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Chiefs defeat Jaguars, advance to fifth consecutive AFC Championship Game

  1. Patrick Mahomes returns from injury to gut out win. The Chiefs All-Pro quarterback looked every bit an MVP off the bat, offering jump passes and side-arm slings on the opening TD drive. However, with 2:35 remaining in the first quarter, Jaguars pass rusher Arden Key landed on Mahomes' right ankle. The QB would finish the field-goal drive but was clearly in pain, limping after every play. Chad Henne entered to finish the half, leading a 98-yard TD drive that included an angry Isiah Pacheco 39-yard run. Mahomes returned in the second half but was clearly limited. The QB, with a potential high ankle sprain, couldn't put the usual oomph on several passes and didn't own his normal out-of-structure playmaking. But even a diminished Mahomes is dangerous. After the Jags made it a three-point game, Mahomes led a 10-play, 70-yard drive capped by a TD pass off one foot to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. With Mahomes hobbled, the Chiefs were relegated to mostly quick passes and leaning on violent runs from Pacheco (12/95). It wasn't pretty, but it was enough to stiff-arm the upstart Jags and head back to the AFC Championship Game for a fifth consecutive season.
  2. Trevor Lawrence, Jags come up short in latest comeback attempt. There was no miracle comeback this week. Fearing the Chiefs' pass rush, the Jaguars employed a conservative game plan for three quarters. Lawrence got the ball out quickly, leaning on Travis Etienne and the run game. The Jags popped a few good runs up the gut early but couldn't connect on anything deep. Lawrence's only pass over 20 air yards in the first half was a 50-yard bomb to Christian Kirk that the receiver couldn't corral. Doug Pederson finally opened up the playbook in the fourth quarter, and the Jags began to move the ball. Too little too late. Lawrence missed several throws Saturday, but he also rifled some darts in tight quarters. The Jags kept it close, but late turnovers proved costly. Jamal Agnew fumbled inside the 5-yard line with 5:36 left in the game. On the next possession, still trailing by 10, Lawrence threw an interception that squashed a comeback bid. Pederson might regret not employing more vertical shots earlier, but the Jags battled versus the mighty Chiefs on the road. Even with the loss, Jacksonville showed it's ahead of schedule in its rebuild and will be a team to reckon with for years to come in the AFC.
  3. Travis Kelce dominates. Healthy Mahomes. Injured Mahomes. Chad Henne. Double coverage. Single coverage. Linebackers. Safeties. It didn't matter. Kelce gobbled up catches no matter the situation. Often enjoying a free release by the Jags defense, the All-Pro tight end caught 14 of 17 targets for a game-high 98 yards and two scores. He snagged Mahomes' first touchdown pass and Henne's first-career postseason TD toss. Kelce got open with ease underneath, particularly effective once Mahomes hurt his ankle. Per Next Gen Stats, the TE caught all 13 of his targets under 10 air yards for 84 yards and 2 TD (+3.1 receptions over expected, fourth-most in a game in the NGS era). Kelce grabbed all seven targets on hitch routes, tied for the most in a game since 2018. The Jags entered the game with the worst defense against tight ends this season. Predictably, Kelce made them pay over and over and over again.
  4. Steve Spagnuolo's D once again steps up in the postseason. The Chiefs' defense was middling for much of the regular season. But when it matters, Spags had his crew turn it on. The Chiefs' defense tackled very well in space, not allowing much run after catch from Jags receivers and blowing up screen attempts that have worked for Pederson's squad this season. The pass rush was the difference for K.C. Not only did it force Jacksonville to make quick throws early, but it also got home late. The Chiefs took advantage of poor Jags O-line play, generating two sacks, nine QB hits and 12 QB pressures, per Next Gen Stats. Frank Clark looked 100 percent healthy, netting a sack and two big tackles for loss. The secondary stepped up down the stretch with Juan Thornhill making plays and rookie Jaylen Watson authoring a spectacular one-handed INT to squelch the comeback bid. K.C. will need a repeat performance from its defense in next Sunday's championship game, with Mahomes unlikely to be fully healthy.
  5. All eyes on Mahomes ahead of AFC Championship Game. Get ready for a week of questions about Mahomes' status ahead of the conference title matchup versus the Cincinnati Bengals. The QB's ankle will be the most discussed limb in sports this week. Even with an extra day of rest, to what extent he can play through pain will dictate the sort of game plan Andy Reid can deploy next round. The injury will be an issue, but today, the Chiefs can enjoy the playoff win and making it to their fifth-consecutive home title game.

Next Gen stat of the game: Isiah Pacheco reached a top speed of 20.97 mph on his 39-yard run, the fastest speed of his career as a ball carrier. Pacheco set career-highs in rushing yards over expected (+42) and percent of runs that gained more yards than expected (75.0%) in the Chiefs' Divisional Round victory.

NFL Research: Most consecutive conference Championship Game appearances by a QB-head coach duo: Patriots' Tom Brady and Bill Belichick (8 from 2011-18); Raiders' Ken Stabler and John Madden (5 from 1973-77); Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid (5 from 2018-22).

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