KANSAS CITY, Mo. — All season, the prolific Kansas City offence had been putting the Chiefs in position to capture the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
It took their defence — and some good fortune — to finally clinch it.
Patrick Mahomes threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson with just under two minutes to go Sunday, then watched his defence force Younghoe Koo’s 39-yard field-goal try to tie the game. And when the Pro Bowl kicker faded it right with 9 seconds remaining, the Chiefs had escaped, 17-14.
Not to mention the Chiefs got their club-record 10th straight win and and the AFC’s lone first-round playoff bye.
“The defence played their tail off to give us a chance,” Mahomes said later, “and the offence found a way to score when we needed to. That’s just the championship swagger to know how to win a game even when you don’t play well.”
Mahomes finished with 278 yards passing and two touchdowns along with an interception for the reigning Super Bowl champions, who won their league-record seventh straight one-possession game. Travis Kelce had seven catches for 98 yards and a score, giving him 1,426 yards for the season, breaking George Kittle’s record for an NFL tight end.
“The real record I’m proud of,” Kelce said, “is this is the first time the Chiefs have ever been 14-1.”
The Falcons (4-11) certainly made it tougher than most people expected. They took the lead when Matt Ryan hit Laquon Treadwell for a 5-yard touchdown with 4:33 to go, then answered Mahomes’ touchdown pass to Robinson by marching right down field again. But after forcing Ryan into throwing three straight incompletions, they watched Koo head onto the field — and promptly miss for only the time this season.
Instead of heading to overtime, the Falcons headed home with their seventh loss in a one-possession game.
“I told him afterwards, ‘The next time you’re in that situation, you’re going to nail it,’ and to not doubt that for a second,” Ryan said. “It’s part of the game and you have to move forward.”
Calvin Ridley had five catches for 130 years for the Falcons. Hayden Hurst added five catches for 47 yards and a score.
“They put up a great effort,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said, “but we didn’t come here to get a pat on the back by anybody. We came here to win the football game. That’s the only goal you have when you come to play these games.”
Both defence played well in a first half that ended 7-7.
The Falcons’ Keanu Neal picked off a pass from Sammy Watkins when the Chiefs tried an audacious fourth-down play, using the wide receiver on a reverse to throw a pass to Mahomes across the field. The pick gave Atlanta the ball at its own 2-yard line, and Ryan found Hurst 98 yards later to give the Falcons the early lead.
The Chiefs’ offence finally got on track in the closing minutes of the first half. They never faced third down in going 78 yards for a tying score. Mahomes zipped a short TD pass to Kelce, who earlier became the first tight end in NFL history and first player in Chiefs history with multiple 100-catch seasons when he hauled in his second pass of the game.
The stunning display of defence continued for both teams in the second half.
Falcons linebacker Foyesade Oluokun kept the game scoreless when he deftly stepped in front of Kelce at the goal line for an interception. The Chiefs answered by allowing 15 yards and forcing back-to-back punts in the third quarter.
Kansas City finally took its first lead on Harrison Butker’s 53-yard field goal with 14:08 left in the game.
The Falcons squandered their first chance to match the points when Brandon Powell coughed up the ball deep in Kansas City territory. But they made their second opportunity count on Ryan’s 5-yard flick to Treadwell that capped an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.
Like so many times this season, the Falcons let it slip away.
“I’m proud of the guys — 14-1 is nothing to shake your head at,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “When it’s all said and done, you have a bye coming up after your next game. There’s only two teams that will have that this year.”
Falcons: Seven-time Pro Bowl WR Julio Jones (hamstring) missed his third straight game, and six-time Pro Bowl C Alex Mack (concussion) was inactive along with LG James Carpenter (groin).
Chiefs: Starting LBs Anthony Hitchens (COVID-19) and Damien Wilson (knee) were inactive, and backup Ben Niemann hurt his hamstring in the first half. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle) also was inactive and Watkins (calf) left late in the game.
Falcons: visit the Buccaneers next Sunday to conclude their dismal season.
Chiefs: face the Chargers next Sunday in their last tune-up before the playoffs.