KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs knew New England head coach Bill Belichick had a secret up his sleeve to tame their high-powered offense, but they didn't expect the Patriots to get in their face and push back against the school-yard offensive bullies.
“They challenged us,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes said following the team's 37-31 loss in the AFC Championship game. “They came up, played man. Not a lot of teams have this year and they put people in our face to see how we responded. The first half we struggled. We couldn't make anything happen.”
In the past the Patriots have channeled their focus on tight end Travis Kelce, but Sunday night they shifted their focus toward Tyreek Hill, doubling the speedy wide receiver and limiting him to a single catch for 42 yards.
Safety Devin McCourty thought the Patriots' secondary did their job on Hill.
“It wasn't a one-man effort with that buy,” McCourty said. “He asked us a couple of times why we didn't leave him one-on-one. I told him he should like the game plan.”
Mahomes and the Chiefs offense struggled mightily in the first half while adjusting to the Patriots' game plan. The prolific passer finished the first half a meager 4-of-8 passing for 65 yards. The Chiefs mustered just 32 net yards with only 10 yards rushing and 43 yards in sacks.
Center Mitch Morse blamed the offensive line for the first-half inefficiency.
“I think we just had to come out with some better juice and better energy,” Morse said. “We knew what they were going to bring. It wasn't a secret what they were going to do, we were just poor executing.”
Kelce felt similar emotions about this own play. He finished with three catches for 23 yards and a touchdown.
“Frustrated with how I played personally,” Kelce said. “I've just got to be better for my teammates.
The Patriots kept up the pressure in the second half, but the Chiefs made adjustments and rallied from a 14-point deficit.
“The second half, I felt like our guys took the challenge,” Mahomes said. “They were doing the same things, and were just winning. You have to find ways to win one-on-one matchups, and we found ways in the second half.”
Mahomes rallied the Chiefs leaning on wide receiver Sammy Watkins and running back Damien Williams. Watkins caught four passes for 114 yards, while Williams tallied 96 total yards and three touchdowns. The Chiefs scored 24 fourth-quarter points, exchanging blow-for-blow with the Patriots, twice claiming the lead before kicker Harrison Butker connected on a 39-yard field goal to force overtime.
But the Patriots won the toss and the Chiefs never saw the ball again. Getting so close yet so far from the Super Bowl hurts, even for a young player such as Mahomes with a bright future in front of him.
“He's hurting,” Reid said. “He's a competitive kid, so he's emotional right now. He'll get through that. He'll grow from this. He knows that. It's not easy right this minute.”
Mahomes says he understands that.
“You have to take in the hurt,” Mahomes said. “You have to accept that this hurts. It’s supposed to hurt. You put in work for this. You’re doing everything you can to get to the Super Bowl and to win it.”