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7 winners and 3 losers from the Chiefs’ AFC Championship victory

The Chiefs prevailed in the AFC Championship with stellar performances and just a few sour notes.

NFL: AFC Championship Game-Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Congratulations, Kansas City Chiefs fans! Your team is once again the AFC champion.

The defending champs #RanItBack all over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday evening — and the game really was never in doubt. It was a complete team victory. The Chiefs got some surprising contributions from a backup offensive lineman, fantastic pressure on the quarterback and elite play from their secondary. But they also saw their stars deliver in completely expected — but no less impressive — ways.

Here are some who stood out in the win over the Bills.

Winners

NFL: AFC Championship Game-Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
  • Frank Clark: Losers worry about individual stats and what people think of them. Winners go out and do their job on every play — even if it’s not flashy and doesn’t get noticed. Clark did register two sacks in the AFC Championship game — but even if the stats don’t show it, he’s an important part of what they do. Just look at this man in his fur coat celebrating a return to the Super Bowl — and then tell me he’s not a winner.
  • Tyreek Hill: The wide receiver did what he does, ending up with nine receptions for 172 yards that included a 71-yard play on a short Patrick Mahomes pass. That was nearly 100 yards more than recently-anointed-best-NFL-receiver Stefon Diggs had for Buffalo. And it was nearly more, too; Hill dropped another pass that would have been good for 30 or 40 yards. Hill’s speed was once again on display — but so was his route-running and ability to get open. People can argue over the league’s best wide receiver. But in this offense — and with this quarterback — there’s no argument for anyone but Hill.
  • Travis Kelce: We should have known. At this point, it’s just a given: Kelce is a phenomenon so extraordinary that it’s starting to seem... ordinary. Sunday’s numbers are dazzling: 13 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Watching him produce on nearly every down, nearly every drive — and absolutely every week — has been incredible. He’s so amazingly consistent that it’s no longer surprising. Kelce is an historic player — and will be remembered in Canton.
  • Steve Spagnuolo: The Chiefs defense was prepared and aggressive. They came out, got into Josh Allen’s head and set up camp. Throwing a variety of disguised coverages and defensive back blitzes at the young Buffalo quarterback, Spagnuolo and this defense more than held up their end of the bargain. No Buffalo receiver hit 100 yards, no running back gained more than 17, Josh Allen was sacked four times and picked off once. ESPN’s Ed Werder pointed out another crazy stat on the pressure Spagnuolo’s defense was able to generate:
  • Juan Thornhill: One of the only negatives this season was how much Thornhill appeared to struggle coming back from last season’s knee injury. But in the AFC Championship, Thornhill suddenly looked more comfortable, finding himself in position to make several plays. His near-interception was vintage rookie-year Thornhill stuff — and he seemed unafraid to stick his nose in there and make tackles, too. If this continues, Thornhill is back on the upswing — and this secondary is suddenly a huge strength.
  • Mecole Hardman: His first half fumble that gifted Buffalo a touchdown was as bad and potentially momentum-killing as you’ll ever see; people were calling for him to never touch the football again. But what did the kid do after that? He came right back and made plays for the coach who immediately put the ball back in his hands. His 50-yard run was the longest in Chiefs’ postseason history — and he also had a short touchdown catch. His speed as a complementary player can still be a difference maker. Kudos to Reid for going right back to him — and to Hardman for rewarding Reid’s trust.
  • Patrick Lavon Mahomes II: The Chiefs’ quarterback could be on this list for every game — but he was especially deadly against the Bills. Coming back from two separate injuries a week ago — and hearing nothing but commentary about how Josh Allen might be better — Mahomes delivered on play after play. His numbers were fantastic: a 76% completion percentage, 325 yards, three touchdowns, no turnovers and just one sack taken. But the best part about having Mahomes at quarterback is that no matter the scenario, no matter how far the team falls behind or how talented the opponent may be, Mahomes gives confidence to the team and its fans. The Chiefs have the best player in the world. He just refuses to let them lose.

Losers

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
  • Offensive line depth: The loss of Eric Fisher is just brutal. He’ll miss not only the Super Bowl, but likely next season as well — and the team was already without their other bookend tackle Mitchell Schwartz. To beat Tampa Bay, Andy Reid and his coaches will have to game-plan around a patchwork bunch of big uglies. Look for this to be a primary area the Chiefs will address in the offseason.
  • Those with hot takes: To anyone trying to build narratives around the Chiefs — that somehow they aren’t a complete team, that whatever team is hot at the moment is better, that close games and near interceptions are signs of weakness — well, this game is for you. By any measure, Mahomes outplayed Allen — and it wasn’t close. Hill dominated and Diggs was mostly quiet. The Chiefs made some mistakes that gave Buffalo a shot, but then proceeded to dominate the rest of the game, winning by two scores. It easily could have been two more. Don’t bet against Mahomes, Kelce, Hill, Reid, Mathieu and Spagnuolo. You’ll end up looking dumb on Twitter. Our old friend Nick Wright may have said it best.
  • Dave Toub and the return units: The kicking game was pretty good on Sunday. Harrison Butker didn’t miss a kick. Tommy Townsend only had to punt once — but it was a fine kick. The problems were in two kick returns. If the game had been closer, they really could’ve cost the Chiefs. First was Hardman’s fumble, which looked like it was the result of a guy trying to do too much with a punt fielded inside the 10-yard line. Then in the fourth quarter, Armani Watts was unable to cover up an onside kick. Given the speed and the resources dedicated to special teams, the return game should be a strength of the team. But in the AFC Championship, they twice gave the ball right back to Buffalo. That’s not something we want to see in the Super Bowl.