Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, two of the NFL’s top-rated quarterbacks, moved closer to a potential Super Bowl clash with home playoff victories on Sunday.
Mahomes threw for five touchdowns as the Chiefs overturned a 24-point deficit to defeat the Houston Texans 51-31 in a thrilling postseason duel.
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Mahomes finished with 321 passing yards from 23 of 35 attempts at Arrowhead Stadium to send the Chiefs into a home AFC Championship showdown against the Tennessee Titans next weekend for a place in the Super Bowl.
“We didn’t start the way we wanted to,” Mahomes said. “All we were preaching was, ‘Let’s do something special.
“‘Everyone is counting us out, let’s just keep fighting, one play at a time.'”
Rodgers completed 16-of-27 passes for 243 yards and Davante Adams made eight catches for a club playoff record 160 yards as the Packers pulled out a 28-23 triumph over the Seattle Seahawks.
The Packers will travel to California to battle the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday in the NFC Championship.
“I am going to enjoy a nice glass of Scotch tonight,” said Rodgers. “Then get onto the film of San Francisco and get ready for a tough opponent.”
The 49ers walloped the Packers 37-8 at home on November 24.
Next Sunday’s winners will meet in next month’s Super Bowl 54 at Miami.
Texans coach Bill O’Brien said his team had not taken anything for granted after racing to an early 24-0 lead.
“24-0 was a really good lead, no doubt about it,” O’Brien said.
“But I don’t think any lead is safe versus these guys. We needed to score 50 points and we weren’t able to do that.”
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, meanwhile, finished with 388 yards and two touchdowns in a losing effort.
– Chiefs down big early –
The Chiefs were given an almighty scare after a disastrous start.
An error-strewn opening spell saw the Texans score unanswered touchdowns from Kenny Stills, Lonnie Johnson and Darren Fells to move into a 21-point lead.
But with the Chiefs reeling, the Texans gave the hosts respite from the onslaught early in the second quarter with Houston coach Bill O’Brien opting for a field goal on fourth down and 1 from 31 yards.
Ka’imi Fairbairn drilled the kick to put Houston into a 24-0 lead.
But momentum shifted on the ensuing kickoff when Mecole Hardman returned 58 yards to the Houston 42-yard line.
Two plays later, Mahomes hit Damien Williams from 17 yards to make it 24-7 and put the Chiefs on the board.
The Chiefs stopped Houston on a fake punt on the next series and Mahomes took advantage, finding tight end Travis Kelce from five yards for a touchdown.
“We had momentum at that point and it felt like we were going to try and make a play,” O’Brien said. “It just didn’t work.”
DeAndre Carter fumbled away the kickoff, allowing the Chiefs to recover at the Houston six. Mahomes hit Kelce for another touchdown three plays later and then drove the Chiefs 90 yards to set up another touchdown to Kelce for a 28-24 half-time lead.
Williams ran for two touchdowns to give Kansas City a 41-24 lead. Watson rushed for a five-yard touchdown to put the Texans back to within 10 but the Chiefs added another touchdown followed by a field goal to extend their lead at 51-21.
– Packers hang on at home –
At Green Bay, Aaron Jones ran 21 times for 62 yards, including two one-yard touchdowns and the Packers took a 21-3 half-time lead then held on in the fourth quarter.
Russell Wilson led the fifth-seeded Seahawks against the Packers in both rushing and passing. Wilson was 21 of 31 for 277 yards and a touchdown and added 64 yards on seven carries.
Tyler Lockett made nine receptions for 136 yards and a score.
With their running game in tatters, the Seahawks gambled and lost on bringing back veteran Marshawn Lynch, who hadn’t played in over a year.
Lynch gained just 26 yards on 12 carries Sunday, scoring on a one-yard touchdown run. Lynch ran for just 33 yards in two playoff games for Seattle.
The Seahawks nearly rallied, scoring on their first drive of the second half to make it 21-10.
But Adams scored on a 40-yard pass from Rodgers on the Packers’ next possession to push the lead back to 18 points.
“We finished it the right way,” Rodgers said. “We are going to enjoy this one first then get to San Francisco. They are a great football team had a fantastic year.”