(AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs kept making dumbfounding mistakes all season — dropped passes, penalties, miscommunication — and each time, Patrick Mahomes would confidently insist that they were oh-so-close to putting it all together.
Seems as if they finally did.
In three playoff wins, two on the road in some of the toughest environments in the AFC, the Chiefs played largely mistake-free football in advancing to their fourth Super Bowl in five years. They capped it with a 17-10 win on Sunday in Baltimore, where the Chiefs were so faultless that they made every blunder by the Ravens that much more damaging.
Five personal foul penalties. Two fumbles, including one through the end zone. An interception in the end zone near the end of the game.
“They played the game basically perfect,” marveled Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who also was sacked four times. “I felt like if we didn’t turn the ball over, we definitely would have had a shot. We definitely would have came out with a win. But they did a great job of not turning the ball over and putting points on the board.”
The Chiefs had turned the ball over in eight straight games, and their minus-11 differential during the regular season was better than only three other teams. Yet they saved their first turnover-free game since November for the perfect time.
While the Ravens were getting flagged eight times for 95 yards, the Chiefs were penalized just three times for 30. And two of those were back-to-back holds on Trey Smith late in the first half, when Kansas City got a field goal anyway.
Perhaps most stunning was this: The Chiefs led the NFL with 44 dropped passes this season but had none on Sunday.
Now, the team that lost five of eight midway through the season is back in the Super Bowl, where they will try to defend their title against the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 11 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
“It’s tough to go back-to-back seasons. It’s a tough thing,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You’ve got to work through that. You’ve got to work through that mentally. It’s not an easy thing. I’m so happy for the guys and how they handled that.
“When it came time to put the hammer down, they put the hammer down, which was important,” Reid added,” and the best part is we’re not done. We’ve got another game. You love these seasons to carry on as long as they can possibly carry on. And we are there. Now we’ve got to get right back at it and start grinding.”
The Chiefs won in the trenches on both sides of the ball against the Ravens, despite missing All-Pro left guard Joe Thuney to a pectoral injury in their win over Buffalo. The Chiefs held Baltimore to a season-low 81 yards rushing, and that bodes well as they turn their attention to the 49ers and Christian McCaffery.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The red zone has been a problem for the Chiefs all season. On Sunday, they were stuffed on fourth-and-1 at the Baltimore 13 in the second quarter. They also got to the Ravens 23 — OK, not technically the red zone — before Smith’s two penalties just before halftime forced Harrison Butker to kick a 52-yard field goal.
All season, critics were saying Travis Kelce had lost a step, or had grown distracted by his relationship with Taylor Swift, his podcast and his many other off-the-field endeavors. Well, the four-time All-Pro tight end caught all 11 of his targets for 116 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens, one week after he had two TD catches against the Bills in the divisional round.
Tight end Noah Gray and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire both struggled to get anything going when they were given some reps against Baltimore. That’s not an encouraging sign should Kelce or Isiah Pacheco get hurt in the Super Bowl.
Chiefs pass rusher Charles Omenihu tore his ACL against the Ravens and will miss the Super Bowl. He missed the first six games of the season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, but quickly began becoming an integral part of the Kansas City defensive front. Omenihu had seven sacks in 11 regular-season games and another against Baltimore before getting hurt.
4 — This will be the fourth time in five years that Kansas City has played in the Super Bowl. It’s a rematch of the Chiefs’ first game during that run, when they rallied to beat the 49ers on Feb. 2, 2020, in Miami.