BALTIMORE — The Kansas City Chiefs, who for most of this regular season looked more vulnerable than at any time since Patrick Mahomes became their starting quarterback in 2018, are going back to the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs scored a touchdown on each of their first two possessions and then held on to beat the Baltimore Ravens 17-10, sending Kansas City to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in the past five years. In Las Vegas, they will take on the San Francisco 49ers, who were installed as 2.5-point favorites late Sunday night at ESPN BET.
The Chiefs, who beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVIII last season, are seeking to be the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champions since the 2004 New England Patriots.
“You don’t take it for granted,” said Mahomes, who was 30-of-39 for 241 yards and a touchdown. “You never know how many you’re going to get to or if you’re going to get to any. So it truly is special just to do it with these guys after what we’ve been through all season long. Guys coming together, it really is special. But I told them, ‘The job’s not done.’ Our job now is to prepare ourselves to play a good football team in the Super Bowl and try to get that ring.”
The clinching play was a 32-yard pass from Mahomes to Marquez Valdes-Scantling on third-and-9 with more than two minutes remaining. An incompletion would have given the Ravens the ball with plenty of time to tie or win.
The Ravens blitzed, and Mahomes lofted a perfect pass for Valdes-Scantling. The Chiefs were then able to run out the clock.
“It wasn’t hard to call,” coach Andy Reid joked afterward. “Just a couple of words. It was zero blitz. We knew it was going to be zero blitz or at least had a good idea. You never really know, but we thought we knew, and it was and it got MVS in a great position right … to make the play.”
Tight end Travis Kelce had 11 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown. During the game, he broke Jerry Rice’s record of 151 career playoff receptions.
With a regular-season record of 11-6, the Chiefs lost more games than they ever have with Mahomes as their starter. They played several sloppy games, most notably a Week 16 home loss to Las Vegas in which the Raiders scored both of their touchdowns on defense off Chiefs turnovers on back-to-back plays from scrimmage.
But general manager Brett Veach said the loss to the Raiders served as a wake-up call for the Chiefs, who won their final two regular-season games and three more in the playoffs.
“Sometimes, the worst things that happened to you or in your season turned out to be the best thing,” Veach said. “We were finding ways to win games, but something was off, whether it be offense or defense or special teams. It just wasn’t in sync, but we were winning and I think sometimes that’s just deodorant …
“That loss I think really hit us and I think it allowed the whole organization to take a look in the mirror. So I really point to that game as really being one of the key motivating factors to just get everyone dialed in here.”
Mahomes in many ways had the worst statistical season of his career with a QBR of 63, a yards-per-attempt average of 7.0 and a career-high 14 interceptions. He was affected by problems around him. The Chiefs dropped more passes than any team in the league and were second in offensive penalties. Among the league’s highest-scoring teams in recent years, the Chiefs this season finished 15th in scoring at 21.8 points per game.
But in the three playoff games, Mahomes has five touchdowns and zero interceptions.
After beating the Miami Dolphins at Arrowhead Stadium in the wild-card round, the Chiefs had to play on the road for the first time in Mahomes’ postseason career in the divisional round against the Buffalo Bills. The Chiefs were underdogs but defeated the Bills 27-24.