Kansas City, Missouri – In Andy Reid, we trust.
That resounding message was obvious Sunday for the Chiefs after a surprising fourth-down conversion enabled them to finish off the Cleveland Browns 22-17 in the AFC divisional round.
“That’s why we love Big Red. He’s always on time. He’s like our spirit warrior out here behind the scenes,” safety Tyrann Mathieu told NBC of Reid’s surprising call that iced the victory.
Backup quarterback Chad Henne gained 13 yards on a scramble, then threw a stunning fourth-and-inches completion to Tyreek Hill that allowed the Chiefs to run out the clock.
Henne replaced Patrick Mahomes, who left the game with a concussion midway through the third quarter after he was tackled by Browns linebacker Mack Wilson on an option keeper. Mahomes passed for 255 yards and one touchdown.
Reid indicated Mahomes was doing well after the game.
“He got hit in the back of the head and kind of knocked the wind out of him,” Reid said. “He’s doing great right now, which is a real positive, passed all the deals that he needed to pass, so we’ll see where it goes from here.”
The Chiefs become the first AFC team to host a conference championship for a third consecutive season. They will face the Buffalo Bills, who they defeated 26-17 in Buffalo on Oct. 19. The Bills have won eight straight behind Josh Allen, while Mahomes has won 11 straight starts.
Mahomes must complete NFL concussion protocols before he can return
Harrison Butker’s third field goal, this one from 33 yards, extended the Chiefs’ lead to 22-10 with 4:24 left in the third quarter.
Baker Mayfield then led the Browns on an 18-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that brought Cleveland to within one score for the first time since early in the game. The drive included two fourth-down conversions and the touchdown came on a run by Kareem Hunt on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, closing the score to 22-17 with 11:07 remaining.
Henne started the last regular-season game when Mahomes and several Kansas City starters rested after clinching the No. 1 seed. He completed 6 of 8 passes for 66 yards.
However, Henne was picked off by Karl Joseph in the end zone with 8:10 remaining, giving the Browns a chance for a game-winning score. But they stalled and punted from their 32-yard line before the Chiefs ran out the final 4:09.
“We’re a team. We’re one heartbeat. We play for one another,” Mathieu said of the fourth-quarter stop that left the Browns facing fourth-and-9.
Henne’s clutch pass for the first down came after it appeared Kansas City would run out the clock before punting. Instead, Henne rolled to his right and lobbed a pass to the open Hill.
Hill and tight end Travis Kelce each had eight receptions for 110 and 109 yards, respectively. Darrel Williams added 78 yards on 13 carries and had four receptions.
Butker’s third-quarter field goal represented the Chiefs’ only points of the second half. He missed a 33-yard attempt earlier in the quarter.
Baker Mayfield passed for 204 yards and one touchdown.
“He fought like he always does; he rallied,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said of Mayfield. “I don’t think I put him in enough good spots. We didn’t get the job done, and that’s a big disappointment.”
Buccaneers 30, Saints 20
In New Orleans, Tom Brady got the best of Drew Brees when it counted most.
Brees and the Saints beat Brady and Tampa Bay twice during the regular season. Over the course of careers that will land each in the Hall of Fame, Brees had beaten Brady in five of their seven meetings.
When they squared off in the playoffs for the first time, however, Brady turned the tables.
Brady threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third while Brees threw three interceptions as the Buccaneers prevailed 30-20 to advance to the NFC Championship game at Green Bay next Sunday.
“I think our defense was the key to the game,” Brady told Fox Sports. “We were going up against a really good defense, and they challenged us. Their defense played really well, but our defense really balled and got the turnovers that we needed.
“We locked in and played a lot better than we did the first two games. The last times we played them, we had a lot of turnovers, and today they had the turnovers. That’s usually the story of football games.”
Brees, who turned 42 on Friday, very nearly retired after last season and might have played his last game Sunday.
“I’m going to give myself an opportunity to think about the season,” Brees said. “I’m going to think about a lot of things just like I did last year. I have no complaints, and I have no regrets.”
Brady, who threw five interceptions over the first two meetings, did not turn the ball over while completing 18 of 33 passes for 199 yards. Brees, who didn’t turn the ball over in the first two meetings, contributed to three of the Saints four turnovers, which led to three Buccaneers touchdowns. He completed 19 of 34 passes for 134 yards and one touchdown.
The Saints broke a halftime tie on the first possession of the third quarter, when Brees threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith.
On New Orleans’ next possession, Brees completed a pass to Jared Cook, who fumbled. Tampa’s Devin White recovered the ball and returned it to the Saints 40. Brady ended the ensuing drive with a 6-yard TD pass to Leonard Fournette to tie the score at 20-20 with 2:22 left in the third quarter.
On Tampa Bay’s next possession, Ryan Succop kicked his third field goal of the game, this one from 36 yards, for a 23-20 lead. White intercepted Brees on the Saints’ ensuing possession, setting up Brady’s 1-yard touchdown run with 4:57 remaining.
Reports have swirled for most of the season that Brees would call it a career when the Saints’ season ended, even if that came without a Super Bowl shot.
He said the outcome of Sunday’s game wouldn’t be a factor in his decision.
“This won’t have anything to do with it,” he said.
The 2020 season was Brees’s 20th and his 15th with the Saints. In 12 regular-season games he completed more than 70% of his passes for 2,942 yards, 24 touchdowns and six interceptions.
He missed four games after suffering multiple broken ribs and a collapsed lung in November. Battling through injury and the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, “made the season even more rewarding,” Brees said.
“It was worth every minute of it,” he said, adding that interpretations of his glances at the crowd as he left the field as a “last look” were not necessarily accurate.
“I always soak in the moment,” he said.
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