KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The red and yellow confetti fell inside Arrowhead Stadium as the crowd cheered wildly. Players celebrated, hugged each other and held up or kissed the Lamar Hunt Trophy, named after the late owner of the Chiefs. The party was 50 years in the making.
Patrick Mahomes’ brilliant performance on Sunday helped Kansas City punch its ticket to Super Bowl LIV. Mahomes threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in the Chiefs’ 35-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game.
The Chiefs are headed to the big game for the first time since Len Dawson led Kansas City past the Vikings in Super Bowl IV. The Chiefs will play the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl on Feb. 2 in Miami.
“It’s amazing,” Mahomes said. “Being able to do it at home, being able to win the Lamar Hunt Trophy here and to do it for the fans was awesome.”
This was the Chiefs’ second straight year hosting the AFC title game. They left disappointed last year with an overtime loss to the Patriots in which Mahomes and the offense never got a shot in the extra period. That loss drove the Chiefs throughout this season.
But Andy Reid’s team made sure this time was different. They made sure Lamar Hunt’s son Clark was handed the trophy named after his father. They made sure Reid would reach the Super Bowl for a second time.
“I’m so happy for the Hunt family,” Reid said. “Bringing that trophy back here — wow — how great is that?”
The Chiefs had to erase 10-0 and 17-7 deficits Sunday, but they’ve been there before. A week earlier, they rallied from a 24-0 first-half hole to beat the Texans, 51-31.
Derrick Henry rushed for 377 yards in the Titans’ playoff wins at New England and Baltimore earlier this month, but he gained only 69 yards on 19 carries Sunday. Henry, who took a direct snap and ran for a 4-yard touchdown as Tennessee took a 10-0 lead, had only 7 rushing yards after halftime.
“He’s a heck of a player,” Reid said. “I’m proud of our guys. They were on a mission to take care of that. For them to be able to do that, my hat goes off to them.”
Mahomes was 23-for-35 for 294 yards passing. He also led the Chiefs with 53 rushing yards on eight carries.
The 2018 NFL MVP had a remarkable touchdown run at the end of the first half to give the Chiefs their first lead of the game, and they never relinquished it.
Mahomes avoided a sack — twice — and ran down the left sideline before spinning and barreling into the end zone for a 27-yard score.
“I was thinking about just running out of bounds,” he said. “As I got to the sideline, I realized that I could cut back. I cut it back and lucky I was able to get in the end zone.”
“Magic Mahomes,” tight end Travis Kelce said. “That’s the best way you can explain it.”
Sammy Watkins caught seven passes for 114 yards, including a 60-yard reception for the Chiefs’ final score. Tyreek Hill had five catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns.
Things again didn’t start well for Kansas City. Mahomes threw a shovel pass to Hill that resulted in an 8-yard TD to bring the Chiefs within 10-7, but the Titans answered with a 75-yard TD drive capped by Ryan Tannehill’s 1-yard pass to offensive lineman Dennis Kelly.
It was all Kansas City and Mahomes from there.
Mahomes needed just 2:36 to get the Chiefs in the end zone. He completed passes of 24 and 13 yards before throwing a 20-yard touchdown pass to Hill.
After the Kansas City defense got its first three-and-out, Mahomes led another TD drive. KC went 86 yards on nine plays, the last being the TD run by Mahomes that gave the Chiefs a 21-17 lead with 11 seconds left in the first half.
The Chiefs’ second long drive ended 10 seconds into the fourth quarter, with Damien Williams running it in from 3 yards.
“Last year, we were four inches short and the guys made a point to get better than that four inches,” Reid said, referencing to a late offside penalty that erased an interception. “Those guys who had to sit through this last year and watch what went on out there, that wasn’t a good thing. They bore down and they weren’t going to go through it again.”