Mahomes, Chiefs win NFL title with late surge

Super Rally: Mahomes, Chiefs win NFL title with late surge
By BARRY WILNER AP Pro Football Writer
Patrick Mahomes led the Kansas City Chiefs to three touchdowns in the final 6:13, and they overcame a double-digit deficit for the third postseason game in a row to beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs trailed 20-10 and faced a third and 15 when Mahomes threw to Tyreek Hill for 44 yards. They scored a touchdown four plays later, and quickly forced a punt. Mahomes then hit Sammy Watkins for 38 yards to set up a 5-yard scoring reception by Damien Williams that put Kansas City ahead to stay with 2:44 to go.

Mostert lifts 49ers to Super Bowl with 37-20 win vs Packers

Mostert lifts 49ers to Super Bowl with 37-20 win vs Packers
By JOSH DUBOW AP Pro Football Writer
Raheem Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns to make quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo mostly a spectator, Nick Bosa harassed Aaron Rodgers from the start and the San Francisco 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers 37-20 for the NFC championship. The 49ers advanced to their first Super Bowl in seven years and will play the Kansas City Chiefs in two weeks in Miami for the championship. Aaron Rodgers threw for  326 yards but the Packers lost the NFC title game for the third time since their last Super Bowl trip following the 2010 season.

Mahomes’ feet, arms, lift Chiefs to Super Bowl over Titans

Mahomes’ feet, arms, lift Chiefs to Super Bowl over Titans
By BARRY WILNER AP Pro Football Writer
Patrick Mahomes tip-toed down the sideline for a game-turning touchdown, added three TD passes, and the Kansas City Chiefs made their first Super Bowl in a half-century by beating the Tennessee Titans 35-24 for the AFC championship. In two weeks in Miami, they will play the winner of the NFC title game between Green Bay and San Francisco. Mahomes did his usual superb job passing, but it was his 27-yard tap dance down the left sideline late in the first half that gave the Chiefs their first lead. From there, they outran the run-oriented Titans and star back Derrick Henry.

Packers hold off Seahawks 28-23 to reach NFC title game

Packers hold off Seahawks 28-23 to reach NFC title game
By DAVE CAMPBELL AP Pro Football Writer
The Green Bay Packers have reached the NFC championship game by beating the Seattle Seahawks 28-23. Aaron Rodgers connected with Davante Adams eight times for 160 yards and two touchdowns for the Packers on Sunday night. They will play at top-seeded San Francisco for the conference title next weekend. Green Bay’s spruced-up defense fended off a spirited Seattle rally to seal the victory. Russell Wilson directed three straight touchdown drives out of the gate in the second half to bring the Seahawks back. But Preston Smith’s sack forced a punt just before the two-minute warning.

Chiefs rally from 24-0 hole to beat Texans 51-31 in playoffs

Chiefs rally from 24-0 hole to beat Texans 51-31 in playoffs
By DAVE SKRETTA AP Sports Writer
The Kansas City Chiefs overcome a 24-0 hole early in the second quarter to beat the Houston Texans 51-31 on Sunday and return to the AFC championship game. Patrick Mahomes led the comeback, which at one point included 41 unanswered points, by throwing for 321 yards and five touchdowns. Travis Kelce and Damien Williams scored three times apiece for Kansas City, which needed the biggest comeback in franchise history to continue its pursuit of its first Super Bowl trip in 50 years. Deshaun Watson had 388 yards passing and accounted for three touchdowns for the Texans.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes stalked up and down the sideline like a field marshal rallying his troops, the brilliant young quarterback imploring the Kansas City Chiefs to stay together even as the Houston Texans were on the verge of taking them apart.
The Chiefs already faced a 24-0 hole, bigger than any deficit they had overcome in franchise history.
“The biggest thing I was preaching,” Mahomes said later, “was, ‘Let’s go do something special. Everybody is counting us out. Let’s go out there and play by play put it out there.’ And play by play, we did what we were supposed to do.”
Beginning with the first of his five touchdown passes, Mahomes and the Chiefs slowly chipped away at Houston’s seemingly insurmountable lead. They continued to pick up momentum, outscoring the Texans 28-0 during the second quarter alone, and eventually reeled off 41 consecutive points before cruising the rest of the way to a 51-31 victory Sunday that propelled Kansas City back to the AFC championship game for the second consecutive season.
In doing so, the Chiefs (13-4) became the first team in NFL history to win a playoff game by at least 20 points after trailing by at least 20. They matched the fourth-biggest comeback in playoff history while winning a postseason game in back-to-back seasons for the first time. Travis Kelce and Damien Williams scored three touchdowns apiece, joining the 49ers’ Jerry Rice and Ricky Waters in Super Bowl 29 as the only teammates to score that many times in a postseason game.
Meanwhile, Mahomes led by example as much as by voice. He finished with 321 yards passing, becoming the first player in postseason history with at least 300 yards passing and five touchdowns while running for at least 50 more yards.
“You saw him going up and down the bench, he was talking to everybody, — ‘Just settle down,'” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “As a head coach, you can’t ask for more than that. When he’s the leader of your team and he’s going, ‘Hey, we’re going to be fine. Let’s not wait for the fourth quarter. Let’s go!’ And he did that.”
Now, after losing to the Patriots in overtime in last year’s conference title game, the Chiefs are back on the brink of their first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years. They will host Tennessee next Sunday in a rematch from earlier this season after the Titans upset Lamar Jackson and the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night.
“We’ve already played them and we know they’re a tough team,” Mahomes said. “They’re a team that battles all the way until the end. They’re a team that’s really hot, playing really good football right now, so we know it’s going to take our best effort. And, whatever way, we’ve got to find a way to win.”
Deshaun Watson, meanwhile, threw for 388 yards and two touchdowns while running for another, but not even his heroics could bail out the Texans (11-7) after their calamitous second quarter and dismal third. The result: The reborn Houston franchise is 0-4 in the divisional round and has never won a road playoff game.
“I definitely thought we were going to have to score more than 24,” said Texans coach Bill O’Brien, who made a series of debatable calls during the collapse. “I think that they’re, obviously, a very explosive team and it just didn’t work out.”
The Chiefs certainly gave Houston a chance to end their frustrating playoff streak in the first quarter.
On defense, Kansas City blew coverage on Kenny Stills on the opening possession, allowing him to walk into the end zone from 54 yards. On offense, they wasted timeouts, dropped a series of easy passes and managed just 46 yards. And on special teams, the Chiefs had a punt blocked for a score and fumbled a return that set up another touchdown.
Indeed, the Texans kept humming right along after finishing on a 22-3 run to beat Buffalo last week, while the mountain of miscues made by the Chiefs made them only the fourth home playoff team to trail 21-0 after the first quarter.
Things turned around on a series of plays — and a call by O’Brien in particular — that will be debated for a while.
After the Texans stretched the lead to 24-0 early in the second quarter, the Chiefs began to nip into their deficit with a quick touchdown drive. And the comeback really gained momentum when O’Brien called for a fake punt at the Houston 31-yard line and the Chiefs stuffed it, giving them a short field and setting up another easy touchdown.
“We had that play ready for a variety of different teams and situations,” said the Texans’ Justin Reid, who took the snap and was stopped short of the first down. “Credit to them, they made the play.”
As the Chiefs continued to take off, the Texans continued to stumble.
On the ensuing kickoff, Houston return man DeAndre Carter had the ball pop loose and into the arms of Darwin Thompson, whose recovery set up a second Mahomes-to-Kelce touchdown in a matter of seconds. And their third came after the Chiefs forced a punt — a successful one, for a change — and they drove 90 yards to take a stunning 28-24 halftime lead.
“I mean, it was an amazing thing. Everything was working,” Mahomes said. “The play calls were open, everybody was getting open against man-coverage which we’ve been preaching all season long, and guys were making plays.”
The comeback became a clobbering by the time the third quarter ended.
The Chiefs breezed downfield to start the second half, and Williams finished the drive with his first TD run. Their overhauled defense under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo sacked Watson on fourth down to get the ball right back, and Mahomes and Co. required just six more plays to position Williams for another TD run and a 41-24 lead.
The 41 consecutive points, spanning most of the second and third quarters, were the most since the Jets had the same against the Colts in the 2002 wild-card round.
Even when the Texans finally cracked the scoreboard, when Watson scrambled to his left and dived over the pylon, the Chiefs rendered the touchdown moot. In four plays they went 72 yards to set up the fifth TD pass by Mahomes, the strike to little-used tight end Blake Bell giving coach Andy Reid’s team a postseason-record seven straight TD drives.
It also gave a festive crowd that turned out early in freezing weather and a slight drizzle a chance to celebrate early.
“We’ve got full confidence not only in the players but the game plan going into it. Just got to deal with what’s going on in the game — what’s real and what’s not — and what was real was we were hurting ourselves early,” Kelce said. “With that, you just rally the troops, lean on the leaders of this team and make plays. That’s what we did.”
INJURIES
Houston played without S Jahleel Addae (hamstring) and TE Jordan Akins (hamstring). They also lost RT Chris Clark to a knee injury early in the game, and backup Roderick Johnson struggled against the Chiefs pass rush the rest of the game.
Kansas City sat defensive tackle Chris Jones, who strained his calf muscle late in the week and couldn’t make it through pregame warm-ups. WR Tyreek Hill left briefly after a hard hit but eventually returned to the game.
UP NEXT
The Texans will spend the offseason wondering how they let a 24-0 lead slip away, and the Chiefs will begin preparing for the Titans in the AFC title game. Kansas City lost lost 35-32 at Tennessee in Week 10, when Derrick Henry ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns against them. It was the Chiefs’ most recent loss.
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49ers win 1st playoff game in 6 years, 27-10 over Vikings

49ers win 1st playoff game in 6 years, 27-10 over Vikings
By JOSH DUBOW AP Pro Football Writer
Jimmy Garoppolo threw a TD pass on his opening drive as a playoff starter and then watched San Francisco’s defense and running game take over from there in the 49ers’ 27-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round. The Niners first playoff game in six seasons and first ever at Levi’s Stadium turned into a lopsided one as top-seeded San Francisco turned a pair of second-half turnovers by Minnesota into 10 points. The Vikings didn’t top the 100-yard mark until a garbage-time drive in the fourth quarter.

Despite lacking star power, Ravens beat Steelers 28-10

Despite lacking star power, Ravens beat Steelers 28-10
By DAVID GINSBURG AP Sports Writer
The Baltimore Ravens relied upon a strong defensive performance to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-10 and finish the regular season riding a 12-game winning streak. The Ravens played without quarterback Lamar Jackson and other stars and had very little at stake. Baltimore finished 14-2 and had already secured the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Baltimore’s first touchdown followed a fumble by Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges, who was held in check the entire game. The Ravens also scored on special teams after Pittsburgh punter Jordan Berry dropped the wet football near his end zone. The Steelers finished the season with three straight losses.

Duck Season has officially begun as the Steelers beat the Cardinals 23-17

Steelers hang on for 23-17 victory over Cardinals
By DAVID BRANDT AP Sports Writer
Diontae Johnson ran for an 85-yard touchdown on a punt return and caught a pass for another score to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Arizona Cardinals 23-17. Pittsburgh’s defense had three crucial interceptions in the second half to secure its seventh win over the past eight games. Arizona has lost six straight games. Rookie free agent quarterback Devlin Hodges completed 16 of 19 passes and threw a touchdown pass in his third career start. Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray threw two touchdown passes, but his three interceptions were very costly.

Steelers defense leads way in 17-12 win over Rams

Steelers defense leads way in 17-12 win over Rams
By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Steelers defense spoiled Aaron Donald’s homecoming and derailed the Los Angeles Rams’ momentum in the process.
The Steelers forced four turnovers — including a 43-yard fumble return for a touchdown by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick — in an ugly 17-12 victory on Sunday that pushed their winning streak to four games and dealt the Rams’ chances of chasing down Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC West a serious blow.
Donald, a Pittsburgh native, sacked the Steelers’ Mason Rudolph for a safety in his first appearance in his hometown since the Rams took him in the first round of the 2014 draft.
Linebacker Dante Fowler scored Los Angeles’ lone touchdown on a 26-yard fumble return on the second snap of the game. But the Rams’ offense did little against a Steelers defense that has become the team’s identity after losing Ben Roethlisberger to a season-ending right elbow injury in Week 2.
Jared Goff completed 22 of 40 passes for 243 yards, none of them to leading receiver Cooper Kupp. The Rams (5-4) converted just 1 of 14 third downs and came up empty on a pair of last-gasp drives in the final two minutes. Goff’s fourth-down heave to the end zone intended for Josh Reynolds fell incomplete with 1:25 to go. Los Angeles got the ball back with 59 seconds to play but Goff’s pass to Robert Woods was tipped.
Fitzpatrick ran underneath it for the game-sealing interception and seventh takeaway since the Steelers acquired him from Miami in September for a 2020 first-round pick.
At the moment, it looks like draft capital well spent.
Rudolph completed 22 of 38 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown, stats that would have been considerably better if not for a handful of drops that prevented the Steelers (5-4) from gaining any sort of traction for long stretches.
Rudolph became the ninth quarterback since the 1970 merger to throw a touchdown in each of his first seven games when he found James Washington for a 3-yard score in the first quarter, but the Steelers once again relied on their defense to move over .500 for the first time this season.
The Steelers managed just 15 turnovers in 2018. They have produced 26 through nine games in 2019, helping them stay afloat following a 1-4 start while Rudolph and the offense searches for solid footing.
WHAT THE HEKKER?
Los Angeles coach Sean McVay is known for his innovative thinking, but his aggressiveness nearly cost the Rams in the third quarter. Los Angeles was facing fourth-and-1 at Rams 29 trailing 14-7.
The Rams lined up to punt before fanning out, with Hekker moving up into the shotgun formation. Hekker, who had a 23-yard completion earlier in the season and came in 12 of 20 for 179 yards with a touchdown in his career, was hit as he threw and the pass was picked off by Pittsburgh’s Trey Edmunds, a running back by trade.
The Steelers, however, were unable to take advantage of the great field position. A penalty, a sack and a dropped pass pushed Pittsburgh out of field-goal range.
INJURIES
Rams: Center Brian Allen left in the first quarter with a knee issue and did not return. DB Darious Williams left with an ankle problem.
Steelers: Wide receiver Ryan Switzer left in the fourth quarter with a back injury.
UP NEXT
Rams: Host the Chicago Bears (4-5) next Sunday night.
Steelers: Travel to Cleveland to play the Browns (3-6) on Thursday. Pittsburgh is 7-0-1 in its past eight meetings with Cleveland.
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Steelers overcome slow start, drop winless Dolphins 27-14

Steelers overcome slow start, drop winless Dolphins 27-14
By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mason Rudolph heard the boos. They were impossible to miss as the minutes passed, the mistakes piled up and the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves down two scores on Monday night to arguably the worst team in the NFL.
Turnovers. Dropped passes. Penalties. Missed opportunities. For the better part of 30 minutes, it was hard to tell if the Steelers or the Miami Dolphins were the team in the midst of a massive rebuild.
“I would have booed that performance too,” Rudolph said. “Coming out slow and it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers. There’s a standard here and we weren’t meeting it at the time.”
Eventually, however, Rudolph found his footing. Eventually, the Dolphins morphed back into the team playing for a shot at the top pick in the draft. And eventually the Steelers avoided an embarrassing loss that would have effectively ended the competitive portion of their season by rallying for a 27-14 victory.
Rudolph threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns in his first start after getting knocked unconscious earlier this month against Baltimore, and James Conner added 145 yards and a touchdown on the ground as Pittsburgh (3-4) won consecutive games for the first time since ripping off six straight in the middle of last season.
“You dig a big of a whole there in the first half and I was proud of the way we responded,” Rudolph said.
Rudolph stressed he wasn’t worried about the long-term effects of a frightening concussion he suffered against Baltimore on Oct. 6, when he was knocked cold on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Ravens safety Earl Thomas. Still, he looked shaky at best during an ugly opening quarter that saw the Dolphins grab their first two-touchdown lead over any opponent in more than a year.
Pittsburgh’s first possession ended with Rudolph throwing a pick to Xavien Howard — back in the lineup after missing two games with a knee injury — and its second ended with Rudolph misfiring badly on fourth down. Yet he remained upbeat amid the growing pains and eventually things started to click. Rudolph completed 20 of 36 passes, including a 45-yard touchdown to rookie Diontae Johnson late in the second quarter and a 26-yard strike to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the third quarter that put the Steelers firmly in control.
“We needed to get him going early on because all it takes is that one big play for him,” Pittsburgh wide receiver James Washington said. “His mind is going. He’s got that adrenaline going and (once) we started moving the ball down the field running and passing, we were on.”
And the Dolphins (0-7) were not.
Ryan Fitzpatrick passed for 190 yards with two touchdowns and two picks, both to Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who orchestrated a trade from Miami to Pittsburgh last month. But a rare hot start couldn’t prevent Miami from staying winless through seven games for the first time since 2011. The Dolphins have dropped 10 straight dating to last season.
“We just have to continue to keep fighting,” Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “That’s just kind of the place that we’re at right now. Just continue to keep fighting, continue to keep going to practice and trying to get better every single day.”
CURIOUS CALL
The Dolphins, in the midst of an exhaustive rebuild under first-year coach Brian Flores — a process that included trading running back Kenyan Drake to Arizona on Monday for a conditional sixth-round pick in next year’s draft just hours before kickoff — showed their first extended signs of life in an already lost season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s two touchdown passes gave Miami — a 14-point underdog — a 14-point advantage for the first time since Oct. 7, 2018. The Dolphins couldn’t hold on then, allowing the Bengals storm back for a victory. A year later, not much has changed. The Steelers pulled within 14-10 at the break thanks to the first of Minkah Fitzpatrick’s two interceptions and an odd defensive play call by the Dolphins.
Leading by 11 points and with Pittsburgh facing third-and-20 outside of field goal range, Miami opted to blitz and didn’t bother to guard Johnson, who took a short pass from Rudolph and used a couple of downfield blocks by Washington to weave his way 45 yards to the end zone.
“Wanted to be aggressive,” Flores said. “We can second guess a lot of calls. I’m not going to second guess that one. I thought we had success with the call, and they made a play.”
INJURIES
Dolphins: Howard’s return was brief. He left in the second half after aggravating his knee injury. … CB Ken Webster left with an ankle injury in the first half and did not return.
Steelers: Conner left in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury. … Ramon Foster (concussion) exited with a concussion in the first half and did not return. … RB Benny Snell left with an ankle injury in the third quarter.
UP NEXT
Dolphins: Welcome the New York Jets (1-6) next Sunday. Miami swept the Jets last season.
Steelers: Host Indianapolis (5-2) next Sunday. Pittsburgh has won each of its last five meetings with the Colts.
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