NFC West Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs have a new star.
Yes, Patrick Mahomes remains the best quarterback on the planet, his rocket arm still liable to slice and dice the opposing team.
But the Chiefs no longer go as he goes. They have transformed into a team led by its defense.
That change was evident on a frigid Saturday evening at Arrowhead Field, as Kansas City manhandled the Miami Dolphins’ blazing offense in a 26-7 wild-card victory.
The temperature at the opening kick was minus-4 degrees, the fourth-coldest game in NFL history. That did not keep Kansas City fans away, as they showed up in droves bundled in blankets and still bringing the noise.
Mahomes improved 5-0 in games when the temperature is 18 degrees or colder, including 2-0 in the postseason. Mahomes also tied Joe Montana and Peyton Manning for the second-most playoff home wins with 10.
“It was cold, I’m not going to lie,” Mahomes said after the game. “But I think at the end of the day, you’ve got to be mentally tough enough to say it’s not going to affect how we play. It’s not going to affect my effort. If something doesn’t work, I’m going to come back the next play and keep firing.”
That charged atmosphere affected Miami’s offense, as one of the most explosive units in the league, led by head coach and offensive guru Mike McDaniel, managed just 264 yards of total offense.
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Kansas City held the Dolphins to 1-of-12 on third down, sacked Tua Tagovailoa twice and hit him another five times. Safety Mike Edwards also picked off Tagovailoa in the first half. The Chiefs have now allowed 20 or fewer points in 14 of their 18 games this season, which leads the league.
“We tried to disguise as much as possible, try and keep him on his toes,” Edwards said of Tagovailoa. “I feel like we did a good job of disguising, kind of playing around with him and making a lot of plays.”
Mahomes & Co. did just enough on offense to push the Chiefs to the next round of postseason play, even with one of the team’s top playmakers in receiver Kadarius Toney inactive due to hip and ankle injuries.
Playing without gloves in the cold, Mahomes acknowledged heading into this weekend’s contest something he would have never uttered early in his Kansas City career — it’s OK to punt.
“I learned that this year,” Mahomes said. “I mean, when it’s not there, you’ve got to throw it underneath, punt the ball to flip the field and not be frustrated. I played in the Big 12, so I have that mentality where I want to score every single time.
“But when your defense is playing like that, you have to find the best way to win the game. And if that’s punting the ball and flipping the field, letting them get a stop for us and scoring on the next drive, that’s what you’ve got to do.”
While Kansas City’s much-maligned wideouts were not perfect, they made plays that were there. Interestingly, Mahomes security blanket Travis Kelce had three drops and was not the most targeted receiver for the Chiefs.
Rookie Rashee Rice grabbed those honors, after emerging as Kansas City’s most consistent wide receiver during the regular season. He finished with eight catches for 130 receiving yards and a score on a team-high 12 targets — a franchise rookie playoff record for Kansas City.
“I’ll tell you the best part about him is he just keeps working,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said about Rice. “He’s relentless with that. And he’s got a good relationship with Pat (Mahomes). He’s got Pat’s respect. And he wants to do it the right way.”
The Chiefs also leaned on Isiah Pacheco and the running game. Pacheco finished with 89 rushing yards on 24 carries, including a 3-yard touchdown run with a little over 11 minutes remaining in the game to cap the scoring.
Mahomes threw for 262 yards and ran for another 41 on the ground. In the second half, he had to change his helmet after it cracked upon a collision with Miami’s defense near the goal line as he attempted to bull his way into the end zone. Mahomes said he had trouble getting his backup helmet on because it was frozen.
“I was trying to get into the end zone,” Mahomes joked about the play. “A young Pat would have got in, but I’m getting a little old.”
Reid remained unbeaten all time against the Dolphins (5-0) and won his 23rd career playoff game, which trails only Bill Belichick (31).
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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