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Instabreakdown: Chiefs’ offense explodes to outduel a hot Bills team

When the offense was needed most, the unit (and its MVP quarterback) showed out.

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Kansas City Chiefs v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

In the AFC Divisional Round game on Sunday night, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Buffalo Bills 27-24 to advance to the AFC Championship against the Baltimore Ravens.

Offense

The main takeaway from the Chiefs’ offensive performance against the Bills was simple: the unit truly saved its best performance for the biggest moment.

The group was as efficient as it was in any game this year, hovering between eight and nine yards per play for the majority of the game. Ignoring the 26-second drive before halftime, the Chiefs scored on the first five drives of the game — and only faced three third downs through that last touchdown, which was a minute into the fourth quarter.

Running back Isiah Pacheco took advantage of impactful blocking by the Chiefs’ offensive line, totaling 97 yards over 15 rushing attempts and scoring a touchdown. Using key blocks in space from right guard Trey Smith and center Creed Humphrey, both Pacheco and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire found room on the ground; Clyde exploded for 28 yards on one play that featured a powerful double-team block by Smith and right tackle Jawaan Taylor.

Tight end Travis Kelce was very timely in the plays he made. He found space for chunk gains on each of the team’s first two field-goal drives — then took advantage of a blown coverage by Buffalo to score a touchdown, tying the record for postseason touchdowns by a quarterback-tight end combination (15). Overall, the Hall of Famer totaled 75 yards over 5 catches — and added another score later.

Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling stepped up in a similar way as last year’s AFC Championship, making two tough grabs to gain 62 yards; both completions set up touchdowns.

On the flip side, wide receiver Mecole Hardman likely caused some hair loss for Chiefs fans, fumbling twice. One was recovered by his teammates, but the other came at a very bad time and place. Holding a 27-24 lead, Hardman fumbled at the goal line. The ball went into (and out of) through the end zone — and by rule, that’s a touchback that gives the ball to the other team at their 20-yard line. But the Kansas City defense then forced a three-and-out.

Offensive player of the game: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes

Playing off a strong rushing attack, the two-time MVP played to form. Through three drives, he had no incompletions before the Bills’ 30-yard line. His only missed throws came on the second possession, leading to a field goal — but from there, Mahomes reeled off three consecutive touchdown drives.

Overall, Mahomes finished 17 of 23 passing, totaling 215 yards, two touchdowns, and a passer rating of 131.6; he had no turnovers for the second consecutive game.

It felt like the offensive slip-ups came from play-calling or mistakes by ball carriers. In general, Mahomes captained the offense by taking what the defense gave him. He avoided pressure when it was there — and made the 24-yard scramble that he seems to make in every big playoff game.

Defense

A hot Bills’ offense stayed hot throughout the game — and for much of the contest, the Chiefs’ defense did not play well enough. It started up front, where the absence of defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi must have been a huge loss. On top of that, the unit lost safety Mike Edwards and linebacker Willie Gay Jr. in the first quarter. Buffalo ultimately racked up 182 rushing yards over 39 attempts.

Buffalo pounded the rock, putting quarterback Josh Allen in advantageous positions to make plays with his arm and legs. When the Chiefs did force third downs, the unit had spots of success: on the Bills’ opening drive, defensive tackle Chris Jones batted down a pass that led to a field goal.

But the pressure on Allen just wasn’t enough; Jones was rarely able to have an effect on the Bills’ passing game. He registered only one quarterback hit — but late in the game, did force a fumble that Buffalo recovered.

Defensive end George Karlaftis was unable to consistently to get off blocks, but he did keep his nose to the ball, allowing him to earn a tackle for loss and a batted pass that led to an important third-down stop.

When Allen wasn’t taking off and scrambling through the Chiefs’ secondary, the coverage was pretty tight. Cornerback Jaylen Watson prevented a deep pass at one point, while cornerback L’Jarius Sneed held Bills’ wide receiver Stefon Diggs in check. Diggs only totaled 21 yards on three catches over eight targets.

Tight end Dalton Kincaid did take advantage of the Chiefs’ injuries on the second level; and so did slot receiver Khalil Shakir. It was not the best game for linebacker Nick Bolton, who was the culprit of a few plays where the intended receiver came out of the backfield.

Defensive players of the game: Safeties Chamarri Conner and Justin Reid

Down the stretch this season, the rookie Conner has had to step up due to the injury to starting free safety Bryan Cook — and after Mike Edwards went down early, that forced an even larger responsibility on the fourth-round pick.

He responded by totaling 10 tackles, finishing as the team’s third-leading tackler and playing a key role in keeping the Bills’ running game from getting explosive gains. Running back James Cook’s longest rush was eight yards; many of them were ended by a strong finish by Conner.

Strong safety Justin Reid also deserves recognition. He finished with 11 tackles, one quarterback hit and a tackle for loss — but I appreciated Conner setting the tone early. He forced a fumble on the first play from scrimmage, which led to a penalty for illegal touching on the offense.

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