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Chiefs season recap: Team shakes off adversity, returns to Super Bowl

It’s easy to consider Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce holding up the Lamar Hunt Trophy — as they did Sunday in Baltimore — old hat.

After all, the Chiefs quarterback and tight end have reached the AFC title game all six seasons Mahomes has been a starter. They’ve reached the Super Bowl four times.

Yet this trip to Allegiant Stadium to face the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 11 was unlike anything Kansas City has been through before. There were speed bumps. There were new challenges. And, of course, there was a pop superstar putting more attention on the team than ever.

It’s a testament to Mahomes, Kelce and coach Andy Reid that the Chiefs ended up where they always do. They can cap off a campaign no one is sure to forget by beating the 49ers for their third championship in five years.

“You don’t take it for granted,” Mahomes said. “You never know how many (Super Bowls) you’re going to get to or if you’re going to get to any. It truly is special. Just to do it with these guys after what we’ve been through all season long, guys coming together, it really is special.”

New faces

Kansas City entered the season as the defending champs after a 38-35 victory against Philadelphia in Super Bowl 57.

It didn’t take long for it to become apparent a repeat would need some work.

The Chiefs lost their season opener 21-20 to the Detroit Lions thanks to a slew of dropped passes from Mahomes’ receivers. It was a theme throughout the year, as Kansas City was forced to work in younger players after losing veteran wideouts Tyreek Hill and JuJu Smith-Schuster in consecutive offseasons.

The Chiefs also started two new offensive tackles in Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor. It was a struggle at times. Taylor was called for 19 penalties in the regular season, seven more than any other offensive linemen.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s excellent unit kept Kansas City afloat while the offense tried to figure things out. The Chiefs’ 21.8 points per game ranked 15th in the NFL, by far their lowest finish in Mahomes’ six seasons as a starter. But Kansas City’s defense allowed the second-fewest points per game with 17.3.

The team went 7-2 before its bye week despite several sluggish performances on offense. The Chiefs also picked up one of the most famous people on the planet as a fan: Taylor Swift.

The 12-time Grammy winner and Kelce went public with their relationship when she attended a home game Sept. 24 against the Chicago Bears. Swift has been to several games since. Kelce even returned the favor by attending one of her concerts in Argentina during the bye week.

Tough stretch, big finish

Kansas City hit a rough patch when play resumed. The Chiefs lost four of their first six games after the break, including a 20-14 defeat to the Raiders on Christmas Day that Reid said was “a good wake-up call for us.”

Offensive miscues were often the club’s undoing. The most famous example was wide receiver Kadarius Toney, who had issues with drops all season and lined up offsides to negate a potential late go-ahead touchdown in a 20-17 loss to Buffalo on Dec. 10.

Kansas City still won its final two games to finish 11-6. The Chiefs won the AFC West crown for the eighth year in a row and earned the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. They then showed that despite their regular-season foibles, they can still make magic when it matters most.

The team dispatched Miami with ease in the first round with a 26-7 victory in chilly conditions at Arrowhead Stadium. Then Mahomes needed to do something he had never done: win a playoff game on the road.

He rose to the challenge. The Chiefs won 27-24 in the second round in Buffalo to send the Bills home for the third time in four years. Kansas City pulled the same trick the following week to beat the Ravens and MVP favorite Lamar Jackson 17-10.

Spagnuolo’s defense found ways to slow down some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, and Kelce and Mahomes kept connecting. That was enough to take the Chiefs’ roller-coaster ride of a season to the Super Bowl, where they can become the league’s first back-to-back champions since the New England Patriots in the 2003-04 seasons.

“I just think we probably had more adversity this year,” general manager Brett Veach said. “But these guys, it pays off in the end because when you play your most important football, these guys are just so hard and so tough we’re able to come into environments like this (in Baltimore) and Buffalo last week and win. It’s not easy to do, but I think it’s just how these guys are wired.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on X.

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