Mahomes, Chiefs embark on biggest game in eons for franchise

Chiefs tackle Brady, Patriots; KC in AFC title game for first time since '93 season

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Patrick Mahomes Jr. vs. Tom Brady, Part 2.
It’s the Kansas City Chiefs vs.the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game on Sunday at wintry Arrowhead Stadium. Kickoff is set for 5:40 p.m. on CBS. The victorious team meets the winner of the host New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams from the NFC title game in the Super Bowl on February 3 in Atlanta, Georgia

The stakes are so much higher since the Chiefs and Patriots last met back on October 14, 2018, in Foxborough, Massachusetts. New England edged Kansas City, 43-40, in Week 6 at Gillette Stadium on Patriots kicker Steve Gostkowsiki's tiebreaking 28-yard field goal with no time remaining.

It was the first loss of the season for the Chiefs, who would go on and secure a 12-4 regular-season mark to capture the AFC West crown and home-field advantage all through the playoffs. The Patriots, 11-5 in the regular season, are the No. 2 seed.

“We didn’t feel good," recalled Mahomes when asked about the previous meeting, where he struggled in the first half, throwing a pair of interceptions. "I feel like we didn’t play our best, especially early in the game. When you play teams of this caliber, when you play teams with this much history of knowing how to win and capitalizing on people’s mistakes, you can’t come back and win games like that.

“It was shown that game. For us, we have to learn from that, know we can’t make those mistakes and that we have to come out with our best effort from the beginning of the game all the way through the end. It’s going to be a dog fight for the entire game if you want to try to come out with the win.”

Another winter storm hit the Kansas City area on Friday night and more bad weather is expected on Saturday, leading up to Sunday’s clash.

Kansas City leads New England with an 18-14-3 record over the years during the regular season. At Arrowhead, the Chiefs are 5-1 all-time vs. the Patriots and 2-1 against Brady.

In their most recent home game with New England, on Sept. 29, 2014, the Chiefs dismantled Brady and the Pats, 41-14, while breaking the Guiness World Record for crowd noise at an outdoor stadium in the process. the Patriots would go on and win the Super Bowl in 2014.

The Chiefs and Patriots have met only once before in the playoffs, with New England prevailing 27-20 in Foxborough. All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski was the difference for the Pats. He had 96 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns during the win.

The Chiefs, who are 8-1 at home this season, including their divisional playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts, 31-13.

Watching from the sidelines last season as a rookie understudy for the departed Alex Smith, Mahomes, their No. 1 draft pick in 2017, out of Texas Tech, has elevated the Chiefs to unprecedented levels only Hall-of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Len Dawson have accomplished for the Chiefs in conference championship games.

Dawson led the Chiefs to their only Super Bowl triumph from the 1969 season in January, 1970, as Kansas City beat the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, in New Orleans

That has been Mahomes' dream, the Chiefs' dream, and now they're one win away from playing in the Super Bowl.

Mahomes was selected for the NFL Most Valuable Player award for the 2018 season by the Pro Football Writers of America on Wednesday. He also received the organization's Offensive Player of the Year award.

Don't be surprised if Mahomes is voted as the NFL Player of the Year by the league, too.

After all, he became only the second player in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards (5,097) and 50 touchdowns in a single season. The only other player to achieve the feat was Peyton Manning, for the Denver Broncos in 2013, where they later lost to the Seatte Seahawks in the Super Bowl, 43-8.

Without question, the wily Patriots will have some tricks up their sleeve in trying to take Mahomes out of his rhythm.

"Yeah, they do what they always do, they come out with unscouted looks," Mahomes said, "stuff they haven’t shown in weeks, maybe even years, and they try to throw it on you and try to surprise you. That’s stuff that they’re really good at.

They’re very versatile, where they can do a lot of different things. Not every team can do that. For us it’s about finding ways to adjust to that as fast as possible and going out and having success and making those in-game adjustments in order to capitalize earlier in the game than we did last time.”

With Mahomes at the controls, the Chiefs led the NFL in net yards per game (425.6 yards), yards per carry (6.84) and points per game (35.3), while ranking second in third-down percentage (47.2 percent) and red-zone touchdown percentage (71.8 percent).

“It’s crazy how much you learn from every single game you play," Mahomes said. "Now I’ve seen so many looks from so many different teams that even if you’re not necessarily game-planning that week for that look, you can always file that in your memory bank and pull from that.

So if I get an unscouted look, you can kind of say ‘Well, I know this team did it to me in Week 8’ versus where earlier in the season when I couldn’t really do that. I think just having those experiences and making sure that I’m prepared for everything is something that has definitely changed from Week 5 until now.”

The offensive juggernaut that is the Chiefs stems from Mahomes keeping his entire receiving corps involved, and tapping in to the explosiveness of wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce.

“I’m going to do the same thing that I have been doing all year," said Hill, who had 87 catches for 1,479 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018, including 22 catches of 25 yards or more, which ranked No. 1 in the NFL. “I have to continue to be humble, continue to trust this process and continue to work hard, so that’s what I’m going to do ... come in and work.”

Kelce had 103 receptions for 1,336 yards, which stood as an NFL record for single-season receiving yards for a tight end. Later that day, though, San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle topped his yardage mark by one yard, 1377.

“Just execution," said Kelce, when asked what the key will be to beat the Patriots. “You have to play mistake-free football against this team in all three phases of the game.

"Sure enough, when we play that way, we give ourselves a chance.”