At Long Last: 2019 AFC Championship
No matter the perspective, the wait was too long.
The Kansas City Chiefs returned to the scene of their most bitter loss of recent memory: the AFC Championship Game. In January 2019, they fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. In 2020, the Chiefs would face the Tennessee Titans, a six seed playing like anything but. But on this day, the Chiefs would go down by ten points, only to respond with 28 unanswered en route to a 35-24 victory that puts KC into the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years.
The Chiefs would rely upon reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes to be the spark to fuel KC's latest comeback. He was spectacular passing (22 of 35 for 297 yards, 3 TD's for a 118.4 passer rating), but rushing 8 times for 53 yards and a touchdown would be the X factor to give the Chiefs an insurmountable edge. Mahomes' brilliance on the game's big stage and bright lights is turning this 24 year old into the NFL's next superstar. But the unsung heroes in this game was the defense. Much maligned due to their upsetting performance last year, they held the Titans' Derrick Henry to 69 yards on 19 carries, the same running back who was playing a postseason for the ages leading up to this game. For the players on the roster, as well as the organization, this win becomes one of redemption, one that proved to the world that the Chiefs are as good as they seem. And they now have the opportunity to etch their names as Super Bowl Champions in two weeks time. For the fans, it's been a very long while. For enduring the decay of the Super Bowl IV team to being lost in the wilderness for the '70's and '80's, found some success in the 1990's, would endure an inconsistent 2000's and 2010's, but will close out the decade as AFC champions. Congratulations to the Kansas City Chiefs organization and to its loyal fan base. It's been a long time coming.
The clock struck midnight on the Tennessee Titans' Cinderella story. Henry was shown to be mortal after all, and the defense was tasked with trying to contain one of the league's most explosive offenses. Perhaps it was too much to ask on this day. So, what can the Titans do to make that next step? The most important would be to make the offense more dynamic. Yes, Henry is becoming one of the most punishing rushers in the business, but that brand of ball has its limitations. If the team falls behind or can't get on track on the ground, it makes the result academic. This is not to say that current quarterback Ryan Tannehill can't do it, but there must be a commitment to do so. At the moment, it's not clear if general manager Jon Robinson wants to stick it out with Tannehill, make a run at a free agent, or maneuver in the draft to get talent on the cheap. That will be made clear as the offseason unwinds. Do that and improve the defense, Tennessee can be back here again. And who knows, maybe even hosting the next one if all the pieces fall into place.