Chiefs signed Sammy Watkins to deliver in moments like AFC title game

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Wide receiver Sammy Watkins entered Sunday's AFC Championship Game as an unlikely choice to be the hero for the Kansas City Chiefs. He was a distant third to tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Tyreek Hill in regular-season production, and his three touchdowns trailed even receivers Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman.

Watkins had been mostly an afterthought since his 198-yard, three-touchdown game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the season opener.

But the Chiefs might not be headed to Super Bowl LIV without Watkins, whose seven catches for 114 yards propelled Kansas City past the Tennessee Titans 35-24 on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

Watkins' 60-yard touchdown catch from Patrick Mahomes early in the fourth quarter gave the Chiefs a 35-17 lead and started the Arrowhead party in earnest.

It was a redemptive moment for Watkins, who never worried about his lack of production compared to Hill and Kelce this season.

"That's not my job," said Watkins, who signed a three-year, $48 million free-agent contract with the Chiefs last year. "That's not what I focus on. ... We have so many superstars on this team and so many guys that can catch the ball."

Watkins' play seemed to be a vindication of sorts for Chiefs general manager Brett Veach as well. But Veach said he wasn't concerned Watkins wasn't a bigger part of the offense during the regular season because he signed Watkins for games like this one.

"You don't make [major] moves to make the playoffs," Veach said. "We've been a playoff team for years, since we got here. We were in the playoffs [almost] every year. You make moves like that to put you over the top. Without Sammy's performance today, who knows how this game would have turned out?

"I was happy for Sammy. He's around a lot of talent, so sometimes he can't show what he can do."

Watkins, the No. 4 overall pick by the Buffalo Bills in the 2014 draft, has never fully reached the potential scouts saw in him on draft night. He has one 1,000-yard season among his six as a pro, and this season he caught 52 passes for 673 yards. But he completed his seven-catch tally Sunday with a touchdown Chiefs fans won't soon forget. The 60-yard pass was the longest for Mahomes in the postseason, surpassing a 54-yard pass to Watkins in last year's AFC Championship Game.

"That was kind of a play that was off the books," Watkins said. "My guy fell down, and I just kind of took off. Me and Pat made eye connection. That's just from practicing hard and working with each other. He threw one of the best balls to me."

It wasn't the only big play for Watkins against the Titans. He gave the Chiefs a crucial first down earlier in the game by dragging his feet before going out of bounds. He made another catch when the ball was on him at the moment he turned around.

He was able to be a primary receiver because the Titans focused much of their defensive attention on Hill and Kelce.

"It was some of that, and it was some of him just making plays," Mahomes said. "... You see that if teams are going to put attention on other guys like Tyreek or Kelce, then we have a guy that can beat your corner every single day."

Watkins could have signed in a city that didn't have Hill and Kelce, where he would have been a bigger part of the offense. He picked Kansas City in part because he thought they had a chance to win.

He was right, it turns out.

"One of the best decisions I ever made in my life was coming to this team," he said.

"I don't worry too much about my number [being called]. Like I said, my job is to go out there and fight for my brothers, whether it's blocking, running routes, catching. It doesn't matter. As a player, I just go out there and be in the right position at the right time and let Pat deliver the ball."