It's code red for Patrick Mahomes as he faces a salty Titans defense

Terez Paylor
Senior NFL writer

The Chiefs’ 51-31 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday will go down in Kansas City lore for Patrick Mahomes. It was the type of effort that can inspire an entire team and instill fear and respect in opponents.

After the Chiefs fell behind 24-0 early in the second quarter, Mahomes finished the game with 321 yards and five touchdowns with all of those scoring throws coming in the red zone. That’s important because the first item in this week’s “Things I Noticed column is that Mahomes’ red zone brilliance — illustrated in the clip above — could be crucial in the AFC championship game on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

(Yahoo Sports)

If Kansas City doesn’t generate a bunch of quick-strike touchdowns — which is a possibility — the game could be tight. Tennessee has a stout defensive line, as tackle Jurrell Casey is a stud and rookie tackle Jeffery Simmons will soon be one. The Titans also rank 13th in the NFL in rush defense while the Chiefs rank 22nd in rush offense, so running the ball in the red zone may not be easy. 

That’s why Mahomes’ red-zone brilliance on Sunday was so important. Mahomes regularly danced behind the line of scrimmage and bought enough time for his targets to shake free from coverage. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have to do something similar Sunday against an increasingly salty Titans defense. 

If he doesn’t have to, that’s a good thing for the Chiefs. That means the run game is rolling in the red area or some fast scores are being put on the board.

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs set off an offensive explosion in a historic comeback in the divisional round against the Texans. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Why containing Derrick Henry matters

In the Chiefs’ past three playoff losses — all at home, all over the past three years — they have surrendered an average of 183 rushing yards.

What’s more, Tennessee’s Derrick Henry is on a historic pace. He has averaged 160 yards per contest over his past eight games and he’s already run for more yards than any running back in the last two decades during the postseason (377 yards). In two games!

It’s not even about stopping Henry as much as it’s about containing him. He’s going to get 30 carries, and it’s hard to keep him from cracking the 100-yard barrier. But if K.C. can get some timely stops — ones on third down, ones that prevent opportunities for quarterback Ryan Tannehill to utilize play-action on second- and third-and-short — the Chiefs should be able to get the ball back to Mahomes and let the offense cook.

In this week’s edition of Terez’s Tape, I talked to three Chiefs — safety Tyrann Mathieu, linebacker Anthony Hitchens and linebacker Reggie Ragland — about the challenges Henry presents, and ways defenses can limit him.

Desperate need for special effort

The Chiefs’ Dave Toub has been around 19 years as a special teams coach, so when he says something like this (which he did Thursday), I’m paying attention.

“Dan’s play, that was one of the most unbelievable tackles I’ve ever seen on a special teams play,” Toub said. 

Toub was referring to safety Daniel Sorensen’s tackle to snuff out a fake punt during the second quarter of the Chiefs’ win over the Texans. Kansas City trailed by 17 at that point, and the offense had just scored a touchdown and the defense forced a three-and-out. Had Texans safety Justin Reid, who received the fake snap, converted the fourth-and-4 run, the Texans would have recaptured momentum, and who knows what would have happened the rest of the game.

“It was a solo tackle out in space — a hard tackle, an angle tackle — and he has to stop him short for basically a 2-yard gain,” Toub said. “I thought it was a good call [by the Texans], I really did. But Dan, I think he’s been waiting all year for that play. He zeroes in on that guy and he’s looking for that direct snap, and here it came. He shot out of a cannon and didn’t miss a beat and made a nice tackle in space.”

Head coach Andy Reid went out of his way to compliment Toub, whose special teams units bounced back nicely Sunday after a rough start. 

“Dave does a heck of a job coaching. You just saw two of the best special teams coaches in however many years, going against each other,” Reid said of Toub and Houston’s Brad Seely. “That was a unique situation there.”

In the first quarter, Kansas City had a muffed punt and a blocked punt that directly led to 14 Texans points. Toub got his group refocused and watched the Chiefs break off a long kick return to set up a score, followed by Sorensen’s stop to set up another.

The way the Titans play, the Chiefs’ special teams need to be on point Sunday, and they’ll have plenty of motivation to do so. A blocked field goal in the game’s waning seconds secured the Chiefs’ 35-32 loss to Tennessee in November.

Spread the blame around on Ravens' failure, not just Lamar

While last weekend brought forth an amazing four-game slate of postseason football, one thing I did not enjoy was the rush of people who rejoiced in the top-seeded Ravens’ 28-12 loss to the Titans. That was a group who couldn’t wait to say, “See! I told you so!” regarding Lamar Jackson.

Well congratulations, doubters, you got to get your jokes off. But remember, you also had to wait four months to do it. 

He finished with 365 yards passing and 143 yards rushing, but Jackson pressed after the Titans started off strong, and the entire stadium started to realize a loss was possible. He also threw a pair of interceptions to go with only one touchdown.

Jackson’s receivers also dropped a healthy amount of balls — at least four, by my count — and his 59 passing attempts was insane, as a run-dominant Baltimore team got away from its identity, which is always a recipe for disaster in the playoffs.

Jackson, the youngest quarterback in the playoffs at 23 years old, will come back better and more motivated than ever next season, just like Mahomes did following a devastating AFC championship game loss to New England last January. 

And for what it’s worth, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson will too.

The point? None of these guys are going anywhere, so AFC teams better keep improving.

Is he George Kittle, just 40 pounds lighter?

One of my favorite moments of the season came after the San Francisco 49ers’ exciting 48-46 win over the New Orleans Saints in December, when I got to patrol the 49ers’ locker room and talk to the players about how much it meant.

Much was said about George Kittle’s epic run-after-the-catch that set up the game-winning field goal, but one of the most interesting things I heard was how many 49ers mentioned that Kittle’s “never go down” mentality had spread to several of his teammates, none more than rookie receiver Deebo Samuel.

“His mindset is to punish and finish every single run — he’s so physical, and he’s rubbing off on a lot of players too like Deebo,” left tackle Joe Staley told me. “A tremendous guy, run-after-the-catch. It’s [been fun] to see how it takes his game to the next level.”

Indeed. As far as rookie years go, Samuel, a second-round pick, was solid, as he caught 57 balls for 802 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season. His tally featured many hard-charging runs after the catch, like the way he capped two of his three catches in the 49ers’ 27-10 divisional round win over the Minnesota Vikings:

This weekend, the 49ers host the Green Bay Packers for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Packers are a sure-tackling group as they have the fifth-lowest broken tackle percentage in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. 

But the Packers’ pass rush is fierce, and with Kittle expected to get lots of attention, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Samuel get a chance to make a few plays as Jimmy Garoppolo tries to get rid of the ball early.

Love this call by Kyle Shanahan

OK, a quick one to close it out. Check out the 49ers’ pre-snap motion on this play: 

Watch the receiver, Kendrick Bourne, use the jet motion — presumably to help define whether the Vikings are in man or zone coverage — then pivot and run an “orbit” motion to take a defender out of the play and create space for Raheem Mostert. 

I haven’t seen a ton of this in 2019 or this postseason. It looks like something out of the CFL, and I couldn’t be more for it.

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