Championship pedigree: Chiefs rarely falter in tense moments

The Big Game

Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones celebrates during the second half of an NFL divisional round football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in Kansas City. The Chiefs won 22-17. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs would be the first to tell you that the final score is all that matters.

All but twice this season, they’ve been on the right end of it.

But the defending champions also would be the first to tell you the final score doesn’t always tell the whole story. That much is evident in gazing at the results of this season.

The Chiefs won seven straight games by one possession, two clear of the previous NFL record, including one against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — their Super Bowl opponent Sunday.

Yet not all of them were as close as critics want to believe. Four were two-score games with five minutes to go, and in most cases, the Chiefs offense was able to close things out without breaking much of a sweat.

“We won a lot of games this year off different guys making plays, offense, defense or special teams,” Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens said. “I keep saying that. We find a way to win and that’s what good teams do.”

Perhaps their close-game success is a direct result of the championship pedigree that came out of last season.

The Chiefs were coming off a loss to Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC championship game, when they famously failed to stop New England in overtime and never gave Patrick Mahomes and their own offense a chance with the ball. It was the latest in a series of late-game meltdowns that left critics wondering whether they would ever get to the big one.

Well, the Chiefs did. And they did it while still struggling in one-score games. The Chiefs rolled to a 12-4 record in the regular season, but they were just 5-4 in games decided by one possession, and none of their games on their playoff march — except their rally past San Francisco in the Super Bowl — wound up being that close.

This season has been a different story entirely.

The Chiefs beat the Chargers 23-20 in Week 2. Then, starting with a game against the Panthers in early November, the Chiefs rattled off seven close wins in a row. Carolina missed a field goal that would have beaten the Chiefs. They pieced together a winning drive against Las Vegas, then held onto enough of a big early lead to beat Tampa Bay.

They followed with wins over the Broncos, Dolphins and Saints. And by the time they watched the Falcons miss a 39-yard field goal to escape with a 17-14 win in Week 16, they had locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC and a first-round playoff bye.

“This team is definitely resilient,” said backup quarterback Chad Henne, who took over when Mahomes sustained a concussion in the divisional round against Cleveland, then threw an audacious pass in the final minutes to convert on fourth down that allowed Kansas City to run out the clock on a 22-17 victory.

“Down in some games in the fourth quarter, we come back to win,” Henne said, “or the defense gets a big stop for us and we get the ball back with a chance to win as well. Definitely resilient. Those tough games and the best shot we got from every team is definitely going to help push us through.”

Therein lies the upshot of all those close games: The Chiefs are never nervous when things get tense.

“We might not have been able to handle that with our 2018 team,” Mahomes said of that playoff win over the Browns, “but we’ve been through that adversity. We’ve been through those battles.”

To put in perspective the dominance Kansas City has shown in one-possession games, the Buccaneers were 3-3 in those situations during the regular season, including back-to-back losses to the Rams and Chiefs by a field goal.

“In this league, you’ve just got to stay aggressive all the time. Teams are just too good,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You have to do the best you can to score points and stop them.

“That’s really what it comes down to. There’s so much parity in this league, such a small margin between winning and — even during the regular season. You’re not going to be using many four-corner stalls. That’s not how you’re going to roll.”

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