The most memorable moment from the Kansas City Chiefs’ thrilling 42-36 overtime win over the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional Round was the 13-second drive that propelled the Chiefs to victory. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes will now always have that moment tagged to his name — but it’s not what made this an excellent performance for him.
Mahomes was exceptional throughout the contest, adjusting his game along the way to continue beating whatever the Buffalo defense threw at him. He finished with 447 total yards and four touchdowns, including a career-high and team-high rushing yards total of 69.
Most of the rushing yardage came on the first drive — when Mahomes’ scrambling ability had a considerable impact.
The opening drive
Head coach Andy Reid’s opening, 15-play script is usually able to manufacture yards within the design of the play, meaning it’s rare that it needs to go off-script. But against the Bills’ top defense, that script struggled to manufacture open touches — and Mahomes decided to take it into his own hands.
On the opening drive, the pass game wasn't as open as it was later in the game -- so Mahomes used his legs and improvisation to get it done— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 25, 2022
This first 3rd down conversion was quietly one of the best plays of the game pic.twitter.com/kINfrCIJLn
On the first third down of the game, a combination of penetration and disciplined coverage at the sticks forced Mahomes to improvise in the pocket. As he moves, he sets up one pass rusher to be pancaked by left guard Joe Thuney with a head fake, then darted away to the outside. As a defender dives and wraps his ankles, he flicks the ball to running back Jerick McKinnon in perfect stride to barely gain the first down.
Another example of Mahomes' using his legs when most appropriate— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 25, 2022
Bills go Cover 1 man w/ Hyde coming down to double 87. Tyreek vertical pushes safety deep. That leaves the MOF wide open
15 locks in on Kelce long enough to keep defenders committed in coverage -- then takes off pic.twitter.com/IIDfvhnanA
On the next third down, the Bills switch up their usual Cover 2 shell by using safety Micah Hyde as a robber — specifically to help with tight end Travis Kelce — and leaving Jordan Poyer back as the one-high safety. Kelce’s out-breaking route forces Hyde to fly towards the sideline, while wide receiver Tyreek Hill’s deep post pushes Poyer deep to stay on top of him.
With everyone in man coverage, those routes develop and open up a huge running lane in the middle of the field — and Mahomes doesn’t pass it up; he gains 34 yards on the third-down conversion scramble. His pocket presence — stepping up through the pocket and not trying to escape back and around — allowed him to be in a great position to take off.
That first drive was riddled with incredible scrambles pic.twitter.com/3e8sM2q7Gs— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 25, 2022
Mahomes had two scrambles that resulted in 15 total yards to finish the drive, including the touchdown run that evened the game early in the first half. On that possession, plays in which Mahomes scrambled totaled 54 of the 74 yards the drive gained.
Defying the pass rush
As the game wore on, Mahomes’ scrambling ability was cut off by the Bills’ ability to get into his face and potentially disrupt his line of vision. He negated their impact with some incredible plays.
The funniest part about Sunday night was all the absurd plays and throws that won't get talked about as much as the final two minutes of 4Q/OT pic.twitter.com/msPiSDLu9E— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 26, 2022
On this roll-out pass at the goal line, Mahomes is immediately met with pressure from defensive end Jerry Hughes and linebacker Matt Milano — two defenders very capable of finishing the play. Yet, Mahomes just needs a little sidestep, and his magical accuracy in off-platform situations to negate their effect.
As Hughes shoves him to the ground, Mahomes’ pass is placed perfectly into wide receiver Byron Pringle’s leaping hands.
Earlier on the same drive, Mahomes moves the sticks by negating pass rush in a similar way: as he rolls out right, Bills’ defensive end Gregory Rousseau is closing in on him — squarely in Mahomes’ throwing lane. So Mahomes resorts to his baseball days and throws the submarine-style throw right around him — hitting Hill right between the numbers.
Getting what he wants
Finding themselves down late in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs’ offense needed a big play from one of its stars. They got one — even with Buffalo’s defense planning to take away the result of the play.
#Chiefs had this play dialed up specifically for Tyreek— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 26, 2022
Bills in Cover 2 man . Hill is isolated on one side, the other side's routes all go vertical to push the safeties deep. Along w/ CEH's route taking Edmunds to the flat, this leaves the MOF wide open for Tyreek to operate pic.twitter.com/jVZyWnyM9a
On this snap, Buffalo plays Cover 2 man coverage. Yes, that means Buffalo decided to leave Hill in single coverage. The lucky cornerback tries to take away inside routes by aligning with inside leverage, but Hill makes it not matter. He beats the cornerback that way anyways, and Mahomes trusted he would the entire time.
As Hill worked to get open, the rest of the play set Hill up for the most success. The other side of the formation runs vertical, pushing the safeties deep and giving Hill tons of room to operate over the middle.
Buffalo planned not to let Hill win on that kind of route — but the Chiefs’ offense made their plan not matter.
Someone explain to me like I'm 5-years old how Buffalo allowed Kelce to get a free release AND ALSO not defend the seam— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 26, 2022
Mahomes needs to get rid of this ball quickly. You don't think the ideal way to do that would be a quick throw up the seam to his favorite target? pic.twitter.com/0gRsDI01wc
On the final offensive play of regulation, the Bills do the opposite of preparing to take away what the Chiefs want to do.
With eight seconds left and two timeouts, the Chiefs need a quick pass to gain them 20 or 25 yards; it could be anywhere on the field because of the timeouts. Buffalo’s defense comes out in a very soft, two-high shell — but there’s little attention on Travis Kelce. As the ball’s snapped, Kelce had tons of space to work with towards the inside, and he took advantage of it.
With Buffalo not disrupting Kelce’s route at the line of scrimmage, then not shading any second-level defenders to take away an in-breaking route, Mahomes got exactly what he wanted — and he didn’t overthink it.
The bottom line
For the ups and downs Mahomes has had this year, he might have saved the best game of his season for this win over the Bills.
Every part of his game that we marvel over was on display, whether it was his scrambling ability, maneuverability in the pocket, off-platform throws or knowing exactly where to go with the ball.