An army of Colts danced in the eastern end zone at Arrowhead Stadium, the aftermath of a blocked punt that had offered them life. As the celebration ensued for a play that could seemingly change the tide of this AFC divisional playoff game, two men on the Chiefs sideline thought little of it.
You should know that Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is not a believer in momentum, and neither is one of the analytics gurus for the team. So after the Colts’ first touchdown of the game, which cut the Chiefs’ lead to 10 points, Schwartz told his cohort in the ongoing debate that it would be OK. “We have the snow-mentum,” he quipped.
Well, chalk one up for his side of the argument. Because the Colts’ momentum — real or perceived — was short-lived.
The Chiefs responded to the blocked punt —the type of play that has long cursed them for 25 years in home playoff games — with a 75-yard touchdown drive en route to their 31-13 victory to reach the AFC Championship Game. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes finished off the drive with a four-yard touchdown run in the midst of a snowy Saturday afternoon.
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“That favors one for the anti-momentum (guys) that we were able to overcome a traumatic touchdown and go down and score,” Schwartz said.
It helped to wash away the ghosts of the playoffs past at Arrowhead Stadium, the facilitators of the Chiefs’ failure to win inside their home venue for the past 25 years.
You know the ones. The three missed Lin Elliott field goals. The Marcus Mariota touchdown pass ... to himself.
If this game was to have a a similar omen, the blocked punt was it. The Colts had not yet even gained a first down when Najee Goode broke the Chiefs’ line and blocked Dustin Colquitt’s kick. Zach Pascal gobbled it up for a touchdown.
The Colts trimmed the lead to 17-7. Plenty of time remained before halftime to further close the margin.
Instead, the ensuing drive ceased the conversation of familiarity. From the jump, too. Mahomes pegged tight end Travis Kelce for a 30-yard gain on the opening play. He hit wide receiver Sammy Watkins for 5 yards on the next play, and then Tyreek Hill for 14 more on the next. The Chiefs faced only one third down on the drive, and when they needed six yards to reach the marker, the Mahomes-to-Kelce connection provided seven.
“That’s definitely a pivotal point in the game, a pivotal drive,” Chiefs lineman Cam Erving said. “Turnovers and scores on special teams are always big plays in the game. The way we came back and just kind of settled back into our offense and scored a touchdown, it was huge.”
The management of the drive was, too.
For all of the clock management issues that have haunted the Chiefs in recent playoff defeats, this was one on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Chiefs chewed 4 minutes and 16 seconds off the clock and forced Indianapolis to burn all three timeouts.
With only 1:40 left in the half and no timeouts, the Colts’ ensuing drive stalled at the 5-yard line when they had to force kicker Adam Vinatieri into a third-down try. He missed. The Chiefs took a 24-7 lead into halftime.
“Any time you lose momentum in a game, you can’t let it affect you,” tackle Eric Fisher said. “I think one of the big things in being a professional in this league is to handle adversity like a professional. You gotta move on to the next play. We were able to do that a little bit.”