KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sammy Watkins had two playoff games under his belt heading into last year's AFC Championship game, so he thought he understood the speed and intensity of the NFL postseason. He quickly found out he didn't.
“I got punched in the mouth, bloody lips,” Watkins said Wednesday in recalling last year's physical showdown with the New England Patriots. “I'm like, OK, this is going to be a tough match, this is going to be match where you can throw a punch, you can do just about anything, like a war, combat.”
Every NFL coach and player says the speed of the game steps up during the postseason. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid says the speed seems to ratchet up every week and every level.
“It's hard to explain that, but there's a certain urgency that comes with it,” Reid said. “Not that they guys aren't playing hard, that's not not what it is. It's a step up, and every level you take in the playoffs, they're just that much faster, the game is.”
Patrick Mahomes said he felt the change of pace during pregame warmups last January.
“You can feel the intensity, you can feel how much faster everybody is moving around, how much every single play counts,” Mahomes said. “You get out there in warmups and you feel that energy and you have to make sure that you maintain and find a way to do whatever it is to put your team in the best situation every single play.”
Last season the relatively young Chiefs cleared an early hurdle by cruising past Indianapolis 31-13 in the Divisional Round. But they found out the hard way that the NFL playoffs get rough and tumble as the postseason progresses, especially against clubs loaded with experience.
In the AFC title game, the Patriots threw the Kansas City off balance with a physical attack, with defensive backs jamming Chiefs' receivers hard at the line of scrimmage. The high-octane Kansas City offense netted just 32 yards of offense and zero points in the first half. Watkins said the postseason brings a different energy and different atmosphere.
“When we played the Patriots last year we was like, what the freak is this?” Watkins said. “It was like flying bullets. Now I think we've been through those situations together and I think we're prepared.”
Mahomes struggled mightily in the first half against the Patriots, completing just 4-of-8 passing for 65 yards. He also took three sacks totaling 43 yards in losses. The quarterback said he learned much from last year's playoff run.
“I understand that how much every single play counts, how much every single rep in practice counts and how you have to take advantage of every single opportunity that you get,” Mahomes said.
Reid said last January was a whirlwind for Mahomes, and he believes the quarterback will be better prepared this time around.
“Getting used to the speed, the defenses, all those things, the game and then upping that when you get into the playoffs was one more thing,” Reid said. “That's where the experience helps you a little bit.”
Reid said he's not too worried about about this year's crop of rookies such as Mecole Hardman and Khalen Saunders struggling against the increased competition. He believes that carry the right makeup to thrive in the postseason and can lean on teammates for help.
“You just have to know it and then take it to heart, then go about your work during the week that way,” Reid said.
Watkins said he doesn't need to offer Hardman advice for handling the playoffs.
“That kid, he's got it,” Watkins said. “I think he's one of the best rookies I've been around. He gets it. He makes a lot of plays. He's a blessed individual. He's going probably to come into this game and score another touchdown.
In fact, Watkins believes the physical nature of the postseason plays into the favor of the Chiefs this time.
“We can go out there and impose our will on the defensive players and do it with swagger, do it with personality,” Watkins said. “I think that's the best part about it.