Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
The top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs beat the No. 6 Indianapolis Colts 31-13 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, on Saturday to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
KC will play in the AFC title game for the first time since 1993, where it will meet the winner of Sunday’s contest between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Chargers.
The Chiefs turned in an all-around performance with quarterback Patrick Mahomes leading the way, as the NFL MVP favorite threw for 278 yards and rushed for one touchdown.
He spread the ball around to all of his top targets, but tight end Travis Kelce stood out with seven receptions for 108 yards.
The Chiefs also ran the ball effectively, and Damien Williams spearheaded the rushing attack with 129 yards and one touchdown.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Kansas City’s win was the manner in which the defense played after struggling at times during the regular season. The Chiefs held the Colts’ high-powered offense to 263 total yards and allowed just four first downs in the first half, all of which came in the final two minutes.
Indianapolis went 0-of-9 on third downs as well.
Kansas City was aided by cold and sometimes snowy conditions that made it difficult for the dome-dwelling Colts to find a rhythm offensively. After throwing 39 touchdown passes during the regular season, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was largely held in check, as he finished with 203 passing yards and one touchdown.
The Chiefs seized a 17-0 lead in the first half, and the Colts didn’t get on the board until linebacker Najee Goode blocked a punt and wide receiver Zach Pascal recovered it for a touchdown with 5:56 left in the second quarter:
THE @COLTS BLOCK THE PUNT!
And it’s recovered in the end zone for SIX. #Colts #NFLPlayoffs
: #INDvsKC on NBC https://t.co/G9cT22FeBa
Rather than allowing the Colts to hang on to that momentum, the Chiefs marched down the field and regained their 17-point lead after a four-yard touchdown run by Mahomes about four minutes later.
Potential Hall of Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri had a chance to whittle the lead to 14 just before halftime, but he knocked a 23-yard field-goal attempt off the left upright, and the Chiefs remained up 24-7 entering the locker room.
Both offenses struggled to get much going throughout the second half, as they traded turnovers and punts until late in the fourth.
The Colts scored their first offensive touchdown of the game when Luck hit wide receiver T.Y. Hilton from 29 yards out with 5:37 left in regulation.
Indy trailed 24-13 after Vinatieri missed the extra point wide right, but the Chiefs put the game away on the ensuing drive with a six-yard touchdown run by Darrel Williams.
Strong Defensive Performance Solidifies Chiefs as AFC Favorites
The Chiefs’ biggest weakness during the regular season was undoubtedly their defense, but it showed Saturday against a talented Colts offense that it is capable of coming up big in huge games.
Saturday’s contest was expected by most to be a shootout after the Chiefs ranked 31st in total defense and 24th in points allowed during the regular season.
Kansas City was especially bad against the run, ranking 27th, while allowing 5.0 yards per carry, second-to-last in the league.
The Chiefs held the Colts to 87 rushing yards as a team, though, and running back Marlon Mack finished with just 46 yards himself.
Tyler Greever of WIBW in Topeka, Kansas, was one of many who were taken aback by the Chiefs’ defensive showing:
Tyler Greever @WIBWTyler
I would’ve never bet on the #Chiefs defense forcing four punts to start this game. Outstanding start.
ESPN’s Max Kellerman also pointed out that Kansas City’s defense managed to steal the spotlight on the big stage:
Max Kellerman @maxkellerman
As unstoppable as the Chiefs offense has been, their defense is the story of the game so far. #ColtsvsChiefs #NFLPlayoffs
There is no question that Mahomes and the offense did their job, but that was never really in doubt entering Saturday’s game.
Prior to the win over the Colts, it was easy to make a case for teams like the Patriots, Chargers or even Indy winning the AFC over the Chiefs.
Doing so is far more difficult now, especially considering the following stat pointed out by FS1’s Nick Wright:
nick wright @getnickwright
On the road, the Chiefs defense was awful at a nearly historic level.
But at home they gave up fewer than 19 points per game & were excellent at creating negative plays.
You’re seeing that side of the equation thus far.
Since the Chiefs are the No. 1 seed, they will be at home again next week regardless of their opponent, and that bodes well for their defense.
The offense has proved that it can excel regardless of weather conditions, and it may be to Kansas City’s advantage if the elements play a factor in the AFC Championship Game next week.
Kansas City suddenly looks like a complete team after previously appearing one-dimensional, and that makes it the clear team to beat en route to the Super Bowl in the AFC.
Chiefs’ Underrated Running Game Sets Mahomes Up for Success
When the Chiefs released running back Kareem Hunt after video that showed him pushing and kicking Abigail Ottinger surfaced, it was widely assumed that the entire offensive burden would fall on Mahomes’ shoulders.
Mahomes is the offense’s unquestioned leader, but the running game hasn’t suffered since Hunt’s departure.
The biggest reason for that is the emergence of the unheralded Williams, who finished Saturday’s game with 129 rushing yards.
Williams opened the scoring with a 10-yard touchdown run on the Chiefs’ opening drive that essentially saw him juke his way through the entire Indianapolis defense:
Damien Williams jukin’ the whole defense
Touchdown, @Chiefs! #LetsRoll
: #INDvsKC on NBC https://t.co/QPIiZjHhLl
While he played sparingly during Hunt’s time as a starter, Williams has been fantastic over the past several weeks.
As noted by Matt McMullen of the Chiefs’ official website, Williams has shown an impressive nose for the end zone:
Before the end of the regular season, the Chiefs rewarded Williams with a two-year contract extension, which suggests he may get a chance to be their full-time starter in 2019.
Running backs tend to emerge from out of nowhere at times, and Albert Breer of The MMQB pointed to Williams as a prime example of why investing heavily in a running back may not be a good idea:
Williams accounted for a cap hit of just $1.25 million this year, and while he earned a raise based on his recent performances, the Chiefs are hoping they can continue to get top-notch production at a discounted price.
While Williams has been Kansas City’s lead back and will likely continue to be for the remainder of the playoffs, the Chiefs don’t have to rely solely on him.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill plays a role in the running game, and he made an explosive play Saturday with a 36-yard touchdown run on a reverse in the first quarter:
Not gonna catch the @cheetah
: #INDvsKC on NBC https://t.co/SUvQHKeIHH
Based on the manner in which the Kansas City passing game keeps opposing defenses in check, running lanes tend to open up.
It also helps that the Chiefs have a mobile quarterback in Mahomes, who rushed for a four-yard touchdown late in the first half:
A dive for the pylon and the @Chiefs lead 24-7! #LetsRoll #NFLPlayoffs
: #INDvsKC on NBC https://t.co/oAjIqidDxG
As a team, the Chiefs finished with 180 rushing yards against the Colts to go along with four rushing scores.
That type of production will force the Patriots or Chargers to be cognizant of the run next week, and it should open up additional opportunities for Mahomes and Kansas City’s talented pass-catchers to make plays down the field.
Colts Positioned Well to Contend in 2019 Despite Loss
The Colts’ 2018 season ended in disappointment Saturday, but there is plenty of reason to like their chances to contend for a Super Bowl in 2019.
Indy won 10 of 11 games prior to Saturday’s loss, which suggests the team truly hit its stride under head coach Frank Reich and found a winning formula.
Luck had a great year after missing all of 2017 with a shoulder injury, and considering he will be another year removed from the injury in 2019, he has a chance to be even better.
He will be aided by the fact that all of his top offensive weapons are set to return, including Mack, Hilton and tight end Eric Ebron.
Luck finally has a quality offensive line as well, and it should largely be intact next season.
Defense has been the Colts’ biggest issue in recent seasons, but they ranked a respectable 11th in total defense during the regular season and 10th in points allowed.
The Colts have several young, talented building blocks on the defensive side of the ball, including linebacker Darius Leonard and safety Malik Hooker, who both figure to get even better.
Indy needs to make some improvements on both sides of the ball, including finding a complement for Hilton at wideout, as well as improving the secondary and possibly adding a pass-rusher.
There should be plenty of options in the draft and free agency to address those issues, and one move that could interest the Colts is trading for disgruntled Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Even if they don’t do something that splashy, the Colts have a strong roster and a quality coach, which should get them back in the mix next season after performing beyond expectations in 2018.
Next week, the Chiefs will face either the Patriots or Chargers in the AFC Championship Game for the chance to play in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1970.
Meanwhile, the Colts will enter the offseason and prepare for both the NFL draft and free agency.