By Terrance Turner
The stage is set for Super Bowl 54. The San Francisco 49ers rolled past the Green Bay Packers 37-20 Sunday night to earn their Super Bowl spot. The NFC Championship Game was a runaway from the start. But it was the AFC Championship — the Kansas City Chiefs outlasted the Tennessee Titans, 35-24 —- that provided most of the evening’s drama.
The Titans jumped out to an early lead with a field goal and a scoring run by running back Derrick Henry. His touchdown run put Tennessee ahead 10-0. The Chiefs answered with a successful drive near the end of the first quarter. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes tossed a TD pass to wide receiver Tyreek Hill. But Tennessee answered in the second quarter. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill surprised viewers by throwing to offensive tackle Dennis Kelly, who was in the end zone. That touchdown put the Titans ahead 17-7.
Once again, the Chiefs were behind by double digits. But just as he did last week versus the Texans, Mahomes led the Chiefs in a comeback. First Mahomes heaved a 20-yard TD to Hill. Then, with only 23 seconds left before halftime, he took off. Poised to throw, Mahomes instead kept running down the sideline, spinning out of a collision with three (!!!) Titans defenders and running into the end zone for the touchdown. His 27-yard scramble gave the team their first lead of the game. The Chiefs were ahead 21-17 at halftime.
The third quarter came and went without a single score by either team. But Chiefs running back Damien Williams ran in for a 3-yard TD in the fourth quarter. Later, with 7:33 left in the 4th, Mahomes launched a rocket to wide receiver Sammy Watkins. That 60-yard touchdown made the score 35-17. The Chiefs had scored 28 unanswered points.
With the clock ticking, the Titans tried to rally. Just when they looked stranded on 4th and 8, their fake punt led to a first down, keeping the drive alive. Then Tannehill threw a 22-yard touchdown to Titans tight end Anthony Firkser. The Titans appeared to have a fighting chance.
But they were back in desperation mode on 4th and 6. With only 1:28 left, Tannehill scrambled in search of a target. Chiefs defender Frank Clark chased him down; Tannehill briefly escaped but ended up tripping over his own feet and falling to the ground. That sack essentially ended the game.
The Kansas City Chiefs are heading to Miami for their first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years.
After the game, the Chiefs were crowned AFC Champions with the presentation of the Lamar Hunt Trophy. It was presented to Chiefs co-owner and CEO Clark Hunt, who accepted the trophy (named after his own father). After thanking head coach Andy Reid and the Chiefs players, Hunt said: “I want to thank the Lord for blessing us with this opportunity. The glory belongs to Him. And this trophy belongs to the best fans in the National Football League.”
Both in the trophy presentation and in a postgame press conference, Mahomes credited his teammates for his stellar performance. “I’ve been blessed to be in a great situation with a lot of great football players and coaches around me,” he said. He praised his teammates for “being great every single day.”