On the scoreboard, a message flashed apologizing to fans. It read, in part, “We have run out of touchdown fireworks.”
For most quarterbacks, a three-touchdown playoff deficit is a nightmare. For Mahomes, it is an invitation. After the Chiefs fell behind by 24 early in the second quarter, dredging the torment of the franchise’s playoff past, they scored 41 unanswered points and scored touchdowns on seven consecutive drives. The Chiefs eventually finalized the score at 51-31, riding Mahomes’s five touchdown passes — three of them to tight end Travis Kelce — and 321 yards to a frenzied comeback that became a blowout that became something like art.
“We coming back!” Mahomes screamed toward fans afterward, hopping toward the front row. With the path to their first Super Bowl in 50 years cleared by the Baltimore Ravens’ startling loss Saturday night, the second-seeded Chiefs will host the AFC championship game Sunday against the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans.
How will the Chiefs’ resurgent defense match up against Titans bulldozer Derrick Henry, especially if defensive tackle Chris Jones cannot return from the injury that kept him sidelined Sunday? Can Mahomes’s talents exploit Tennessee’s defense better than Lamar Jackson’s? Those are the questions of the week rather than the one so often asked in a city that still laments so many squandered playoff games: What just happened?
“Thank God we got Pat Mahomes,” Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark said. “Because if we didn’t, I’m not sure the result would be the same.”
Against a defense that knew he needed to throw for essentially the entire game, Mahomes completed 23 of 35 passes, including 19 of 25 after the first quarter. He skittered in and out of the pocket, flicked darts down the middle to wide receivers and fed Kelce, who finished with 10 catches for 134 yards, everywhere on the field. After a season in which Jackson took over the NFL and probably swiped his MVP honors, Mahomes turned his first playoff game this year into a reminder: He is still the best, most lethal player in the league.
“The way he competes, man, I don’t know if anybody else is like that,” Chiefs backup quarterback Matt Moore said. “He’s not going to give up. The creativity. He’s going to do whatever he can to move the ball and score points. There’s not one thing, I don’t think. It’s just his will to score.”
The Chiefs blasted the Texans with 48 points in less than 30 minutes — “an insane accumulation,” tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. From early in the second quarter to early in the fourth, the Chiefs possessed the ball seven times and scored seven straight touchdowns. On their eighth possession, they reached the Houston 6-yard line and settled for a field goal. The barrage ensured a stress-free finish, the precise opposite of the harebrained beginning.
The first half included: A 54-yard touchdown pass, a blocked punt, a muffed punt, a failed fake punt, a fumbled kickoff return, six touchdown passes, 52 points and everyone you follow on Twitter declaring, “This game is drunk.” The Texans scored 24 consecutive points in the game’s first 19 minutes, and the Chiefs answered with 28 straight in the next 11.
For the first 15 minutes of that madness, the Texans stunned Arrowhead into booing the Chiefs. On their first drive, on third and one from their 46, the Texans lined up their three wide receivers to the left and faked a bubble screen to Will Fuller V. As Chiefs defensive backs swarmed toward Fuller, Kenny Stills bolted downfield, lonely as a tumbleweed. Watson floated him an easy touchdown pass.
Kelce made a crucial third-down drop on Kansas City’s opening drive, which led to linebacker Barkevious Mingo’s blocked punt, which safety Lonnie Johnson scooped and returned for a touchdown. As a torrent of dropped passes stalled Chiefs drives, Tyreek Hill dropped a punt at his 10. Two plays later, Watson’s second touchdown pass bored into the gut of tight end Darren Fells. The Texans added a field goal to make it 24-0 with 10:54 left in the second quarter.
But the Chiefs had Mahomes, and so the Chiefs remained calm.
“You see other teams that don’t have an MVP quarterback and the skill guys we do, and you kind of say, ‘We want to get them into those passing situations,’ ” Schwartz said. “I don’t think anyone approaches us and says, ‘We want to make them throw the ball.’ It definitely plays to a strength of ours in a weird way.”
The game started to turn after Mecole Hardman returned the kickoff to near midfield and Mahomes found Damien Williams on a swing pass for a 17-yard touchdown. It pivoted for good when O’Brien made a curious decision midway through the second quarter.
At his own 33 on fourth and four, O’Brien called for a fake punt, a direct snap to up man Justin Reid. The upside was Houston possessing the ball on its own side of the field. The downside was giving a pyrotechnic offense the spark it needed in front of famously crazed fans.
The Texans realized the downside when Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen snuffed Reid with an open-field tackle after a two-yard gain.
“We felt like we were not going to be able to punt it too many times today,” O’Brien said. “We felt like we had to manufacture some points, manufacture some yards.”
Three plays later, Mahomes rolled right and hit Kelce for a five-yard touchdown. A potential Texans rout had turned into a 24-14 contest.
In the end, maybe no choice O’Brien made could have countered Mahomes. His greatest moment came at the end of the half. He steered the Chiefs downfield until they reached the Houston 5 with 44 seconds left. Mahomes scrambled and rolled left, waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting for a defender to choose between guarding Kelce in the front of the end zone or rushing at him. When cornerback Bradley Roby stepped forward as Mahomes reached the 5, Mahomes shoveled a pass to Kelce, dragging his toe to prevent it from crossing the line of scrimmage. Replays validated the move, and the Chiefs took a 28-24 lead.
Teammates marvel at Mahomes’s awareness, and some wondered whether the toe drag had been intentional; Moore, for one, said he wouldn’t put it past him. Mahomes chuckled when asked but shook his head, no.
“I knew I was close,” Mahomes said. “I was trying to get [the pass] out as soon as possible.”
Mahomes had brought the Chiefs all the way back, in less time even than it took them to fall behind. Kansas City had been in trouble, but there is a difference between trouble and desperation. One can happen when Mahomes is your quarterback, and the other cannot.
Read below for our in-game updates.
January 12, 2020 at 6:30 PM EST
Chiefs close out the victory
The Texans turned the ball over on downs one final time, as quarterback Deshaun Watson was sacked by the Chiefs’ Frank Clark for a 17-yard loss on a 4th-and-goal play from the 8-yard line.
The Chiefs staged an unprecedented rally to defeat the Texans and earn the right to host the Tennessee Titans next week in the AFC championship game. After the Texans took a 24-0 lead early in the second quarter, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes led a stretch of seven touchdowns in as many drives and posted 41 unanswered points. Kansas City eventually pulled away for a 51-31 win.
January 12, 2020 at 6:16 PM EST
Kansas City takes over on downs
Kansas City took over on downs for the second time in the fourth quarter, when Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson missed again on a fourth-quarter throw to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The Chiefs take over at their own 42-yard line with just over four minutes left, looking to run the clock down and ice a win that featured a red-hot scoring streak by them. (Chiefs 51, Texans 31, 3:57 left in the fourth quarter)
January 12, 2020 at 6:03 PM EST
Texans come up short on fourth down, Chiefs add a field goal
With just under 12 minutes left in the game, the Texans turned it over on downs when quarterback Deshaun Watson misfired on a short pas to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from Kansas City’s 42-yard line. Texans Coach Bill O’Brien took a timeout to decide what he would do on the 4th-and-4 play, but he ended up seeing possibly his team’s final chance to stay in the game slip away.
Kansas City took possession and saw its streak of consecutive touchdown drives end at seven, but the team still came away with three points when place-kicker Harrison Butker connected on a 24-yard attempt, increasing Kansas City’s lead to 20 points. The Chiefs enjoyed a pair of long gains by running back Damien Williams for a total of 37 yards on the drive. (Chiefs 51, Texans 31, 8:06 left in the fourth quarter)
January 12, 2020 at 5:53 PM EST
Mahomes throws his fifth touchdown pass
Kansas City is smartly keeping its foot on the gas. The Chiefs responded to Houston’s touchdown — its first points since a few minutes into the second quarter — by flying downfield for their seventh touchdown in as many consecutive possessions.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes capped a four-play, 72-yard drive with an eight-yard touchdown pass to second-string tight end Blake Bell. Earlier on the drive, first-stringer Travis Kelce had a 23-yard catch, and wide receiver Sammy Watkins chipped in with a 28-yard reception. Offensive tackle Eric Fisher contributed with a beer-soaked touchdown celebration.
Kelce and running back Damien Williams each have three touchdowns, becoming the first pair of teammates to do so in a playoff game since the 49ers’ Jerry Rice and Ricky Watters in Super Bowl XXIX (per ESPN). (Chiefs 48, Texans 31, 13:52 left in the fourth quarter)
January 12, 2020 at 5:42 PM EST
Texans cut into Chiefs’ lead
Houston finally ended Kansas City’s unanswered scoring stretch at 41 points, as Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson ran for a third-quarter touchdown that trimmed his team’s deficit to 41-31. The play had to be reviewed because Watson lost possession on the play, but he was deemed to have broken the plane of the end zone beforehand.
In moving 75 yards for the score, Houston used several big plays, including a 21-yard catch by wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a 39-yarder by wide receiver Will Fuller. (Chiefs 41, Texans 31, 0:24 left in the third quarter)
January 12, 2020 at 5:33 PM EST
Kansas City scores again
The game was a rout in favor of Houston, and now it’s a rout in favor of Kansas City. Running back Damien Williams took a five-yard carry in for his third touchdown, pushing the Chiefs’ lead to 17, after Harrison Butker’s extra point.
Kansas City’s sixth straight touchdown drive was aided by three Houston penalties, including a defensive holding infraction that negated an incomplete pass on a third down play, instead giving the Chiefs first down at the 5-yard line and setting the stage for yet another score.
On the drive, Kelce shook off his hamstring injury to return to the field, and he contributed a 28-yard reception on which it took several Texans defenders to bring him down. (Chiefs 41, Texans 24, 4:39 left in the third quarter)
January 12, 2020 at 5:14 PM EST
Chiefs extend their lead
We’re up to 34 unanswered points now by the Chiefs, who didn’t even need star tight end Travis Kelce on the field to start the second half with another touchdown drive. This one covered 85 yards in seven plays, ending with a one-yard scoring run by Damien Williams.
Kansas City has now scored five touchdowns in under 15 minutes of game time, but the team suffered a bit of a hiccup when Harrison Butker missed the extra point. Kelce is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury.
Houston started the playoffs down 16-0, then went on a 46-3 run before K.C.'s 34-0 run. (Chiefs 34, Texans 24, 11:24 left in the third quarter)
January 12, 2020 at 4:56 PM EST
Halftime in Kansas City
Houston suffered one last bit of self-inflicted misfortune just before the first half ended, as place-kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn badly missed a 51-yard attempt that would have cut Kansas City’s lead to one. In a way, it provided a bit of symmetry to a wild second-quarter sequence that in some ways began when Texans Coach Bill O’Brien eschewed a chance to go for the jugular on a 4th-and-1 play deep in Chiefs territory. Instead, he settled for a Fairbairn field goal, which pushed Houston’s lead to 24-0 but was quickly answered by a K.C. touchdown drive.
That opened the floodgates for the Chiefs, who used their Patrick Mahomes-to-Travis Kelce connection to pile up 28 points in less than 11 minutes. Mahomes threw four touchdown passes in that span, tying a 31-year-old NFL postseason record set by Redskins quarterback Doug Williams in Super Bowl XXII. (Chiefs 28, Texans 24, halftime)
January 12, 2020 at 4:45 PM EST
Kansas City leads, 28-24, after Patrick Mahomes’ fourth TD pass
It’s one of the great comebacks in NFL playoff history — and it took the Chiefs less than a quarter to pull it off. Of course, the comeback won’t be complete unless Kansas City goes on to seal the win over Houston, but the Chiefs now lead after falling behind by 24 points to start the game.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes led another quick touchdown drive, this one going 90 yards in eight plays, all of which took just more than two minutes of game time. On 3rd-and-goal from the Texans’ 5-yard line, Mahomes scrambled to his left and almost crossed the line of scrimmage before finding tight end Travis Kelce for another touchdown.
It was Kelce’s third scoring catch and Mahomes’s fourth touchdown throw of the quarter. (Chiefs 28, Texans 24, 0:44 left in the second quarter)
January 12, 2020 at 4:25 PM EST
Chiefs force a fumble, score another touchdown
It’s pandemonium in Kansas City, as the Chiefs have used a number of Houston gaffes to pull within three after starting with a 24-point deficit. Following the Chiefs’ previous touchdown, the Texans’ DeAndre Carter fumbled the kickoff, which was grabbed out of midair by Kansas City’s Darwin Thompson and taken back to the 6-yard line. From there, it took the Chiefs three plays before quarterback Patrick Mahomes found tight end Travis Kelce for a six-yard touchdown. Those two had hooked up on the previous score, and now Houston is suddenly feeling the pressure.
Just 3:23 of game time elapsed between Houston’s field goal that put it up 24-0 — remember that Texans Coach Bill O’Brien opted for that as opposed to possibly going for it on a fourth down play with less than a yard to go — and the three Kansas City touchdowns that cut the lead to 24-21. (Texans 24, Chiefs 21, 6:31 left in the second quarter)
January 12, 2020 at 4:18 PM EST
Kansas City scores again after Texans attempt fake punt
And just like that, we have a game. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes found his star tight end, Travis Kelce, for a five-yard touchdown, cutting Kansas City’s deficit to 10.
The Chiefs were aided twice by Houston, first on a fake punt attempted by the Texans that failed and gave Kansas City great field position to start its drive, and then by a pass-interference penalty that moved Mahomes and Co. to the 5-yard line.
The Texans attempted the fake punt at their own 31-yard line, but after receiving the direct snap, Justin Reid was unable to pick up the first down. (Texans 24, Chiefs 14, 8:05 left in the second quarter)
January 12, 2020 at 4:07 PM EST
Chiefs get on the board
The Chiefs got what they desperately needed: a quick touchdown. A 58-yard kickoff return by Mecole Hardman set them up at the Texans’ 42-yard line, and two plays later, quarterback Patrick Mahomes found running back Damien Williams for a 17-yard touchdown pass. In between, tight end Travis Kelce caught a short pass and turned it into a 25-yard gain. (Texans 24, Chiefs 7, 9:55 left in the second quarter)
January 12, 2020 at 4:01 PM EST
Houston adds to lead with field goal
Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 31-yard field goal gave Houston a 24-0 lead early in the second quarter, after the Texans used an 11-yard punt return to start their drive at their own 49-yard line. They moved to the 13 before facing a 4th-and-1 play, and initially appeared to be going for it before Coach Bill O’Brien called a timeout and elected to kick. (Texans 24, Chiefs 0, 10:58 left in the second quarter)
January 12, 2020 at 3:42 PM EST
Tyreek Hill muffs punt, Houston adds to lead
Another special teams disaster, this time a fumble by Tyreek Hill on an attempt to catch a Texans punt, turned into seven points for Houston. Following Hill’s gaffe, the Texans took possession at the Kansas City 6-yard line, and two plays later quarterback Deshaun Watson found tight end Darren Fells for a four-yard score.
The Chiefs have had major trouble holding onto the ball, with costly drops by tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson preceding Hill’s muffed punt. Suddenly, the Chiefs are staring at a 21-0 deficit. (Texans 21, Chiefs 0, 1:21 left in the first quarter)
January 12, 2020 at 3:23 PM EST
Texans block punt and return it for a touchdown
The Texans are taking it to the stunned Chiefs in the early going, using a blocked punt to extend their lead to 14-0. After forcing Kansas City’s dangerous offense into a three-and-out drive — Travis Kelce also contributed with a key drop on third down — Houston’s Barkevious Mingo stormed up the middle to block Dustin Colquitt’s punt, and Lonnie Johnson picked it up and ran 10 yards for the score. (Texans 14, Chiefs 0, 10:06 left in the first quarter)
January 12, 2020 at 3:15 PM EST
Texans take early lead on long TD pass
The Texans jumped out to a 7-0 lead when quarterback Deshaun Watson found wide receiver Kenny Stills all alone behind the Chiefs’ secondary for a 54-yard touchdown. Watson completed all four of his passes on the six-play drive, which included a conversion on a 3rd-and-7 play.
Houston faked a bubble screen on the left side, which drew Kansas City defenders toward the line of scrimmage, and Stills sprinted past everyone and exploited a major breakdown in coverage. (Texans 7, Chiefs 0, 11:59 left in the first quarter)
January 12, 2020 at 3:05 PM EST
Kickoff in Kansas City
The Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans are underway in their divisional playoff game. In a very unexpected development, the winner gets to host the Titans in the AFC championship game next week, following Tennessee’s stunning upset Saturday night of the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens. (Chiefs 0, Texans 0, kickoff)
Bieler reported from Washington.