KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Patrick Mahomes tiptoed along the sideline and Arrowhead Stadium never was quiet again.
Mahomes’ incredible go-ahead 27-yard touchdown run in the final seconds of the first half Sunday all but clinched the Chiefs’ spot in Super Bowl 2020 with two quarters remaining. It also kicked off a Tomahawk Chopping, sing-a-long dancing, confetti-erupting party 50 frustrating years in the making for this loyal fan base.
Somehow overshadowed one year after winning NFL MVP, Mahomes reemerged the past two weeks and is taking the league’s biggest star to its biggest stage after accounting for 350 total yards and four touchdowns in a 35-24 win against the Titans in the AFC Championship game.
The Chiefs are headed to the Super Bowl for the first time since January 1970, when they beat the Vikings in Super Bowl IV. If the Packers win the NFC, it will be a rematch of Super Bowl I to cap the NFL’s 100th anniversary.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid improved to 2-5 in his career in conference championship games and hoisted the AFC’s Lamar Hunt Trophy, named for the man who founded the home organization as the Dallas Texans in 1959 and moved it to Kansas City in 1963.
The Titans built two double-digit leads but surrendered two touchdowns in the final 4:03 of the first half. Ryan Tannehill, who had not thrown more than 15 passes in either of the Titans’ first two playoff wins, threw his 16th pass with 6:39 left in the second quarter — a 1-yard touchdown to 321-pound tackle Dennis Kelly for a 17-7 lead.
The unpredictable script from the methodical Titans wasn’t at the sacrifice of Derrick Henry. The NFL’s leading rusher carried 16 times for 62 yards in the first half, but he disappeared when normally most effective.
Henry is a second-half weapon because his bruising running style wears down defenses. But he had three carries for 6 yards in the third quarter and the Titans trailed by two scores for almost the entire fourth quarter, forcing the play-calling to get more aggressive and allowing the Chiefs’ pass rush to tee off.
The 24-year-old Mahomes showed no sign of panic when the Chiefs fell behind 10-0.
Why would he? The king of quick strikes led a 24-point comeback last week against the Texans and nearly led the Chiefs to last year’s Super Bowl, but never got a chance to touch the ball in overtime of a loss to the Patriots.
Both defenses managed just one stop in four series in the first half, and the difference was the Titans settled for an early field goal while the Chiefs took a 21-17 lead on Mahomes’ scramble for the ages.
It officially is recorded as a 27-yarder, but Mahomes was standing at the 35-yard line when he took off to his left with three pass-rushers invading the pocket. He beat a fourth to the edge just behind the line of scrimmage and navigated the home sideline tightrope for 13 yards.
When Mahomes could’ve stepped out of bounds at the 12-yard line to preserve time, he cut back toward the middle of the field with nothing to lose because the Chiefs stored two timeouts. He froze a tackler in his tracks and dragged another across the goal line with 11 seconds remaining.
Tyreek Hill caught two touchdown passes, including one on Reid’s beloved shovel pass to a speedy receiver running in motion toward the snap, and set up another with a 15-yard reception on the final play of a scoreless third quarter.
When Damien Williams punched in a three-yard touchdown for his fourth score in the last two games, confetti rained down from the upper deck of Arrowhead Stadium. One punt later, an improvisational Mahomes planted his foot and flung an off-balance 60-yard touchdown strike to uncovered Sammy Watkins
He saved his next scramble for the Super Bowl.