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Patrick Mahomes took every opportunity to exploit Bills’ defense

In his first road playoff game, the star quarterback gunned for a big play nearly every chance he got.

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A big storyline heading into the Divisional round game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills was the defensive injuries plaguing the Bills. It was most affecting the back seven, off-ball personnel, especially the linebacker position.

The Chiefs attacked that primarily with the ground game, using pull blocks by linemen and formations with multiple tight ends to create blocking mismatches at the second level. By the end of the game, the group racked up 146 yards and paced the offense throughout.

The constant rushing success set the stage for a masterfully efficient performance from quarterback Patrick Mahomes. In a season-low 23 pass attempts, he registered a season-high 131.6 passer rating; over 17 completions, 15 resulted in a first down or touchdown.

The reigning MVP rarely missed a chance for a big play and made the difference in the 27-24 victory:

Exploiting Bills' backups

At middle linebacker, the Bills relied on A.J. Klein — a practice-squad veteran signed two weeks ago while considering retirement. The Chiefs knew that and targeted tight end Travis Kelce accordingly.

On the third play of the opening drive, Kelce takes off up the seam with Klein facing him to cover. The future Hall of Famer veers across Klein's face, then pivots back outside and easily creates separation for a completion in rhythm.

The Chiefs get creative on the second drive: Kelce lines up in the backfield, one of three players surrounding Mahomes at the snap. The play starts with run action, then Kelce leaks through the line of scrimmage vertically and runs a corner route; he beats Klein and continues upfield after a perfectly placed pass.

The play action sucks in backup linebacker Dorian Williams, who otherwise could be contesting Kelce's route underneath.

As adjustments take place in Buffalo's coverage, Mahomes is unfazed. The Bills commit more attention to Kelce's side on this play, forcing the signal caller to continue through his progression to another target. That turns out to be tight end Noah Gray, who is wide open due to Kelce's gravity.

Near the red zone, the Chiefs send Kelce up the seam again, and Buffalo inexplicably loses him to allow a wide-open score. The play design is strong, but this looks like the product of miscommunication in the Bills' secondary, trying to disguise coverage and failing. Still, Mahomes deserves credit for reading out the play and recognizing the shot opportunity.

Using his legs

With the offense rolling within the scheme, Mahomes rarely had to extend plays out of structure. On the rare play he did have to, he found big plays.

On Mahomes' first dropback, pressure comes from the left edge, forcing him to step up past it. The pass rusher gets hands on him, but Mahomes spins off to get free, then quickly gets his eyes back up downfield. From there, he uses a rapid release to get the ball to wide receiver Rashee Rice. The fast reaction allows Rice to take advantage of the linebackers being sucked into the line by the near sack.

Noticing the attention building up on Kelce, Mahomes finally sees the right opportunity to make a play himself. Kelce is one of four routes to the right side of the offensive formation, leading to a heavy coverage flow in that direction. Once the signal caller registers the one-on-one he has on the back side, he goes into playmaker mode.

Attacking cornerback Rasul Douglas coming to the line of scrimmage, Mahomes freezes him by threatening a quick throw to tight end Blake Bell — but eventually fakes it to shake the veteran defensive back. The 24-yard run set up a touchdown later in the drive.

Taking advantage of vertical space

With Kelce and Rice making plays close to the line of scrimmage, the Bills — like many of the Chiefs' opponents this season — sacrificed open space down the field to take away the easier throws.

That's what happens on the first play of the second half: Buffalo's strong safety comes up to guard Rice over the middle, leading to Mahomes attacking the space available towards the sideline with only one safety deep.

Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling doesn't create separation, but a perfect throw makes it not matter. The pinpoint accuracy leads to a strong catch, setting up a touchdown drive.

The other significant completion to Valdes-Scantling came open due to one of Buffalo's two blitzes of the game. This time, Mahomes' outlet to beat the blitz — Kelce — is not open soon enough, so he buys time and avoids the rushers (with help from right guard Trey Smith).

Keeping his eyes downfield throughout his movement, Mahomes tracks Valdes-Scantling beginning to come open across the field. Instead of setting his feet, Mahomes puts it on him while moving, allowing the ball to get there before the deep safety could get to the catch point.

The special play was one of three completions thrown 20 or more yards in the air, the most Mahomes has recorded in one game this season.

The bottom line

It was a stellar performance from Mahomes, but the offense did stall on its first two trips deep into Buffalo territory. On the second drive, the gunslinger missed two shots to the end zone.

On the first, Mahomes places the pass in the corner of the end zone — but Kelce angles his route flatter due to the defender's leverage in coverage. It leads to a close miss.

On the second play, a similar concept gets even more open, but Mahomes simply misses the throw.

The team went on to finish three consecutive drives with touchdowns after this, but these plays show the offense was very close to having a wall-to-wall dominant performance.

The misses also show that a brilliant game from Patrick Mahomes still had room for improvement — but not for a lack of trying. He was locked in on putting a vulnerable Bills' defense out of its misery.

It's Game Time.

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