Chiefs vs. Colts final score, takeaways: Chiefs assert their dominance, advance to AFC title game
From the very first drive of the game, the Kansas City Chiefs pretty much dominated the Indianapolis Colts, and even though the final score painted the picture of a game that was closer than it actually felt, they’re nonetheless headed to the AFC title game — exactly where they belong after a spectacular season.
On the first play of the night, Dee Ford broke into the Colts’ backfield and slammed Marlon Mack to the ground for a three-yard loss. Two plays later the Colts punted. Kansas City then marched right down the field for a score, with Damien Williams — who began the season as the team’s third-string running back — breaking through the line for a 10-yard score.
On Indianapolis’ next drive, the Chiefs batted away three consecutive passes from Andrew Luck — the first two at the line of scrimmage and the third in the secondary. Kansas City then marched right down the field for a score, going 70 yards in eight plays, the last of which was a 36-yard end-around flip to Tyreek Hill, who sped through the secondary largely untouched.
On the Colts’ next drive, they went three-and-out yet again. Kansas City then marched right down the field for a score, though this time it was a field goal, thanks to a couple timely sacks from the Indianapolis defense. After the Colts went three-and-out for their fourth consecutive drive to open the game, the Chiefs gave them just a little bit of life. Two Kansas City penalties undermined a drive that never really got untracked, and then Dustin Colquitt had a punt blocked for the first time in five years. Zach Pascal recovered it for a touchdown, and suddenly the Colts were only down 17-7 despite the fact that they were being out-gained 258-21 and had not yet recorded a single first down.
In this situation, all they needed was a stop and a score to get right back into it. But it was not to be. The Chiefs’ first play of their next drive was a 30-yard pass from probable MVP Patrick Mahomes to Travis Kelce. Nine plays later, Mahomes scrambled to his right and dove for the pylon, pushing the Chiefs’ lead back to 17 points. Even after the Colts finally got their offense moving down the field at the end of the first half, Adam Vinatieri missed a 23-yard field goal that would have cut the lead to 14 points.
Neither team’s offense did much in the second half. Kansas City kept punting and Indianapolis kept punting it back. The Colts were 0 -for-8 on third downs during the competitive portion of the game, and they finished the night with only 15 first downs — well short of the NFL record 26 per game the Chiefs allowed during the regular season. Even when the Chiefs appeared to give the Colts new life once again after Sammy Watkins fumbled deep in his own team’s territory, the team’s best unit broke down at the worst possible time as the offensive line let Dee Ford run from around the edge once again. Ford stripped the ball out of Luck’s hands, Justin Houston recovered it, and the Chiefs’ lead was safe after all.
Luck salvaged his night with a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton on a picture-perfect throw, but it never really felt like Indy was threatening to win the game. Even after that late score, the Chiefs simply drove the ball right back down the field for a score of their own to officially put the game out of reach.
Even at 31-13, the score of this game was not as close as it felt. The Chiefs asserted their dominance on both sides of the ball, and they seemed fully in control from the jump. All that’s left now is for them to do it again next week with a trip to Atlanta for Super Bowl 53 on the line.
Here are a few more things to know about Kansas City’s divisional round win.
The likely MVP brings his MVP game
In all likelihood, Patrick Mahomes will be given the Most Valuable Player award the night before Super Bowl 53. Mahomes was simply spectacular during his first season as the Chiefs’ starter, completing 383 of 580 passes (66.0 percent) for 5,097 yards (8.8 per attempt), as well as 50 touchdowns against just 12 interceptions.
He did not quite dent the scoreboards in the same way on Saturday as he did during the regular season, but Mahomes certainly brought out his A-game for his first ever playoff contest. He ended the evening having completed 27 of 41 passes for 278 yards, and though he did not throw for a touchdown, he did run for one, and he made several of the outlandish plays we saw him make all year — sidearm throws, scrambles to buy himself time before delivering to the open man downfield, everything. He brought it all to the table.
It was a heck of a postseason debut for the probable MVP, who will have another chance to show his stuff next week in a game that, no matter who wins on Sunday, will be against one of very few teams that the Chiefs lost to during the regular season.
Chiefs defense shuts down Andrew Luck
Like Mahomes, Luck had a terrific regular season, and one that will likely win him an award. It seems pretty likely that Luck takes home Comeback Player of the Year at the NFL Honors ceremony after his 4,593-yard, 39-touchdown regular season.
But unlike Mahomes, Luck did not have his best stuff on Sunday. He just seemed off right from the start, with his first pass of the game falling incomplete when it appeared to slip out of his hand on its way to Eric Ebron and his next three all being batted down as the Colts went for their second of three consecutive three-and-outs to open the game.
Luck salvaged his day somewhat with an absolute dime to T.Y. Hilton in the fourth quarter:
But for the most part, he struggled. He finished the game just 19 of 36 for 203 yards and the score, while he was sacked three times, fumbled once, and was nearly picked off by Steven Nelson on a throw that was way wide of Hilton.
None of this takes all that much away from Luck’s terrific season or his potential to continue his strong play into the future, but he was not at his best in the divisional round.
The Snow Bowl
All throughout the week, we heard about thein Kansas City. Come Saturday, that’s exactly what we got. The all afternoon, including throughout pretty much the entire game. It even affected the over-under line for the contest, which plummeted from 57 to around 54.5 as news of the snow led bettors to hammer the under.
For most of the morning, NFL pregame shows and pretty much everyone who was on site at Arrowhead Stadium couldn’t stop telling us about the snow. In fairness, there was a whole lot of it.
The snow itself did not appear to affect the quality of play too much — at least for the Chiefs, who pretty much looked like they always do. (The only thing that seemed to be affected was the structural integrity of Tyreek Hill’s shoelaces. He lost a shoe on two different catches.) The Colts struggled for most of the contest, but it’s tough to say whether or not that was due to the weather conditions.
Also not affected by the snow: Chiefs fans. They brought their A-game.
A shocking miss
There is almost nothing in the NFL more automatic than a short field goal from Adam Vinatieri. Especially in a big game. But that apparently was not the case on Saturday.
After the Colts had struggled for the entire first half to get anything going offensively, they finally marched the ball downfield for a field goal attempt during the two-minute drill. After an incomplete pass to Mo Alie-Cox in the corner of the end zone with three seconds left in the half, the Colts sent Vinatieri onto the field expecting him to salvage the drive with a field goal and cut the Kansas City lead to 24-10.
And then Vinatieri did something he had never done before: he missed a field goal from just 23 yards out. According to ESPN’s statistics department, he was 97-for-97 on kicks from 23 yards or shorter during his NFL career prior to that miss.
Charles Woodson, who long ago was on the wrong end of a Vinatieri field goal in a snowy playoff game, had the appropriate reaction here.
Surely, Raiders fans felt his — and Colts fans’ — pain.
And as if that weren’t strange enough, Vinatieri later missed an extra point, the first time he’d ever missed one in his playoff career and only the 19th time he’d missed in 941 regular season and postseason attempts. A strange sight, indeed.
Another shocking mistake
Speaking of unusual special teams errors … here’s a blocked punt for a touchdown against the Chiefs, which was the only semblance of momentum the Colts had all night.
Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt had not had a punt blocked in over five years before that one. Kansas City had the NFL’s second-best special teams unit this season, per Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and their special teams unit is coached by the legendary Dave Toub, who is likely the best special teams coordinator in modern NFL history. He previously coordinated the Bears‘ special teams units while Devin Hester was setting all kinds of return records and Robbie Gould was one of the most accurate kickers in the league.
His unit giving up such a big play was quite the surprise. Of course, it was one of the few mistakes the Chiefs made the entire game, so it was easy to overlook.
Travis Kelce’s monster night
It should not be at all surprising when Travis Kelce has a big game. He is one of the best tight ends in the NFL, after all, and he is one of Mahomes’ top targets. But Kelce having a big game against this particular Colts team may have been the most predictable thing to happen all playoffs.
Kelce is a tight end, as previously mentioned, and the Colts allowed 106 catches (most in the NFL) to tight ends this season, as well as 1,234 receiving yards (most in the NFL) to players at the position, while ranking 29th in DVOA. The Colts play a ton of zone coverage and their linebackers have a tendency to strongly react to play-action fakes, which leaves tight ends wide open in the zones right behind them.
That happened pretty much all night for Kelce. He recorded six catches for 93 yards in the first half alone (he finished with seven for 108), including a 30-yarder that got KC right back into scoring position after they’d given up a blocked punt for a touchdown. And he showed his usual fantastic chemistry with Mahomes on plays where they quarterback extended the action with his legs.
Ground and pounded
All throughout the week leading up to this game, we kept hearing about how the Colts needed to control the game on the ground. Kansas City had the NFL’s worst run defense during the regular season, allowing 5.0 yards per carry and ranking 32nd in Football Outsiders’ run defense DVOA. Controlling the ball and the clock with Marlon Mack against a porous run defense seemed like a good strategy for the Colts — especially with Mack coming off a monster 24-carry, 148-yard performance against the Texans‘ No. 1-ranked run defense in the wild card round.
That success was nowhere to be found this week. Mack carried just five times for nine yards prior to halftime, getting bottled up right from the first snap of the game, on which Dee Ford dropped him for a three-yard loss before Mack even got his legs under himself. He finished the game with 46 yards on nine carries, but had only seven for 14 yards until about midway through the fourth quarter. He was shut down entirely.
Meanwhile, Damien Williams ran really, really well for the Chiefs. He finished with 25 carries for 129 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and also converted on three separate fourth-and-1 runs, two of which extended drives that ended in scores.
The Colts very badly needed to win the ground battle, and they didn’t come close. It’s not surprising that they ended up losing the game.
Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games
During the regular season, the Chiefs led the NFL with an incredible 95 plays that gained 20 yards or more. That was 12 more than the next-closest team in the league (the Rams). In this game, they ripped off three more gains of 20 yards or more.
One of those was this 36-yard touchdown run from Tyreek Hill, which came on a fantastic play-call, with a fake hand-off to Damien Williams before a flip to Hill coming around the edge. The speed he showed on his way through the Indianapolis secondary was completely absurd.
The Chiefs also faked this exact same look later in the game, on a play where Mahomes found Travis Kelce for a decent-sized gain of his own.
And of course, it wasn’t just the offense making the big-time plays. Kansas City’s defenders got in on the action as well — especially pass-rushers Justin Houston and Dee Ford. Houston had two sacks and two tackles for loss, as well as a fumble recovery on the strip-sack Ford had, which essentially sealed the game. (The Colts had the ball in Chiefs territory after a Sammy Watkins fumble, but Ford sped around the edge and shut down any scoring opportunity.)
Chris Jones got in on the action with three batted passes and a hit on Luck. Charvarius Ward was terrific in coverage, knocking away three passes. Steven Nelson and Kendall Fuller gave away almost nothing on the perimeter. Everybody chipped in. Everybody made things happen. It was a complete performance.
The Colts’ season is over. By virtue of being the first team to lose in the divisional round, they’ll pick No. 25 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. As far as needs go, they could certainly use some more playmakers in the passing game on both sides of the ball. A pass-rusher to complement Darius Leonard and the quality run defense they established this year would help a lot, as would another corner to supplement the group that solidified itself over the second half of the season. Giving Luck another option on the perimeter to free things up for T.Y. Hilton wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.
As for the Chiefs, they advance to the AFC title game, where they’ll square off against the winner of Sunday’s Patriots vs. Chargers game. No matter which of those teams wins, the Chiefs will be the home team, by virtue of having won the No. 1 seed during the regular season. That game — the first AFC title game the Chiefs will host in the history of Arrowhead Stadium — will take place on Sunday, Jan. 20, at 6:40 p.m. ET and can be seen right here on CBS and streaming on CBS All Access.
Check out our live blog of the festivities below.