After the Wild Card win over the Miami Dolphins, I said there are no easy games in the playoffs. But the Divisional Round matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills was an entirely different beast.
The Chiefs traveled to New York for a heavyweight fight reminiscent of Muhammed Ali vs. Joe Frazier. Buffalo came out swinging with a focused game plan against the Kansas City defense: they hit the Chiefs right in the mouth. To its credit, Kansas City swung back — and kept swinging — on the way to a thrilling 27-24 victory that is sending the team to its sixth straight AFC Championship.
Here are five things we learned on Sunday night.
1. This was a dogfight
The Chiefs came into this game with a banged-up defense. They were missing a pivotal (and often overlooked) player: starting nose tackle Derrick Nnadi. Buffalo sought to exploit this weakness by running the ball down the Chiefs' throat — and daring Kansas City to stop it. That was something the Chiefs struggled to do throughout the game; the Bills ran the ball 39 times for 182 yards. Buffalo also focused on the short passing game. The idea was to keep control of the ball — and make Kansas City’s defense play physical, smash-mouth football. The Chiefs answered the call.
The result was one of the most entertaining battles we’ve seen in a long time. Neither team escaped unscathed; both teams fought for every inch. In the end, the Chiefs won thanks to a missed field goal by Buffalo placekicker Tyler Bass — but that’s exactly the issue with playing ball-control offense against Kansas City: when you limit the number of times you possess the ball, you put pressure on yourself to walk away with points on every drive. In the end, the Chiefs simply scored on more of their drives than the Bills did.
2. Never pick against Mahomes
In this life, there are a lot of things you don’t do — just like Jim Croce said.
You don’t tug on Superman's cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger
And you don’t mess around with Jim.
And... you don’t pick against Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs.
When will pundits learn that while Josh Allen is a very good player, Mahomes is one of a kind? And that any time you pick against him, you are just setting yourself up for failure?
On Sunday, the Chiefs once again proved that Mahomes is the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. At this point — until somebody proves otherwise by consistently playing at a higher level — everyone should just stop trying to figure out who's going to unseat Mahomes. Why can’t we just enjoy the show? And if — after all of this — you are still foolish enough to pick against him, then you deserve all the smoke you get.
3. The old war horse still has some fight left in him
A lot of things have been said about tight end Travis Kelce this season. He’s old. He’s lost a step. He doesn’t love the game anymore. He’s distracted by love. He’s distracted by too many commercials. He’s just not the same player any longer.
Well... on a cold night in Buffalo, the old stallion proved that he still has what it takes to put the team on his back and carry them to victory, catching five passes for 75 yards and a pair of touchdowns. This was the vintage Mahomes-to-Kelce that we have been missing.
More of this, please.
4. Injuries are piling up
Leading up to this game, I said that the Chiefs needed to put a spy linebacker on Josh Allen to limit his ability to run the ball. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo apparently thought the same thing — because that’s exactly what the Chiefs did to begin the game: they used linebacker Willie Gay’s athleticism to read and react to Allen if he decided to tuck the ball and run. It might have worked, too — except in the first half, Gay left the game with a neck injury.
Gay was far from the only Kansas City player who was injured. Wide receiver Rashee Rice was banged up, as were defensive backs Trent McDuffie and Mike Edwards and guard Joe Thuney. If the Chiefs want to make it back to the Super Bowl, they need to get healthy — because next week’s game against Baltimore promises to be another difficult test.
5. Lamar Hunt would be so proud of his son
Somewhere, Chiefs founder and AFL trailblazer Lamar Hunt can see the juggernaut his team has become. And in this place beyond our mortal realm, he sees the leadership and effort put forth by his son Clark to make his father’s dream a reality. I can only imagine the pride he must take in what his son has achieved.
From flying out to offer Andy Reid the head coaching job to moving up in the draft to select Mahomes, Clark Hunt has done whatever it would take to build this franchise into one that could win championships. As fans, we’re just lucky that we get to come along for this amazing ride.
This season, nobody expected Kansas City to get this far. The Chiefs are playing with house money — and Hunt’s leadership has been a key part of the team’s continued success.