Chiefs shut down Henry, Titans game plan in AFC title game
Players of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrate after defeating the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, January 19, 2020. /AP Photo

Players of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrate after defeating the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, January 19, 2020. /AP Photo

The Tennessee Titans hoped to follow the same game plan against the Kansas City Chiefs that had carried them to playoff wins in Baltimore and New England, giving the ball to running back Derrick Henry as much as possible.

It was a bad sign that their bruising star never got a carry in the fourth quarter.

The Chiefs minimized the impact Henry had on the AFC championship game Sunday, holding him to a mere seven yards after halftime, when Patrick Mahomes and Co. were capping off 28 consecutive points. The result was 35-24 victory that sent Kansas City to its first Super Bowl in 50 years and the Titans home after an incredible postseason ride.

"I feel like our backs were against the wall the whole season," said Henry, who finished with 19 carries for 69 yards and a touchdown. "We kept on fighting and kept on believing in each other. I think it speaks volumes about the team we have. We just came up short."

Indeed, the Titans were languishing around .500 when they beat the Chiefs in Week 10. They proceeded to lean heavily on Henry down the stretch, and they won nine of their next 12 games – and three straight – to reach their sixth AFL or AFC championship game and first since 2002.

Their route as a wild-card team took them to New England and Baltimore, yet they even managed to clear those hurdles with ease. They turned away Tom Brady in Foxborough and shut down Lamar Jackson and the rest of the Ravens.

They couldn't pull off one more upset in Arrowhead Stadium, though.

They couldn't finish off their first trip to the Super Bowl in two decades.

"I felt like we got off to the start that we wanted," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "But I think when you play teams like this or teams that are as good as the Chiefs, as explosive as they are, we knew they were going to make a run."

Henry carried three times on an opening drive that net Tennessee a field goal, then he capped their next drive by taking a direct snap and waltzing over the left side into the end zone. Henry added 29 yards rushing on their third drive, a churning 75-yard march that consumed more than nine minutes and kept Kansas City's potent offense off the field.

By the time big offensive lineman Dennis Kelly grabbed a touchdown pass, the Titans had taken a 17-7 lead and the raucous environment of Arrowhead Stadium – which was so energized a week ago, when Kansas City scored 41 straight points to rally past the Houston Texans – was about as quiet as a church on a Sunday afternoon.

That's when the Chiefs caught fire.

And it's when everything went downhill for Tennessee.

Mahomes finished a quick scoring drive with a touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill, starting a run of 28 consecutive points to rival their streak in the divisional round. Then, the Chiefs stuffed Henry twice on the following drive when the Titans seemed to be trying to get to halftime, getting the ball back at the 2-minute warning. And with 11 seconds left, their star quarterback tip-toed down the sideline for a 27-yard touchdown run that completely deflated the visitors.

"They were playing a little double-coverage, they were doubling everybody we covered, and it just opened up," Mahomes said. "I just found a way to get into the end zone."

Mostert lifts 49ers to Super Bowl with 37-20 win over Packers

Players of the San Francisco 49ers celebrate after defeating the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, January 19, 2020. /AP Photo

Players of the San Francisco 49ers celebrate after defeating the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, January 19, 2020. /AP Photo

Coach Kyle Shanahan received the NFC championship trophy from his Super Bowl-winning father Mike and raised it to the sky.

The San Francisco 49ers have gone on a surprising journey from No. 2 pick in the draft to one of the last two teams standing. They have one of the most unlikely playoff heroes to thank for it.

Journeyman Raheem Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns to make quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo mostly a spectator, Nick Bosa harassed Aaron Rodgers from the start and the 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers 37-20 for the NFC championship on Sunday.

"I did have a lot of doubters and naysayers," said Mostert, who has been cut seven times in his career. "Now I get to actually tell them, 'Look where I'm at now.'

"I never gave up on my dreams."

The Niners (15-3) also had their skeptics after winning just 10 games in the first two seasons under Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.

But they put pieces and systems in place during those rough two seasons and now have advanced to the franchise's first Super Bowl in seven years. The Niners will play the Kansas City Chiefs in two weeks in Miami when Shanahan tries to join his father as coaching champions.

"It was pretty special," Shanahan said of getting handed the trophy from his father at the postgame ceremony. "To get a trophy handed to you by anyone is really cool. ... It was pretty cool it happened there at the end."

After giving a second thorough beating of the season to Rodgers and the Packers (14-4), the 49ers are the third team to make it to the Super Bowl a year after winning four or fewer games.

Cincinnati did it in 1988 and the Rams 1999, with the Rams the only team to go from four wins to a championship in one year.

"It's still kind of surreal," linebacker Fred Warner said. "With the stuff this team has gone through, this organization, it's special. Its the pinnacle of football right here."

Bosa, the prize for last year's rough season as the No. 2 overall pick, helped set the tone when he ended Green Bay's second drive of the game with a 13-yard sack of Rodgers.

Mostert, a former special teams standout, did much of the rest in a remarkable redemption story for a former surfer who carried the ball only eight times in his first three seasons in the NFL while bouncing between teams.

But he has become a key part of the NFC's top team this year, leading the Niners with 772 yards rushing in the regular season and delivering a performance for the ages in the NFC title game.

He had the second-most yards rushing in a playoff game to Eric Dickerson's 248 for the Rams on January 4, 1986, and was the first player to rush for at least four TDs and 200 yards in a playoff game.

He got started when he burst 36 yards on a third-and-8 trap play to open the scoring on San Francisco's second drive and kept ripping off long runs behind impressive blocking.

"He's so fast," tackle Joe Staley said. "He's incredibly fast. He's fearless going through the hole. He has trust in the linemen to block it up. He's a great running back."

He added TD runs of nine and 18 yards in the second quarter and had 160 yards rushing at the half, becoming the only player in NFL history to rush for at least 150 yards and three TDs in the first half of a playoff game.

Mostert added a 22-yard TD run in the third quarter.

"The lanes that we saw and the way he was running we just wanted to keep feeding him," Shanahan said. "I know he was feeling it. That wasn't too hard to see."

"Right now, they are the gold standard in the NFC," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of the 49ers.

(With inputs from agencies)