I think we’re all still trying to process what just happened.
The Kansas City Chiefs have advanced to the AFC Championship against the Cincinnati Bengals after winning an all-time-great game against the Buffalo Bills.
We were all witnesses to two quarterbacks playing at the peak of their respective abilities — and over and over again, delivering in clutch moments. Two really good teams went toe-to-toe — and it’s a shame to have to call one of them a loser.
It’s also a shame to put any of the Chiefs in that category — but we’ll do it anyway.
Here are your winners and losers from Sunday night’s heavyweight fight.
(Author’s note: Applying the labels “winners” and “losers” is not intended to be a judgment on the talent or character of any of these players. It’s just a simple way to grade their performance in a single game. No disrespect is intended.)
Patrick Mahomes: Kansas City’s quarterback won this game at least three times. In a matchup against the new next big thing quarterback, Mahomes delivered an over-my-dead-body performance for the ages. His stat line was incredible — 33 completions on 44 attempts for 378 yards and three touchdowns passing plus 69 yards and a touchdown rushing — but even that doesn’t begin to tell the story of this game. From the opening frame — when it seemed like the drive might stall — Mahomes refused to allow it. He made play after spectacular play — from the 34-yard scramble in the opening drive to the final touchdown pass to end the game. But what we’ll likely remember most about this game was that epic 13 seconds at the end of regulation. After Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen struck what should have been the death blow, driving the field and throwing a strike to Gabriel Davis — who had the game of his life — it appeared the Chiefs’ season might be just seconds away from being ended in heartbreaking fashion. Three plays and 44 yards later, Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce had Kansas City in a position to give their fans an amazing gift: extending the game into overtime. Then the Grim Reaper went on to lead the eight-play 75-yard drive that culminated in Kelce’s score. This was Hall-of-Fame-highlight-reel stuff from Mahomes — nothing less than legendary play from a living legend.
Travis Kelce: On a night where he ended up four yards short of his fifth straight 100-yard postseason game, Kelce secured what really mattered. With the game on the line, Mahomes went to No. 87 with a back-shoulder throw in the end zone to walk off with a victory. Kelce repeatedly made the big catches, moving the chains when they absolutely had to be moved. Quite simply, the Chiefs’ offense is blessed with more than one player who might someday be seen as the NFL’s greatest-ever at their position.
Tyreek Hill: The Chiefs’ biggest offensive play of the game came with one minute left — and we thought it was the game-winner. Kansas City had the ball with two minutes to go, and the Chiefs had to score to keep the season alive. Hill took the pass from Mahomes, turned on the jets and threw up the peace sign as he scored on a 64-yard touchdown play. It wasn’t Hill’s only big play on the night. He finished with 11 catches on 13 targets for 150 yards and that score — not to mention a 45-yard punt return to put the offense the 15-yard line after the defense got its only stop of the fourth quarter. It was a spectacular night for Hill and the offense — which is once again as explosive as any in the league.
Melvin Ingram: The midseason addition played his heart out against the Bills. Ingram finished the game with one sack and three tackles — but his impact was felt throughout the game. As the fourth quarter wound down, Ingram seemed to gain steam, furiously getting after Allen, nearly missing a couple of other sacks and affecting the backfield on a number of other plays. On this night, he was Kansas City’s best pass rusher.
Nick Bolton: In his first postseason, the rookie is making his presence felt. Bolton had eight tackles (one for a loss) and was a big part of containing the Bills’ running game. The Chiefs’ defense held running back Devin Singletary to just 26 yards — and even Allen didn’t destroy them on the ground. Bolton’s aggression and tackling ability popped off the screen.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon: The second-year running back made his return to the field, showing a burst that many had forgotten he possessed and averaging 8.6 yards per carry. McKinnon continued his hot streak. Most of his success came through the air; his five catches and 54 yards were behind only Kelce and Hill. As the offensive line continues to open up lanes for whoever is back there, this running-back-by-committee thing might just work. The Chiefs are back to making big plays — and these two are a huge reason why it has happened.
Mecole Hardman: The wideout is doing a little bit of everything. Now that he has settled into his role as a complementary gadget player, it turns out that he’s pretty damn good at it! Hardman’s 25-yard rushing touchdown was the first of his career — and it was amazing. He broke free down the sideline, using his speed, keeping his balance and diving into the pylon. His lone target on the day resulted in a 26-yard reception, too. He’s still not a high-volume player on a consistent basis — but he’s making a difference.
All of us: I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a better sporting event for Kansas City fans. This was right up there with the Royals’ 2014 Wild Card game: a beautifully-executed performance by two tremendous offenses, led by clutch performances from both quarterbacks. A total of just six penalties were called — and there were no turnovers. Five times, these two teams went for it on fourth down — and five times, they converted. There were seven lead changes — including five after the two-minute warning. It was simply breathtaking. It lived up to all the pre-game hype — and then some. We might just be talking about this one for many years to come.
Harrison Butker: Give him credit, he got it done when it mattered. But it might not have mattered so much if he had gotten it done earlier in the game. Butker hit a 49-yard kick to send this game into overtime, giving Mahomes and Kelce a chance to win it. But his 50-yard miss at halftime — and a missed extra point — nearly came back to bite his team. This game couldn’t have been more important — or closer. In those moments, the kicker’s job is critical. Again: be glad it didn’t cost Kansas City its season. If it had, Butker’s tough night could have been a “kicker who shall not be named” kind of experience.
Mike Hughes, Armani Watts, Juan Thornhill and L’Jarius Sneed: This Chiefs’ secondary lost its leader when Tyrann Mathieu left with a concussion. After that, they just looked lost. It was a bit of everything: miscommunications, guys falling down and safeties getting beat over the top. Once again, a receiver had a record-breaking day against the Chiefs; the Bills’ Gabriel Davis went over 200 yards with four touchdowns. It happened throughout the game, it happened to nearly every member of the secondary and it happened in the biggest possible moments. Josh Allen was indeed brilliant — but these guys made it a bit too easy for him.
Blake Bell: It wasn’t his call, but that option play in the red zone after the big Tyreek Hill punt return was ugly. On a night like this one, head coach Andy Reid should know better than to take the ball out of Mahomes’ hands. The Bills saw it coming a mile away. As a result, the offense settled for a field goal, leaving the game within reach. Bell has been great at the quarterback sneak — and he’s a tremendous blocker — but I don’t think any of us want to see him running that option play any time soon.