PHOTO FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES.
By Terrance Turner
Jan. 23, 2022
The Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills duked it out tonight in Arrowhead Stadium, with both teams vying for a chance to play in the AFC Championship Game. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes thew three touchdowns and ran for another, with a career-high 69 rushing yards. But Bills quarterback Josh Allen matched him stride for stride, throwing four touchdowns to just one receiver (!): Gabriel Davis. It was a nail-biter down to the very last play, with the Bills answering every score that the Chiefs had. There were three lead changes (and 25 points scored!) within the last two minutes.
The Bills got off to a strong start, with Josh Allen relying mostly on running back Devin Singletary. The back ran right through the Kansas City defense on play after play, with the Chiefs defenders utterly unable to stop Singletary. He powered his way to 1st and goal, and though the Chiefs’ defense managed to slow down the high-powered offense, Singletary still found his way to the end zone on the Bills’ opening drive. Buffalo went up 7-0.
The Chiefs couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start; they’d been beaten by the Buffalo offense, and two Chiefs defenders were seen yelling at each other on the sideline. Meanwhile, safety Tyrann Mathieu went to the locker room after suffering a concussion. (Chiefs defensive tackle Jarran Reed accidentally kicked him in the head.) The Kansas City offense took the field. Mahomes took off on a 35-yard scramble; a few plays later, on 3rd and 5, he took off again and hurtled towards the pylon, scoring the touchdown. The game was tied at seven.
Both teams were forced to punt on their second-quarter drives. But Mahomes led the Chiefs on a drive with four straight first-downs, including completions to both wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire turned on the jets for a 20-yard gain. The Chiefs got to the red zone; Mahomes was sacked on 3rd and goal, but the Bills were flagged for defensive holding, giving the chiefs a fresh set of downs.
They cashed in. Mahomes threw a pass to WR Byron Pringle, who made the catch for the touchdown. But the Bills answered almost immediately, with Allen finding Gabriel Davis for an 18-yard touchdown reception. With the game tied, Kansas City had just 37 seconds to put points on the board. But kicker Harrison Butker missed a field goal. So the game was tied at 14 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Butker redeemed himself by drilling a 39-yard field goal. It wasn’t until the last couple minutes of the quarter that the Chiefs scored again. Wide receiver Mecole Hardman caught a pass from Mahomes, somehow escaped heavy coverage, and raced to the end zone, diving across the goal line.
It was the first rushing touchdown of Hardman’s career. But Butker missed the extra-point kick, and the Bills responded in mere seconds. Allen again located Davis in the end zone — this time for a 75-yard touchdown. In less than ten seconds of play, the Bills cut the Chiefs’ nine-point lead to just two.
Down 23-21, the Bills launched their drive. A false start penalty hampered them on second down, and Allen was sacked by Jarran Reed on third down. Both teams incurred penalties on the fourth-down punt, but Kansas City elected to replay the down. Tyreek Hill returned the ball 36 yards, all the way to the 15-yard line. The Buffalo defense prevented Kansas City from reaching the end zone, but Butker managed to make a field goal and give the Chiefs a 26-21 lead.
The Bills embarked on a lengthy 17-play drive that stretched all the way to the two-minute warning. The Chiefs defense played gamely and were able to force a sack of Allen. But on 4th and 13, Allen hurled a pass to a wide-open Gabriel Davis — who caught his third touchdown of the game. The Bills added a two-point conversion when Allen found a wide-open Stefon Diggs. Buffalo led 29-26.
Kansas City took over with less than two minutes left. Mahomes threw four straight incompletions. But on 3rd and 10, he threw a first-down pass to Kelce. He followed that up with an incomplete pass to Jerick McKinnon — a mistake Mahomes could ill afford to make. There was 1:13 on the clock. Kansas City needed 27 yards to get within field-goal range. Instead, Mahomes fired to Tyreek Hill, who sped 64 yards into the end zone. Chiefs regained the lead, 33-29.
Chiefs couldn’t hold on to the lead. Allen heaved the ball to Davis again, with Davis scoring his fourth TD of the night. The Chiefs defense had blown a coverage on the route — a costly mistake that gave Buffalo the go-ahead score. Davis set a postseason record for most receiving touchdowns. His 19-yard TD was followed by a successful kick by Bills kicker Tyler Bass. Buffalo had the advantage, 36-33.
The Chiefs had just 13 seconds to tie the game. But they weren’t alarmed. “Nobody panicked,” Hill said after the game. Instead, the team rallied. According to Sports Illustrated, Kansas City head coach Andy Reid offered Mahomes some sage advice as the drive began: “When it’s grim, be the Grim Reaper — and go get it,” Reid said.
He did. Mahomes’ magic struck again as he got his team in field goal range with just three seconds left. After missing both a field goal and an extra-point kick earlier in the game, Harrison Butker was tasked with a 49-yard field goal — and he nailed it. Butker’s kick tied the game at 36. The game went to overtime.
“We’re starting a brand new game,” the refs told the teams at the outset. It would be a quick one. Kansas City won the toss; they took the field. A touchdown or safety would win the game. Hill and McKinnon moved the chains with quick catches and deft runs. A wide-open Hardman dazzled onlookers with a 26-yard catch-and-run as he sprinted inside the ten-yard line. That put the Chiefs at first and goal. Mahomes threw to Kelce, who made the catch in the end zone to seal the game.
The Chiefs won in overtime, 42-36. They will play Cincinnati in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead next week. It is the fourth striaght year that they’ve hosted an AFC Championship at home — an NFL record. They are the first NFL team to host the AFC game for four consecutive years. That honor comes after a match for the ages.
“It was a heck of a game,” Mahomes said afterward. “Allen played his ass off — pardon my language.” Indeed: both Mahomes and Allen threw for two touchdowns and over 100 yards in the last two minutes of the game. In the end, Allen went 27-for-37, throwing for 329 yards and four touchdowns. Mahomes, for his part, was 33-for-44 for 37 yards and three touchdowns.
Reid praised Mahomes after the game. “He made everybody around him better, which he’s great at. He just does it effortlessly. When it gets tough, he’s going to be there battling. Players appreciate that,” Reid said.
Both fans and analysts raved about the thrilling divisional playoff game. Aspiring author Joann Bowlin declared, “One of the greatest games I ever watched.” Author and reality star Shep Rose tweeted: “This might be the best football game I’ve seen.” (He added: “Both QBs are just outstanding.”) ESPN raved: “A game that will go down as one of the best in postseason history”. Browns defensive end Myles Garrett called the match the “game of the year”. CBS analyst Nate Burleson added: “This is the greatest playoff game I’ve ever seen.”