KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As stadium cameras found Patrick Mahomes taking a seat on the bench midway through the third quarter of the Chiefs’ 35-3 win, the chatter in the crowd unified, nearly reaching a fever pitch.
Moments earlier, Mahomes put an exclamation point on his MVP campaign, finding wide receiver Demarcus Robinson for an 89-yard score — his 50th touchdown throw of the season. He also eclipsed 5,000 passing yards in the process.
As Robinson backpedaled into the end zone, Mahomes embraced lineman Mitchell Schwartz to celebrate the achievement.
With the score, Mahomes (14 of 24, 281 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) became just the third quarterback in NFL history to reach 50 touchdowns throws in a single season.
Not bad for a first-year starter. Not bad at all.
The official MVP votes haven’t been cast, but this much is clear: Thanks to Sunday’s win against the Raiders, the Chiefs (12-4) will enter the postseason with the No. 1 seed, home field advantage, a first-round bye and quite possibly the league’s soon-to-be crowned Most Valuable Player.
Kansas City will also begin the playoff race with two of the most prolific offensive weapons in franchise history. Both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce set records in Sunday night’s win. With his 67-yard touchdown reception on the opening drive, Hill set a Chiefs record for single-season receiving yards (1,445), eclipsing Derrick Alexander’s mark of 1,391 set in 2000.
Kelce had to wait until the fourth quarter to get his record, picking up his 103rd reception of the season on a 25-yard strike from Mahomes. With that, he broke Tony Gonzalez’s record of 102 receptions in a season, set in 2004. And he broke the single-season mark for receiving yards by a tight end, passing Rob Gronkowski’s mark of 1,327 with the New England Patriots, set in 2011.
And on an evening in which the Chiefs hurdled multiple offensive benchmarks, the defense provided the foundation for a blowout win and the clinching of the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
The first four Raiders possessions ended in turnovers, including a 54-yard pick-6 by safety Dan Sorensen on the Raiders’ second drive. The turnover ended Oakland quarterback Derek Carr’s lengthy interception-less streak.
The defense, usually so maligned, feasted on the Raiders beginning with Oakland’s first possession. That one, which lasted just four plays, ended when defensive lineman Allen Bailey stripped the ball from running back Doug Martin and deftly recovered the fumble. Though Bailey’s heads-up play gave the offense the ball at the Raiders’ 45, the Chiefs gave the ball back just three plays later as the offense stalled out.
The next time around, the Chiefs defense took matters into their own hands with Sorensen’s pick-6 to give Kansas City a 14-0 lead with 5:44 to go in the first quarter.
After Sorensen’s score, the Raiders offense returned to the field. But Oakland again had its drive thwarted by another big-time defensive play. On second-and-10, Justin Houston terrorized Carr, swatting the ball out of his hand as he sacked him. Houston jumped on the loose ball, sealing the Raiders’ third turnover of the day.
Mahomes and Co. made good on this momentum swing, stringing together a drive that ended with running back Damien Williams, only a few days removed from signing a two-year contract extension, returning to the end zone for his fourth rushing touchdown this season. Williams’ score pushed the Chiefs to a 21-0 lead with 9:31 to go until halftime.
Like the Raiders’ first three drives, the fourth also ended prematurely. Linebacker Reggie Ragland intercepted another Carr throw, this one intended for Jordy Nelson, and returned it 67 yards to Oakland’s 4-yard-line. The offense, though, couldn’t finish the job and turned the ball over on downs to set up Oakland’s lone scoring drive.
The Raiders (4-12) finally got on the board with a 50-yard field goal with a minute to go until halftime after a third-down stop by the defense. Oakland’s score coupled with a Mahomes’ interception on a deep pass for Hill in the final minute, the Chiefs carried a 21-3 lead into halftime.
After an inconsistent first half with two-near interceptions by Tahir Whitehead, Mahomes found his rhythm in the second half and helped the Chiefs outscore the Raiders 14-0 to preserve the win and finally clinch the AFC title that had eluded them the previous two weeks.
With the win, the Chiefs will have a first-round bye and will begin the playoffs in the divisional round on either Jan. 12 or 13.