NFL playoffs divisional round: Chiefs dominate disappointing Colts and Rams

Kansas City Chiefs 31, Indianapolis Colts 13

Twenty-five years ago Joe Montana led the Kansas City Chiefs to the AFC Championship game. Now they’re finally going back, and they have a brand new magical quarterback calling the shots.

Patrick Mahomes’ first NFL playoff appearance also marked his first game without a passing touchdown since week five against the Jaguars, not that it mattered. His Chiefs utterly dominated the disappointing Colts to book a date with the Patriots or Chargers at Arrowhead next weekend. 

Kansas City outgained Indianapolis almost two to one, and jumped out to an early 14-0 lead they never looked like surrendering. They scored on their opening possession, with Damien Williams juking into the end zone on a short dash after Sammy Watkins had moved them into the red zone with a catch-and-run over the middle.

They scored again on their second. The Colts had no answer to Tyreek Hill bursting out of the backfield on a reverse, and the cheetah pulled off one of his classic PlayStation runs as he weaved his way past helpless defenders for a 36-yard score.

Damien Williams had the best day of his career, rushing for over 100 yards and a touchdown

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USA TODAY

The Colts had nothing in response. Andrew Luck’s offense went three-and-out on their first four possessions. Before the game all the talk was about how Indy needed to establish the run to chew up clock time and keep Mahomes off the field. They finished the first half with just eight minutes and 31 seconds of possession to the Chiefs’ 21 minutes 29, and Marlon Mack was a total non-factor until a couple of first down rushes in fourth-quarter garbage time.

It was as if Kansas City stole Indianapolis’ script and used it against them. Williams, the third-string running back going into the season, had a career day, punishing the Colts for 129 yards from 25 carries.

They inched further ahead through a 39-yard Harrison Butker field goal, before a huge special teams play gave the Colts some hope. Najee Goode blocked Dustin Colquitt’s punt and Zach Pascal leaped on it in the end zone. Suddenly they had a touchdown despite not registering a first down all evening.

It was the type of play that can swing momentum and turn games on their heads, but Mahomes doesn’t bow to your puny human narratives. He saddled up and rode Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce – who was outstanding all night and led all receivers with seven catches for 108 yards – down the field, capping off the drive by scrambling to his right and diving to the pylon to make it 24-7.

The Colts’ misery was only compounded when their first competent drive of the night ended with Adam Vinatieri catching a bout of the Cody Parkeys and clanging a 23-yard chip shot field goal against the post. At the half the Chiefs led 42-19 on offensive plays, 18-4 on first downs, 86-18 in rushing yards and 188-73 in passing yards. It was exactly as dominant as it sounds.

Patrick Mahomes dives in for a touchdown to give the Chiefs a comfortable half-time lead

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USA TODAY

The game was punctuated with moments that practically screamed “it isn’t your day” in Frank Reich’s beautifully bearded face. Late in the third quarter Darius Leonard stripped Sammy Watkins in the tackle and recovered for what looked to be a crucial turnover, only for Luck to lose the ball to a Dee Ford blitz two plays later. Justin Houston wrapped it up and handed it back to Mahomes with a ribbon around it.

With just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Luck threw an absolutely beautiful touchdown pass to TY Hilton over his shoulder, but Vinatieri somehow sent the extra point wide. As I said, not their day. The Chiefs rubbed salt in the wounds when Darrel Williams (yes, the Chiefs have two running backs called D. Williams, and yes that is annoying) barrelled into the end zone late on. The final push that got him over the line came from none other than Mahomes, proving all the success hasn’t gone to his head and he’s not too mighty to get his hands dirty.

Mahomes didn’t play one of his splashier games, but he didn’t need to. He was efficient and effective, finishing the night 27 of 41 for 278 yards, no touchdowns and no picks. He still made a couple of stunning throws – a side-arm dart on the move to Kelce was one for his ever-expanding highlight reel – but what should please Chiefs management most is that this was a real team win. The defense played an outstanding game, limiting Andrew Luck to just 203 yards passing and never letting him find any rhythm. Chris Jones batted down three of his passes and Justin Houston sacked him twice, winning the battle with Indianapolis’ stud offensive line.

Andy Reid has a long and unhappy relationship with the playoffs. As one of the sport’s genuine good guys, no one could begrudge him a first Lombardi trophy. In Mahomes and these Chiefs, he’s built a team more than capable of doing it. 

Los Angeles Rams 30, Dallas Cowboys 22

Todd Gurley’s 35-yard touchdown gave the Rams some breathing space going into half-time

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Todd Gurley and CJ Anderson will be eating for free at all of Los Angeles’ finest establishments this week. They probably do anyway – it’s weird that the richer you are, the less you actually have to pay for stuff – but this week they’ve really earned it.

Gurley and Anderson both rushed for over 100 yards as the Rams outgained the Cowboys by a whopping 223 yards on the ground, and shared three touchdowns. The last pair of team mates to rush over 100 in the playoffs were Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore for the 49ers, six years ago to the day. No duo had ever done it for the Rams before last night.

They battered Dallas’ heralded defense into submission. Anderson was cut by the Panthers and Raiders this season, and was only signed off the street by LA a few weeks ago, but ran for 123 yards and two scores from 23 carries. CJ appears to have packed on a fair amount of extra weight during his idle season – he’s now repping all the proud ‘dad bod’ owners out there – but you can’t say it isn’t working for him. Anderson repeatedly hammered the Cowboys for big gains through the middle, taking the brunt of the load off Gurley, who’s still coming back from a knee injury.

Even with just 16 carries number 30 still rushed for 113 yards and a score. He and Anderson both owe a lot of thanks to some world class offensive line play. Time and time again they created huge channels for their backs to run into, resulting in chunk gains that took a lot of the pressure off Jared Goff.

By contrast, the Rams defense kept Ezekiel Elliott eerily quiet. We knew the Cowboys would live and die by Zeke’s success this week, and he managed just 47 yards from 20 carries. Corey Littleton, Ndamukong Suh, Aaron Donald, Dante Fowler, Samson Ebukam and Lamarcus Joyner all played a big part in snuffing out his routes and shutting him down before he had a chance to hit his stride. The trademark feasting celebration was a rare sight, and even when Elliott did carve opportunities to break it out you could tell his heart wasn’t really in it.

The first 20 minutes actually went well for Dallas. While the Rams moved the ball freely the Cowboys defense twice made big stops on third down and limited them to two Greg Zuerlein field goals.

Jason Garrett showed a sizeable pair of onions when he went for it with Elliott on fourth-and-one from inside his own half. Troy Aikman criticised the decision from the commentary box, but Elliott got the first down and more thanks to Marcus Peters giving up 15 penalty yards for a personal foul. Dak Prescott found Amari Cooper over the middle for a touchdown on the very next play. What do you know, Troy.

Amari Cooper’s first half touchdown had given the Cowboys the lead

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AP

But halfway through the second quarter Los Angeles really found their groove. As Kansas City had done earlier in the night they dominated time of possession through their running attack and gave the Cowboys defense plenty of work. Anderson scored his first touchdown of the night from the one-yard line after setting himself up with a long dash through the middle. Gurley added another just a few minutes later, when he was presented with a gap as wide as the Amazon river which he gladly hit for a 35-yard score. That made it 20-7 at the half.

Another Zuerlein field goal widened the margin to 16 points, but Prescott hit back. He struck rookie Michael Gallup – who had a really impressive night and finished with 119 yards from six receptions – for a 44-yard gain which ended at the Rams’ two-yard line. Elliott pounded it in, and Prescott’s two-point conversion attempt to Cooper was good. 23-15. Game on.

Any real hope of a Dallas comeback lasted about five minutes. The very first play of the fourth quarter told you the game was essentially over, even if the scoreline said otherwise. Garrett rolled the dice and went for it on another fourth-and-one around halfway, but this time Elliott didn’t get it, stuffed by Suh and Joyner.

The Rams took over and ate up seven minutes of clock with a perfectly engineered run-heavy drive which ended with Anderson’s second one-yard touchdown of the night. Sean McVay could have played it safe and chosen to kick a field goal, making it a 10-point game, but he gambled and put the ball in Anderson’s hands on fourth down. Not only did it pay off, but it sent a statement to the rest of the league. McVay isn’t messing around. He can taste that first Lombardi and he plans to seize it in style.

Prescott scored on a quarterback keeper with just over two minutes to go, giving the Dallas-loaded Coliseum crowd cause to dream, but LA’s offense never let him get the ball back. Goff made the bold and ultimately smart decision to run the ball himself on a huge third-and-seven to get the first down. Anderson followed up with another, and that was the game.

The Rams needed this performance. They hadn’t had a proper chance to prove themselves after faltering a little down the stretch, and people had started to doubt their Super Bowl credentials. Not anymore. Whatever happens between the Eagles and Saints on Sunday, Los Angeles will face a team that has already beaten them this season in the NFC Championship game next weekend, but McVay won’t mind that one bit. He’s a smart enough coach to learn from past mistakes – no wonder every general manager in the league is trying to unearth his second coming.