Chiefs, hobbling Patrick Mahomes headed to fifth straight AFC title game

The Kansas City Chiefs are going to the AFC Championship Game for the fifth year in a row, though Patrick Mahomes may be limping his way there.

The Chiefs took care of the Jacksonville Jaguars with a 27-20 win at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night, even as Mahomes left the game early with an ankle injury before returning for the second half. With his right ankle heavily wrapped, Mahomes still had enough vigor to throw a key touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to receiver Marques Valdez-Scantling.

Kansas City will find out Sunday who and where it’s playing for a spot in the Super Bowl. If the Bengals can beat the Bills, the Chiefs will play host to Cincinnati; if the Bills win, the AFC title game will be played as a neutral-site contest at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Chiefs and Jaguars were tied 7-7 when Mahomes went down late in the first quarter, with outside linebacker Arden Key landing on his right foot as he twisted to the ground. Mahomes tried to stay in the game, literally hopping and hobbling through the rest of the drive, which ended with a Harrison Butker field goal. Veteran backup Chad Henne came in on the next series, leading the Chiefs on a 98-yard drive that ended with tight end Travis Kelce‘s second touchdown catch of the game. 

Kelce had a prolific day, finishing with a career-high 14 catches for 98 yards on 17 targets. That’s an NFL record for catches by a tight end in a playoff game, one off the league record of 15, set by the Saints‘ Darren Sproles in 2012 and the Patriots‘ James White in 2019.

Mahomes was able to push through the injury after missing the entire second quarter. But even with a week to rest, it’s likely to limit him to some extent in at least his next game.

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Jacksonville, which had rallied from a 27-0 deficit to stun the Chargers in last week’s wild-card game, got a touchdown pass early from quarterback Trevor Lawrence to receiver Christian Kirk. The Jags’ offense was held in check until the fourth quarter, when Lawrence hit receiver Zay Jones for a 37-yard gain to set up a Travis Etienne touchdown, pulling within 20-17 with 11:53 remaining.

That score put pressure on the Chiefs and Mahomes, but he responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive, never getting to a third down on the way to finding some cushion with the scoring throw to Valdez-Scantling in the back of the end zone with 7:08 left. Mahomes finished 22-of-30 for 195 yards and two touchdowns, while running back Isiah Pacheco rushed for 95 yards.

Jacksonville, down two scores, drove all the way to the Kansas City 9-yard line when Lawrence’s throw to Jamal Agnew resulted in a fumble recovered by Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed. Their next drive ended with Lawrence getting intercepted by Chiefs rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson.

The Jaguars, who boasted the league’s worst record the previous two seasons, bounced back from a 2-6 start under first-year coach Doug Pederson to win their last six games and the AFC South in 2022. 

Kansas City’s five straight trips to the conference championship round ties the second-longest streak in the Super Bowl era, behind only the Patriots’ eight straight appearances from 2011-18.

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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