BALTIMORE — Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce were at their magnificent best in the first half, and Kansas City's defense delivered another masterpiece against Lamar Jackson and Baltimore, helping the Chiefs reach the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five years with a 17-10 victory in the AFC championship game Sunday.
Kelce caught 11 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown, and now the big question at next month's Super Bowl in Las Vegas is whether his girlfriend Taylor Swift will be able to make it there in the middle of her tour. The pop star was on hand again Sunday, and the 34-year-old Kelce was at his best.
"The Chiefs are still the Chiefs," said Kelce, who broke Jerry Rice's career record for receptions in the postseason. "And believe it — you’ve got to fight for your right to party! Believe it, baby, we're going to Las Vegas."
Kansas City (14-6) will face either San Francisco or Detroit on Feb. 11, and a win would make the Chiefs the first team to win it all in back-to-back seasons since the New England Patriots 19 years ago.
Swift's presence has turned the Chiefs into even more of a glamour team than they already were, but it's been more of a blue-collar performance on the field this season. Aside from Kelce, Mahomes hasn't had the receiving playmakers he's enjoyed in years past.
Instead, the defense has been a big part of why Kansas City won the AFC West and eventually prevailed in two straight road playoff games against Buffalo and Baltimore to win the conference.
"It's been a heck of a year. We've been underdogs the last few games," Mahomes said. "We never feel like underdogs. We've got a lot of guys on this team that know how to win. When the playoffs get around, they're here to make it happen. And now we're in the Super Bowl. The job's not done."
The Chiefs led 17-7 at halftime, and Justin Tucker's 43-yard field goal with 2:34 to play was the only scoring of the second half. Baltimore kicked deep after that, and on third-and-9, Mahomes connected with Marquez Valdes-Scantling — one of his most-maligned receivers — on a 32-yard pass that sealed the game.
Mahomes went 30 of 39 for 241 yards and a touchdown.
Jackson could win his second MVP after leading Baltimore to the league’s best record and point differential during the regular season, but the Ravens allowed touchdowns on the first two Kansas City possessions and appeared a bit panicky at times after that.
Baltimore (14-5) made undisciplined mistakes all game, while Kansas City looked the part of the team making its sixth straight appearance in the conference title game.
With the Ravens down by 10 in the third quarter, rookie Zay Flowers caught a 54-yard pass to the Kansas City 10 — then was flagged for taunting after the play. Moments later, he fumbled near the goal line and the Ravens ended up with no points.
That was one of several frustrating moments for Baltimore fans, whose city was hosting an AFC championship game for the first time since January 1971, when the Colts beat the Oakland Raiders.
Jackson went 20 of 37 for 272 yards and a touchdown, but Baltimore never really exploited its perceived advantage on the ground. Jackson raced under one of his own tipped passes in the first half for a 13-yard reception, but he also turned the ball over twice, including a forced pass into heavy coverage that was picked off in the end zone with 6:45 left in the game.
Jackson fell to 2-4 as a starter in the postseason despite having been the top seed in the AFC twice. He made a few sensational individual plays, but the Ravens had trouble moving the ball otherwise.
Mahomes, meanwhile, completed his first 11 pass attempts, and although the Ravens largely shut Kansas City down after that, the damage was done on a rainy day in Baltimore.
There was some chippy behavior before the game, which included Ravens defensive back Arthur Maulet and a group of Kansas City players having to be separated.
Then the Chiefs forced a three-and-out on the game’s first drive and went 86 yards for the opening touchdown. Kelce caught a 13-yard pass from Mahomes over the middle on fourth-and-2. Then the star tight end beat All-Pro safety Kyle Hamilton for a 19-yard touchdown to make it 7-0.
Jackson answered in his own spectacular way. He broke free for a 21-yard run when Baltimore went for it on fourth-and-1 from its 34. Then the star quarterback ducked out of a near-sack by Leo Chenal, retreated a bit farther back and threw a 30-yard scoring strike to Flowers, who celebrated with teammates by doing the "swag surf" dance that Swift and Chiefs fans did at a recent game.
Kansas City was unbothered. Mahomes drove his team 75 yards in 9:02 — with the help of an acrobatic diving catch by Kelce on one third down toss — and Isiah Pacheco capped the 16-play march with a 2-yard touchdown run.
The Chiefs actually missed chances to extend their lead. A sack by Charles Omenihu forced a fumble by Jackson that gave Kansas City the ball at the Baltimore 33. But Kelce was marked just short on a third down catch, and Pacheco was stopped on the ensuing fourth down at the 13.
After a couple of personal fouls on Baltimore helped Kansas City cross midfield late in the half, the Chiefs were flagged for back-to-back holding calls, the second of which wiped out a 33-yard screen pass to Rashee Rice for what would have been a touchdown.
A 9-yard pass to Kelce put Kansas City in position for Harrison Butker's 52-yard field goal that made it 17-7.