KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs could do very little right for the first 20 minutes of their Divisional Round playoff game against Houston, but they did very little wrong afterward, scoring touchdowns on seven-straight possessions in rallying from a 24-0 deficit to a 51-41 rout over the Texans.
“When you're down 24-0 and you don't have a good locker room, things can go the wrong way for you,” head coach Andy Reid said afterwards. “The guys all hung together.”
The victory sends the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game at home for the second year in a row. They lost to the Patriots in overtime last year.
They will host the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, Jan. 19 for a 3:05 p.m. ET kickoff.
Hosting their second-straight AFC title game at Arrowhead Stadium seemed a remote possibility early in the game as the Chiefs fell behind 24-0 early in the second quarter. Quarterback Deshaun Watson got his team off to a quick start with a 54-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills on a busted coverage. Still was wide open for the touchdown pass.
The Texans quickly expanded their lead on Kansas City's first possession. Lonnie Johnson Jr. recovered a punt blocked by Barkevious Mingo for a 10-yard touchdown return. Watson led the Texans on another touchdown drive in the first quarter, capped off with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Darren Fells.
Yet the situation on the sideline never got out of control, said right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, and eventually, the offense began executing.
“I think it just shows the determination of the team,” Schwartz said. “If we had any doubts or waiver ideas, I don't think we would have come back.”
After Ka'imi Fairbairn expanded the Texans' lead to 24-0 with a 31-yard field, Reid had a simple message for his team.
“I just said, 'This isn't you, just get back, relax,'” Reid said. “'Pump the breaks here for a second, refocus and let's go.' It's that simple really.”
The Chiefs needed a break at that point, and they got it from rookie returner Mecole Hardman. The Pro Bowler broke off a 58-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, and he immediately felt the momentum immediately shifting in his team's direction.
“After that I could see it,” Hardman said. “Everything went crazy. The crowd got into it, and when the crowd gets into it it's a hostile environment to play in. I felt like we could do no wrong.”
Two plays later Patrick Mahomes connected with running back Damien Williams for a 17-yard touchdown to end the scoring drought. Now it was the Texans' turn to make a costly mistake.
The Chiefs held Houston to a three and out on their next possession, but Texans head coach Bill O'Brien took a gamble. Facing a fourth-and-4 from their own 31-yard line, safety Justin Reid took a direct snap from the punt formation for a fake. Kansas City safety Dan Sorensen sniffed it out, however.
“When I saw him take that snap outside, I just closed in, made the tackle,” Sorensen said.
Three plays later Mahomes found tight end Travis Kelce for a five-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 24-14. Sorensen made another huge play on the ensuing kickoff, knocking the ball out of the hands of returner DeAndre Carter. Rookie Darwin Thompson caught the loose ball on the fly and returned it to the Houston six-yard line. Three plays later, Mahomes and Kelce connected again for a six-yard touchdown catch, cutting the edge to 24-21.
Mahomes and Kelce weren't done, hooking for another 5-yard touchdown catch with 44 seconds remaining in the half. Kansas City scored 28 points in the last 10 minutes of the second quarter, taking a 28-24 lead at the break.
The rout continued in the second half, with Williams rushing for two touchdowns and the Chiefs reached the end zone on an NFL postseason record seven-straight possessions.
Mahomes finished the game 23-of-35 passing for 321 yards and five touchdowns. Kelce caught a carer-best three touchdown passes while leading the Chiefs with 10 catches for 134 yards.
The win puts the Chiefs one victory from capturing the Lamar Hunt Trophy in the 50th anniversary season of the team's win in Super Bowl IV in 1970.
“We'd love to have that,” Reid said. “At the same time, we have to go through the process and focus. We're playing a good football team. We need to go back and make a solid game plan and then come out and play well. That's really what it is, then good things happen."