PHILADELPHIA – Saturday will hardly go down as the most memorable installment of NFL divisional round playoffs, though they probably helped set the stage for some compelling theater in next weekend’s championship round.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ 27-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars never felt as close as the final score would indicate and was predominantly defined by the ankle injury suffered by K.C. QB Patrick Mahomes, the league’s presumptive MVP for the 2022 season.
Conversely, probable MVP runner-up Jalen Hurts, who missed a pair of late-season starts before returning (and looking rusty) in Week 18 with a tender throwing shoulder, appeared to recapture his mojo as the Philadelphia Eagles steamrolled the New York Giants 38-7.
A healthy Hurts and mangled Mahomes – expect daily updates on his ankle for the next eight days – will doubtless dominate the subplots heading into the championship round on Jan. 29. But Saturday did offer a lot more to sift through than the obvious winners and losers:
No. 1 seeds: By prevailing, the top-seeded Chiefs and Eagles snapped a recent hex for top-seeded teams, which had lost four in a row entering Saturday’s action – the Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans both one-and-done in the divisional round last year. Still, no No. 1 seed has won the Super Bowl since Philadelphia did so five years ago and only one (2020 Chiefs) has played on Super Sunday since the NFL expanded to the 14-team postseason field starting in the 2020 season. Since the start of the 2018 campaign, top seeds are an aggregate 9-8.
The Kelces: Chiefs TE Travis Kelce and Eagles C Jason Kelce, both perennial All-Pros who are among the best to ever play their respective positions, each emerged victorious … leaving their extended family with a dilemma for next weekend, but the kind any parent would want to have. Travis Kelce finished the day with 14 receptions, two for touchdowns, and 98 receiving yards – extending his playoff record of games with at least 95 yards to seven. Jason Kelce anchored an offense that much more closely resembled the one that helped underpin a 13-1 start to the regular season. The Eagles finished with 416 yards, most (268) on the ground, and Hurts was rarely touched in the pocket.
Patrick Mahomes: He improved to 5-0 in divisional round games despite the bum wheel that prevented him – against his wishes – from completing the first half while he underwent testing. Despite clearly being hindered physically, both from a mobility standpoint and mechanically when attempting some passes, Mahomes completed 22 of 30 for 195 yards and two touchdowns. He’s one win away from leading K.C. to a third Super Bowl appearance in four years.
Chad Henne: The 15-year veteran and longtime Chiefs QB2 has an 18-36 record as an NFL starter, mostly split between his time with the Miami Dolphins and Jaguars. But Henne’s success as a reliever continues to be instrumental to Kansas City’s playoff fortunes. Two years ago, Henne – to borrow baseball parlance – got the save in a divisional round defeat of the Cleveland Browns after Mahomes suffered a concussion. Saturday, Henne got a hold when Mahomes missed a pair of second-quarter series. The second “possession” only required a half-ending kneel-down from Henne. But on the other, he led a 98-yard touchdown drive – the longest in Chiefs playoff history – capped by a 1-yard TD pass to Kelce.
‘Injured’ Eagles: Hurts, TE Dallas Goedert – the duo hooked up for a 16-yard TD on the game’s opening drive, and Philadelphia never looked back – All-Pro RT Lane Johnson, DE Josh Sweat and S C.J. Gardner-Johnson all appeared to be in midseason form after their collective array of injuries contributed to Philadelphia’s struggles over the past month. But this squad looks primed and ready as it prepares to host the Dallas Cowboys or San Francisco 49ers with a spot in Super Bowl 57 on the line.
K.C. ground game: Though the Jags were the team that needed to play keepaway, it was the Chiefs who dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for more than 35 minutes. Rookie RB Isiah Pacheco (12 carries, 95 yards) spearheaded a ground game that churned out 144 yards – emblematic of how the post-Tyreek Hill offense has evolved – on 30 attempts.
Philly ground game: It stole the souls from the Giants to the tune of 268 yards, at 6.1 per clip.
Atlanta: If the Buffalo Bills beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, the ATL will host the AFC title game – a scenario the NFL outlined weeks ago after Buffalo FS Damar Hamlin’s on-field collapse at Cincinnati in Week 17. The subsequent cancellation of the Bills-Bengals game – which stripped Buffalo’s inside track to win the top seed in the AFC – led the league to pick a neutral site if Chiefs and Bills were to meet in the postseason for the third straight year. The NFL announced Friday that more than 50,000 tickets have already been purchased for a potential game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Championship Chiefs: For the fifth consecutive season – coinciding with Mahomes’ entire stint as the starter – Kansas City is through to the AFC championship game, the third time one team has managed such a streak. (The New England Patriots own the record with eight in a row between the 2011 and 2018 seasons.) It will also be five in a row at Arrowhead Stadium … if the Bills lose.
Sweep: The Eagles and Giants have been bitter rivals since 1933, but this was the first time Philadelphia managed a three-game sweep of New York in one season. The Iggles improved their playoff record against Big Blue to 3-2, Saturday marking Philly’s third straight victory on that front.
Andy Reid: The Chiefs coach – formerly of the Eagles coincidentally – tied Hall of Famers Tom Landry and Don Shula for the second most playoff games coached with his 36th, trailing only Bill Belichick (44). With his 20th postseason win, Reid also tied Landry for the No. 2 spot, 11 behind Belichick. Finally, Reid also pulled even with Landry by taking a team into the conference title round for the 10th time (five apiece with Philadelphia and Kansas City) – yes, only Belichick has accomplished that more times (13).
Penn State running back: The Eagles’ Miles Sanders, who used to back up Saquon Barkley in Happy Valley, had a game-high 17 carries and 90 yards.
Penn State running back: With the Giants behind almost from the jump, Pro Bowler and former Nittany Lion Barkley only got nine carries (for 61 yards) in what could have been his final game for New York.
Trevor Lawrence’s streak: Spanning his time at Cartersville (Georgia) High School, Clemson and the previous two weekends with Jacksonville, the No. 1 pick of the 2021 NFL draft entered the weekend with a 37-0 record in Saturday games. Make it 37-1.
Chris Jones: The Chiefs’ perennial Pro Bowl defensive tackle has appeared in 13 playoff games … with nary a sack. It’s hardly the most accurate indicator of Jones’ impact, yet still a statistical oddity given he had 15½ sacks during the regular season and has averaged 0.75 per game over the past five years.
Quarterbacks on the run: Saturday’s pairing of Hurts and the Giants’ Daniel Jones was the first matchup of two quarterbacks who’d rushed for at least 600 yards in the regular season – and in this case, each topped 700. But Hurts didn’t have to run much, and Jones certainly didn’t replicate his heroics from the wild-card ouster of the Minnesota Vikings.
Giants’ Cinderella run: Good luck finding any “expert” who had the G-Men in the NFL’s quarterfinal round back in July. Rookie boss Brian Daboll is certainly deserving of Coach of the Year consideration as he and first-year GM Joe Schoen extracted more from an average roster than just about anyone could have anticipated. But now that the curtain has come crashing down, hard decisions loom – namely how to navigate the pending free agent status of both Barkley and Jones. Should be a fascinating offseason, especially given Schoen, with more than $50 million in salary cap space, has the wherewithal to keep both if he so chooses while also addressing other areas.
Philadelphia chain gang: The sideline sticks used for measurements and denoting down and distance suffered a broken chain at the 9:37 mark of the first quarter, forcing an “administrative stoppage.” Eagles fans, naturally, booed lustily.
Jacksonville ball security: Overcoming five turnovers against the Los Angeles Chargers is one thing, but the Jaguars were going to need an almost perfect effort to derail the AFC West champion Chiefs. Didn’t happen. A Jamal Agnew fumble and Lawrence interception – which occurred over a three-snap span late in the fourth quarter – cost Jacksonville any shot of stealing a game that was eminently winnable to that point.
Mahomes: He said after Saturday’s game that he’ll be ready to go for the AFC title game. But if Mahomes is dealing with a high-ankle sprain, as reported by NFL Network, eight days likely isn’t sufficient to be effectively healthy – especially when facing a defense the caliber of Buffalo’s or Cincinnati’s. Here’s hoping Mahomes is a miracle healer and that this setback doesn’t ultimately become the primary reason for an aborted Super Bowl run.
Vikings: As one wisecracking reporter remarked after the game, “They have to be asking themselves how they lost to these guys,” meaning, of course, the Giants.
Eli Manning: The former Giants quarterback and two-time Super Bowl MVP was in attendance Saturday night, watching his former team from a suite at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles’ game day operations crew had some fun with that, putting Manning on the main video boards during a break in the action – which immediately elicited thunderous boos from the home fans. The board then toggled between Manning and Super Bowl 52 champion Eagles Malcolm Jenkins, Brent Celek and Torrey Smith. Cheer, boo, cheer, boo, cheer. Manning took it all in stride, pumping his arms victoriously with each appearance.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL playoffs winners, losers for Saturday: No. 1 seeds advance