KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s written somewhere that there will have to be an AFC Championship Game next week at some point. Really? Can’t we just stop time here Sunday night where Kansas City and Buffalo played one of the best NFL games ever. Not just playoff. Not just regular season.
One of the best ever.
Congratulations Chiefs after pulling out a 42-36 AFC divisional playoff win over the Bills. Now top that.
The truth is, it can’t be surpassed. Not in this town. The result might be the most heart-rending in the half-century history of Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs are in their fourth consecutive AFC Championship Game. They won a Super Bowl a couple of years ago. But this?
The lead changed hands three times and was tied once — in the final two minutes of regulation and overtime. Buffalo’s Josh Allen was the best player in the game, throwing what seemed like a slam-dunk game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left. Until he wasn’t.
Patrick Mahomes outdid, well, himself throwing the game-winner to Travis Kelce ending the first possession of overtime.
“This is definitely another step for him into the hall of fame,” Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill said of his quarterback.
“When things look grim,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid told Mahomes, “be the Grim Reaper.”
And they were grim. Kansas City trailed by three twice in the final 1:54 only to rally both times. Then, almost unfairly, a quarterback duel of the highest order came down to a coin flip. You know, the one that starts overtime. Kansas City won it and eight plays later won the game.
“The rules are what they are,” Allen said. “If it was the other way around we’d be celebrating.”
Allen threw for four touchdowns and solidified his rep as one of the best running quarterback in the NFL. Mahomes threw for three and solidified his rep as a minor god in this town. Both quarterbacks were their teams’ leading rushers. No wonder defense was optional. The teams combined to run 15 plays in those final two minutes.
The Cincinnati Bengals will come here next week with a Super Bowl berth on the line but in the haze of the postgame fireworks and shock of the result Buffalo needs a shoulder to cry on. Is it possible the season peaked right here on a night when the Bills couldn’t break through again and Mahomes did it again?
Kansas City will get the chance to try and top it because they’re still standing in the AFC. Incredibly, miraculously. Finally. Mahomes, that 26-year-old superstar, added to his already long legacy by throwing the game-winning touchdown to Kelce in overtime.
That was after he led the Chiefs to the game-tying field goal in the final 13 seconds of regulation. That was after throwing for 188 yards and two touchdowns in the final 114 seconds of regulation and overtime alone. That was after completing his last 10 passes.
That was after the teams combined for 25 points — in the final two minutes of regulation.
“To be in this moment, in this game, against that team to walk off in a game like that,” Mahomes said, “I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.”
Buffalo center Mitch Morse almost channeled Russell Crowe in “Gladiator” describing his emotions.
“We’re devastated in that locker room,” he said. “That last two minutes of football is something special you can’t write. I was honored to be part of it.”
Hill was still so much in the moment, he winced enduring a cramp while addressing the media on a Zoom call. Kelce tried to explain the internal clock that told him to go down on Buffalo’s 31-yard line with 3 seconds left in regulation.
That left Harrison Butker enough time to tie it 36-36.
“You start to develop an understanding of the time, how much time it takes for a play to develop,” Kelce said. “That and when you’re a little kid you’re running around acting like you’re Michael Jordan or something with 3 seconds left on the clock. You naturally start to count in your head.”
This was going to be Allen’s breakthrough game. His third touchdown pass of the game and 2-point conversion gave the Bills a 29-26 lead with 1:54 left. After Mahomes somehow found Hill for a 64-yard score with 62 seconds left, Allen threw his fourth scoring pass with 13 seconds left to Stefon Diggs.
That was the same Diggs who made sure he watched the confetti fall last January when the Bills lost the AFC Championship Game here. They were pretty much handled in that game, 38-24.
This one was 13 ticks away from the biggest party Buffalo has seen since Marv Levy led the Bills to four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s.
But Mahomes and crew somehow found a way to sneak in three plays from their own 25 after the kickoff. Mahomes hit Hill for 19 yards. Mahomes found Kelce in a seam for 25 yards. Boom, Butker.
Maybe 974 combined yards and 78 points was what this game was destined for. This was the teams’ fourth meeting in the last 461 days. The Chiefs have learned a thing or three about beating the Bills when it counts. Sunday’s win was the third in the four meetings. In Week 5, the Bills made a statement winning by 18 here. On Sunday, the Chiefs beat the team they defeated to get to the Super Bowl last year.
This time they stepped over the Bills to become the first AFC team to play four straight championship games at home.
But after Sunday night — even with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake — how can next week be any better?