would change the narrative surrounding Reid, who wouldn’t even entertain what it would mean to get back to the Super Bowl.
“I don’t do that. That’s not how I roll at all,” he said. “That doesn’t take away from wanting to win the football game at hand. I don’t go there. You’re so focused in on this game here against the Titans.”
The Chiefs’ last Super Bowl berth was in January 1970, when they beat the Vikings in Super Bowl IV. They were the No. 1 seed last year, but the Patriots knocked them off in overtime at Arrowhead.
The Titans’ only Super Bowl appearance was a loss to the Rams in SB XXXIV in January 2000.
This isn’t the AFC title game anyone anticipated.
The second-seeded Chiefs were expected to be here, although they had to overcome a 2-4 stretch and injuries to quarterback Patrick Mahomes, receiver Tyreek Hill and running back Damien Williams.
The Titans, with Derrick Henry running over the defending champion Patriots and top-seeded Ravens, are a surprise participant.
Henry has rushed 65 times for 377 yards in the playoffs, including 195 last week against Baltimore. He’s the first back to run for more than 180 yards in three consecutive games, dating to the regular season.
The Titans will put the ball in Henry’s hands early and often as they try to become the third sixth seed to advance to the Super Bowl.
“Like I said at the end of camp, ‘Why not us?’ ” Henry said. “We’re going to keep that same mentality.”
The Chiefs are bracing for plenty of Henry, but they know the importance of getting the lead early.
In last year’s AFC title game, the Patriots led 14-0 at the half but the Chiefs took the lead late in regulation. They appeared to have the game locked up when Tom Brady was intercepted, but a neutral-zone infraction negated that play.
Last week, the Chiefs trailed the Texans 24-0 but stormed back to win, 51-31. They know they can’t afford to dig a hole against the Titans.
“You can’t let them get up on you,” linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “If they get up on you, here comes Derrick.”
The Chiefs already have experienced that. Henry ran for 188 yards against Kansas City in a 35-32 Tennessee victory in Week 10 that jump-started both teams. That started a 7-2 run for the Titans and was the Chiefs’ last loss.
“There’s a point in every season where you go, ‘Hey, listen, we need to pick it up,’ ” Reid said. “That was a point where we probably all took it up a notch and needed to.”
The Chiefs revamped their defense in the offseason, adding end Frank Clark, cornerback Bashaud Breeland and safety Tyrann Mathieu, whose defense last week helped seal the comeback win over Houston. The Chiefs could get sack leader Chris Jones back from a calf injury that kept him out of the Texans game.
While the Chiefs will try to slow down Henry, the Titans have to find a way to limit Mahomes and all of Kansas City’s other skill players.
Mahomes threw five touchdown passes last week. Three went to Kelce and one to Williams, who also ran it in twice. Hill didn’t get in the end zone, but he’s a threat on every snap.
“They’re a dynamic, dynamic offense with as much talent if not more talent than everybody in the league,” Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees said.
Having that explosive offense doesn’t assure the Chiefs of anything, though, as last year’s AFC Championship Game taught them. But that experience could benefit them this time.
“We’ve been here before in this exact situation, here at Arrowhead, playing in front of our crowd,” Kelce said. “We just have to start fast. It’s as simple as that.”