If you were to ask Kansas City Chiefs fans what AFC Championship game win was their favorite, you really couldn't get a wrong answer from any of them. Breaking through in 2019 to reach the franchise's first Super Bowl in 50 years? Nobody is going to argue that one. Conquering Joe Burrow and the boogeyman Bengals to win the second in the Mahomes era? You won't hear many people arguing that one.
However, this past Sunday's AFC Championship victory over the Baltimore Ravens on the road at M&T Bank Stadium felt like the sweetest conference championship victory in the Mahomes era. Everything was stacked against the Chiefs in this game. The Ravens were the better regular season team with the No. 2 offense and No. 1 defense, they were healthier, they were at home, and Lamar Jackson seemed on his way to a second MVP award.
Baltimore was also favored and most of the national media was picking them to win. The Ravens had simply dominated the opposition all year, even blowing out the really good teams across the league. Jim Nantz and Tony Romo even mentioned on the broadcast that this felt like the Ravens' year. They were the big bad Ravens.
It didn't matter. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs were inevitable. This year's Chiefs team was probably the worst iteration of the Patrick Mahomes era Chiefs. All hope of a playoff run seemed lost when they lost to the Raiders in embarrassing fashion on Christmas Day less than a month ago. Because of those regular season struggles, it resulted in the toughest path to a Super Bowl that the Chiefs have yet faced. A Wild Card game versus a high-flying Miami Dolphins offense, a road game against Josh Allen and the Bills, and then finally a road game in Baltimore against the MVP Lamar Jackson.
After the win in Buffalo, though, it became clear that this team was starting to figure it out. That's not to say they didn't have weaknesses. This was still the worst offense in the Mahomes era. You were still scared to death that they would have an awful, back-breaking turnover, and they did against Buffalo. They wasted a lot of drives against Baltimore and failed to score a point in the second half. Both are common themes from the regular season.
Regardless, Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and the Chiefs offense put together an incredible first few drives and 17 first-half points and that was all they needed. It's not the same Chiefs of years past, but it's still the Chiefs. It's still Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, and Travis Kelce. They just win differently now. There's a top defense on the other side of the ball, unlike anything that Patrick Mahomes has ever had to play with. Even when the offense doesn't play a perfect game, the defense is there to bail them out. That's just a luxury they didn't have in the past.
That's also what is so satisfying about the win in Baltimore this past Sunday. The offense didn't carry the Chiefs to victory or run away with the game (They probably should've, though). However, it felt so satisfying to see a defense completely shut down Lamar Jackson in the Ravens' offense. Baltimore simply couldn't do anything offensively and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo put quarterback Lamar Jackson in a blender, causing him to play a pedestrian game and daring him to throw deep to win. That's what the recipe called for, after all. If Lamar beats you with his arm, you don't deserve to win. You let him sit back, let your front four apply pressure, and trust your secondary that's been locked down all year. It worked. They smothered the Ravens.
It was like watching the Ravens die slowly as they couldn't muster anything up on offense and any time they even got near the red zone, Kansas City's defense made a huge play to flip the script. L'Jarius Sneed's forced fumble of Zay Flowers at the goal line probably won the game, and Deon Bush came in for three defensive snaps for an injured Mike Edwards and immediately intercepted a Lamar Jackson throw into triple coverage. It was after those two plays that you probably started to feel like the Chiefs weren't going to let the Ravens win this thing.
Patrick Mahomes wasn't perfect by any means and he struggled to move the Chiefs offense down the field in the second half, but he didn't do anything to lose the game. The same can't be said for Lamar Jackson. Even in the Ravens' best season and the Chiefs' worst, the Chiefs still came out on top. How do you stomach that as a Ravens fan?
Similar to Buffalo, this was your shot. The Chiefs were vulnerable and they were down. If you were ever going to beat them, it needed to be this year because it's very rare that you're going to be the better team on paper or hosting Patrick Mahomes at your house in the playoffs. This was one of those rare times and you have to capitalize on the opportunity. Mahomes is far too good in these moments that when you hold him scoreless for an entire half you simply have to take advantage and Lamar Jackson didn't because he's not Patrick Mahomes and that's why none of these other quarterbacks ever will be. As much as it is a resilient win by the Chiefs given what happened this season, it's a devastating loss and missed opportunity for Baltimore.
That's why after the season Kansas City just had in the regular season, it almost feels like they're lucky to be in the Super Bowl. Just a month ago, you have your head down about this team and you're about ready to give up hope. Then you look up and all of a sudden this team is right back in the big game with a real shot to win it. If they go on to finish the job and win a third Super Bowl in six years, it's going to feel the sweetest for all the same reasons why this AFC Championship feels like the sweetest one to date. It just feels better when the odds are stacked against you. It's going to feel like the NFL let the Chiefs get another one.