It was a perfect game of football (minus an ending that felt incomplete with Allen not getting a chance to answer). And though nothing about these quarterbacks’ performances felt real, nothing about them felt fluky, either. These were two metahumans playing to the best of their ability, and the other 20 players on the field were powerless to stop them.
It’s not like Mahomes and Allen were playing in ideal conditions, either. The Chiefs offensive line allowed pressure on 39.6 percent of the team’s pass plays, according to Pro Football Focus. But it didn’t matter—Mahomes finished with better numbers under pressure than he did when the pocket was kept clean.
If this isn’t one of the best damn highlights of the weekend, I don’t know what is.
Why the Chiefs will win: No matter how well the opposing quarterback plays, the Chiefs can reasonably expect Patrick Mahomes to match or exceed the performance. When Bills quarterback Josh Allen threw two touchdown passes in the final two minutes of regulation Sunday, Mahomes answered with 10 points of his own during the same time period. And when overtime arrived, Mahomes reminded everyone who the king is and continues to be, leading Kansas City to a huge 42-36 win. When you have the best player at the most important position, you have to be feeling pretty good about yourself!
X factor: The Bengals’ offensive line. It’s a minor miracle that Burrow walked off the field healthy Saturday in Nashville, let alone the victor (Cincinnati won 19-16). The Titans sacked him nine times, including eight when they sent their standard four-man rush. That was the highest total of sacks in an NFL playoff game using that number of rushers in the past 15 seasons, per ESPN Stats & Information research. The Bengals’ line won’t face quite as fierce a matchup as it did against the Titans, but it’s hard to imagine Cincinnati outscoring the Chiefs if Burrow takes anywhere close to a similar number of sacks.
7. Nick Bolton had a game to remember.
Another player who put together a great game on defense was rookie linebacker Nick Bolton, who racked up eight tackles and one tackle-for-loss. The stats don’t truly tell the full story, however, because it was more about the moments in which he made those tackles that really stood out.
First, Bolton blew up a rushing play by running back Devin Singletary on a short third down during Buffalo’s third series that lost yardage and forced the Bills into another punt. Then, late in the third quarter, Bolton stuffed a rush by wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie to once again stop the Bills on a short third-down attempt and bring about a punt.
In a game that was decided by the slimmest of margins, those two plays completely altered the outcome and helped Kansas City earn the victory.
“We’re in the playoffs, of course, tougher football now where one mistake can change the game,” Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark said, according to the Kansas City Star. “Nick’s just been continuing to show why he deserves to be a professional here with the Kansas City Chiefs and why he certainly should be considered one of the best rookies in NFL.”
A second-round pick out of Missouri last spring, Bolton recorded 112 tackles, 11 for loss, and had a fumble recovery for a score in the regular season. In the postseason, Bolton has already made an impact recording eight tackles, six solo, against the Pittsburgh Steelers and then eight tackles, three solo, against the Bills.
Bolton is coming as a surprise to some who did not know of him before the last few weeks. But Bolton’s teammates were always aware of the contribution that he brought to the field for the team.
“Nick’s been playing great football all season,” Clark said, according to The Star. “It feels great just to be able to watch a young player coming into himself.”
The rematch, this time at Arrowhead, will be a different beast. Mahomes is 4-1 in his career (including playoffs) versus teams he lost to previously that season; he’s won his last four and has at least a 100 passer rating in all five games. The only defeat came in the 2018 AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots.
“It’s playoff football. It’s gloves off. It’s a street fight,” tight end C.J. Uzomah said. “You’re saying we have tape on Kansas City. They have tape on us. You can say the exact same. That does not matter.”
Round 1 - Pick 32
Cameron Thomas DL
Thomas, who can play anywhere along the defensive line, set career bests in tackles for loss (20.5) and sacks (10.5) this season for the Aztecs, and he appears to just be scratching the surface on his abilities. He’s as good against the run as he is getting after the quarterback.
Around the NFL
“I think as I’ve gotten older, I think the best part is, is football is extremely important in my life, and it means a lot to me, and I care a lot about what we’re trying to accomplish as a team and I care a lot about my teammates,” Brady said on his “Let’s Go!” podcast with Jim Gray. “The biggest difference now that I’m older is I have kids now, too, you know, and I care about them a lot as well. They’ve been my biggest supporters. My wife is my biggest supporter. It pains her to see me get hit out there. And she deserves what she needs from me as a husband, and my kids deserve what they need from me as a dad.
“I’m gonna spend some time with them and give them what they need, ‘cause they’ve really been giving me what I need the last six months to do what I love to do. I said this a few years ago, it’s what relationships are all about. It’s not always what I want. It’s what we want as a family. And I’m gonna spend a lot of time with them and figure out in the future what’s next.”
Two division rivals squaring off for the conference crown can’t sit well with any occupant of the same division, and especially not one that had the division title in sight before letting it slip away. Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill is working toward ensuring it doesn’t happen again.
“Disappointing for everybody,” Bidwill said, via the Arizona Republic. “For our players, for our coaches, certainly for our fans and certainly as a fan myself, it was very disappointing. We have high expectations. We need to play better.
“We had a lot of great success in 2021. I don’t want to take away from that, but we can get better and that’s what we’re working on now.”
Coach Matt LaFleur said Monday that he spoke to Rodgers at length in the wake of the club’s 13-10 home loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round on Saturday, but he’s no closer to knowing who will be taking snaps for the Pack in 2022.
“I sat down and talked to Aaron today for quite some time. I think we’re all a little numb to the situation right now and, so, I would say that what we talked about, I’m definitely gonna keep between him and myself, but we’re hopeful that he’ll be back next year, obviously,” LaFleur said. “This guy has done so much for such a long period of time for this organization, for this city, for this team, and, so, I want to be respectful of his process. Whatever he needs to go through to make the best decision for himself, and, certainly, we would love for him to be a Packer and be a Packer until the day he decides to retire.”
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
4. Kansas City was right to prioritize the offensive line
On a big stage, Kansas City’s offense-by-committee approach looked good against the Bills. Running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerrick McKinnon combined for 147 yards of offense — while receivers Byron Pringle and Mecole Hardman added 86 yards and two touchdowns. After a season full of questions about who would emerge as the number two receiver and the starting running back, the Chiefs gave a definitive answer: it doesn’t matter.
While bringing something slightly different to the table, Edwards-Helaire and McKinnon can be used interchangeably — running inside and outside the tackles, splitting out wide as receivers and working in the screen game. In contrast, Hardman and Pringle serve in different roles. With his speed down the sideline, Hardman stresses defenses — while Pringle does the dirty work over the middle of the field. Together, they make up a cohesive unit — dispelling (at least temporarily) any misgivings Kansas City faithful have had about passing over offensive weapons in free agency.
Against the most formidable competition, the Chiefs made clear that Mahomes and time are still the NFL’s most lethal duo — and that time comes from a stout offensive line. On Sunday, Kansas City’s unit wasn’t perfect — but it gave Mahomes the time he needed for his receivers to get open or to scramble for plus-yardage.
With Andy Reid at the helm, a healthy Mahomes at quarterback — and Tyreek Hill and Kelce always a threat to explode — this supporting cast is rounding out an offense with more than enough playmakers to bring home another Lombardi Trophy.
A tweet to make you think
The final two minutes + OT last night:— Matt McMullen (@KCChiefs_Matt) January 24, 2022
Patrick Mahomes: 10-for-13 for 188 yards and 2 TDs
Travis Kelce: 3 catches for 44 yards and a TD
Tyreek Hill: 4 catches for 97 yards and a TD