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Chiefs beat Miami 29-13 to win back-to-back AFC West titles

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Andy Reid addressed the Kansas City Chiefs in a jubilant locker room dressed from head-to-toe in a Santa Claus suit, which not only fit him perfectly but was also perfectly fitting.

The Chiefs had just given their fans quite a present.

Alex Smith threw for 304 yards and a touchdown in another steady performance, Kareem Hunt ran for 91 yards and a score, and the Chiefs beat the Miami Dolphins 29-13 on Sunday to clinch back-to-back AFC West titles for the first time in franchise history.

“Just phenomenal,” Reid said, likely smiling beneath his fluffy white beard. “But we’re not going to sit on this. We’re not done yet. We’re going to enjoy the holiday and get right back at it.”

Tyreek Hill had six catches for 109 yards, and Harrison Butker converted five field goals, as the Chiefs (9-6) dashed what faint postseason hope the Dolphins (6-9) still harbored.

“It’s hard to win football games only kicking field goals,” Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler said. “A couple fumbles, couple of missed opportunities here, a penalty when we’re driving – it’s those types of things that’ll hurt you.”

Cutler threw for 286 yards and a touchdown, but a big chunk of that came on a 65-yard toss to Jakeem Grant late in the first half. Otherwise, Miami went 0 for 8 on third down and struggled against a Chiefs defense that has been stingy and opportunistic the past two weeks.

That’s coincided with the return of Marcus Peters from his disciplinary suspension.

The Chiefs’ star cornerback had two interceptions and forced a fumble against the Chargers last week, a win that pushed them to the brink of the playoffs. He recovered a fumble and forced another on Sunday, giving Peters a hand in five turnovers the past two weeks.

“He’s always around the ball,” said Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson, who forced the first fumble. “Marcus is always playing with fire, this whole year.”

Both turnovers led to points, but they weren’t the Dolphins’ only costly miscues.

They also were nailed for defensive holding four times, all of which came on three scoring drives for Kansas City. And the Dolphins inability to get off the field on third down, after holding opponents to 8 for 39 the past two games, was similarly deflating.

“Got in a couple situations that we couldn’t use some of the things that we had planned,” Miami coach Adam Gase said. “We just need to find a way to be consistent and get them off the field.”

Still, the Dolphins had the ball trailing 17-13 late in the first half, the outcome and their longshot playoff hopes were still in the balance. But they soon went three-and-out and the Chiefs added a field goal to make it 20-13 at the break, then another to start the second half.

Even when the Dolphins made a crucial stop on fourth down to get the ball back later in the third quarter, they squandered the opportunity. Peters stripped Kenny Stills to give the Chiefs the ball, and Butker hit his fourth chip-shot field goal for a 26-13 lead with 12:19 to go.

That gave a sparse crowd that turned out on Christmas Eve, braving slick roads from an overnight snowfall and frigid wind chills at kickoff, plenty of time to celebrate a division title.

Turn their thoughts toward a home playoff game in the new year, too.

“It’s a great feeling,” Hunt said. “We’ve got these fans that are going to go crazy for the playoff game, and we get to play in Arrowhead Stadium one more time.”

FROZEN FIELD

There was no tarp on the field overnight, so a crew of workers used shovels to remove about an inch of snow by hand. The footing turned out to be fine, but Smith thought the cold weather gave Kansas City an advantage. “We have a lot of experience playing in cold weather,” he said. “All the little things, the snaps, they’re that much harder, and I think all the reps do help.”

STATS AND STREAKS

Chiefs TE Travis Kelce had four catches for 47 yards and a score , and has a catch in 63 straight games. … Chiefs coach Andy Reid improved to 5-1 against Miami. … Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry had five catches for 51 yards, giving him a league-best 103 catches this season. … The Dolphins had won seven of their last 10 against Kansas City. Their last loss at Arrowhead Stadium was in 2002.

INJURY NOTES

Dolphins DT Vincent Taylor hurt his knee on the opening kickoff, while CB Alterraun Verner went down with a hamstring injury later in the half. Miami DE Andre Branch played despite a knee injury.

UP NEXT

Dolphins conclude their season against the Bills next Sunday.

Chiefs head to Denver on Sunday to finish their regular season.

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Jags ‘threw a tantrum’ when Marrone started making changes

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Jacksonville’s locker room was abuzz late last season. Four guys played table tennis while others crowded around a small table for dominoes. Two 80-inch televisions were tuned to a sports highlight show, and music blared from one corner of the room.

Doug Marrone, the team’s offensive line coach at the time, walked through and shook his head.

“Can you believe this?” Marrone whispered.

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The Jaguars were in the middle of a nine-game losing streak that would ultimately cost coach Gus Bradley his job. Marrone had watched from afar for two years, witnessing an atmosphere he felt was too loose, too laid-back and too lenient amid losing.

So when Marrone was hired to replace Bradley last January, high on his to-do list was to change the culture in Jacksonville. His success is one reason the Jaguars (12-6) are in the AFC championship game against New England (14-3).

The ping pong table was the first to go. Dominoes followed. The locker room stalls were overhauled, too, with Marrone mixing and matching position groups and putting certain players next to veteran leaders and/or NFL role models.

“We definitely threw a tantrum,” Pro Bowl defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. “Went in there and talked to him about it. Definitely wasn’t happy. I learned just to be quiet, you know, and go with the flow. He’s been at it longer than I have, and I’m just the football player. He says do this and I go do it. Just learn to follow him, and I’m glad I did.”

Marrone saved the most significant changes for the practice fields.

Marrone, top executive Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell wanted a much tougher and more physical team. They drafted bruising running back Leonard Fournette and fiery left tackle Cam Robinson to complement a defense that was significantly beefed up in free agency with the addition of All-Pro pass-rusher Calais Campbell, Pro Bowl cornerback A.J. Bouye and veteran safety Barry Church.

They also designed an offseason program that was more grueling than most players had experienced. Marrone’s message was clear: Go hard or go home.

“You remember guys in camp talking about this took a few years off their lives,” Jackson said. “It’s pretty funny just to see us now. I guess he does know what he’s doing.”

The Jaguars were in full pads nearly every day during training camp, a tortuous stretch in draining heat and humidity that left rookies and veterans questioning the process and wondering if it would pay off. It was the NFL’s version of boot camp. Break them down, then build them up.

It ultimately brought players closer, making them accountable to each other and causing them to care more for each other. Winning was the final piece, and thumping Houston 29-7 in the season opener was all the proof players needed.

“It was the toughest training camp I’ve ever been a part of,” said linebacker Paul Posluszny, in his 11th season. “Coach Marrone would talk to us and say, `Listen, I have a plan and you have to trust me.’ With that, guys were able to say, `OK, we haven’t gotten what we wanted in years past doing things a certain way, so we have to buy in, trust the head man and know that that’ll bring us success when it’s time.’

“It was difficult just because of so many changes from what we were used to. I think the most important thing is we always said, `Well, if it helps us win, then it’s all good.'”

Jacksonville had lost 63 of 80 games over the previous five seasons – the worst record in the NFL during that span – and had been through two coaching changes.

Coughlin’s return was a key part of the team’s revival, and although the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach with the New York Giants gets much of the outside credit for the team’s turnaround, the reality is Marrone was the one pushing all the right buttons.

Marrone has been other places where players resisted, prompting personnel moves that would slow progress. That wasn’t the case in Jacksonville, and he credited his players for being open to change.

“They gave our staff the opportunity to say, `This is what we want to do. This is what we believe in as coaches or as an organization. This is how we want to handle ourselves,”‘ Marrone said. “We are still working toward that. It is not perfect by any means.”

It’s clearly working, though. The Jaguars are in the title game for the third time in franchise history, one victory away from their first Super Bowl appearance.

“They say (stuff) rolls downhill,” Jackson said. “Well, the good stuff rolls downhill, too. … It’s all worth it when you win.”

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Jaguars’ Jalen Ramsey tells fans ‘we’re going to Super Bowl’

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey did pretty much the same thing that upset his Jacksonville Jaguars teammates last week.

He started looking ahead.

Ramsey told thousands of fans awaiting the team’s return from Pittsburgh late Sunday that the Jaguars “are going to the Super Bowl and we are going to win that (expletive).”

Jacksonville (12-6), of course, has the AFC championship game at New England remaining before even getting to the Super Bowl. The small-market franchise is winless in seven games in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and 1-10 all-time against the Patriots (14-3).

Ramsey’s comments surely will find their way north.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

“You come back and you’ve got all the fans here and things of that nature,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said.

“Obviously that’s something that everybody, they want to do when you get close. Whether you have to say it or not? The one thing I do know is the road to it always leads through New England.

“Our focus isn’t on anything else but the New England Patriots. It will be a great challenge for us obviously.”

The Jags took exception to the Steelers talking about facing the Patriots instead of them, and used it as motivation in a 45-42 victory Sunday.

Nonetheless, they stood behind their outspoken and ultra-talented defender.

“To me, it’s just a man that has confidence in his team,” defensive tackle Abry Jones said. “What’s he going to say? He knows what we’re going up there to do. It’s not like he ain’t saying nothing that’s not true.”

Fellow defensive tackle Malik Jackson said the difference between Ramsey’s remarks and comments from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, running back Le'Veon Bell and safety Mike Mitchell is the timing.

“We’re so close that I think it’s OK to say, `Hey, we’re going to do this,”‘ Jackson said. “It’s one of those things that I think he believes in himself after the game he just had, locking down one of the best receivers in the game.

“He’s pretty hyped and he wants to let everybody know he’s hyped, so I think he’s just happy and he understands that we have a giant in front of us and we’ve just got to pay all the attention to this team.

“We don’t even know who’s going to play in the Super Bowl because we’re not looking ahead to that.”

Ramsey was unavailable during the team’s open locker room session Monday.

“He’s going to talk, but we’re going to show up,” defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said. “I just don’t like when people talk all week. You talk reckless and you lose.”

The Jaguars voiced their displeasure with being overlooked by the Steelers last week and were really vocal after the victory at Heinz Field. Players yelled, “Where’s Mike Mitchell at now” as they came off the field.

“I feel like they took us lightly. I don’t know why because we whooped them the first time,” Ngakoue said. “You’ve got to respect all your opponents. That’s why we’re not big in trash-talking. We’re big in playing on Sunday.

“Real guys, real people don’t talk. We throw the first punch. We threw the first punch and we got the victory.”

And now they have a matchup against the NFL’s most successful franchise over the past two decades.

The Jaguars are 1-3 against New England in the postseason, with the lone victory coming after the 1998 season – before coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady teamed up to take five Super Bowl titles.

Jacksonville’s win came against coach Pete Carroll and backup quarterback Scott Zolak.

The Jags are 0-7 against the Brady-Belichick combination.

“We’re not going to go out there like the Steelers the week before and talk about people in a bad way and give them bulletin board news,” Jackson said.

“We just continue to work and earn respect. … We just keep proving people wrong. (Blake Bortles) keeps proving people wrong, and we just keep going on it and pounding people. It’s just awesome to see and awesome to be a part of.

“We understand we have to do what we have to do or we’ll be watching the Super Bowl at home like everybody else.”

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