By Larry Holder, Nate Taylor and Joe Buscaglia
The Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills added another playoff classic to their rivalry Sunday. But again, the Chiefs came out on top with a 27-24 win over the Bills at Highmark Stadium.
The Chiefs will travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens in the AFC Championship next Sunday at M&T Stadium. Kansas City will play in its sixth consecutive AFC Championship Game.
The Bills, meanwhile, are sent home by the Chiefs for the third time in four years. Kansas City beat Buffalo in the conference championship in the 2020 playoffs, divisional round in the 2021 playoffs and again in the divisional round Sunday.
“It sucks,” Josh Allen said postgame. “Losing sucks. Losing to them, losing to anybody, at home, sucks.”
Bills kicker Tyler Bass missed a 44-yard field goal wide right with 1:43 remaining in the game that would’ve tied it.
The Chiefs’ Isiah Pacheco picked up the game-winning score as he broke through for a 5-yard touchdown run less than a minute into the fourth quarter to go up 27-24.
But a series of wild turns in the fourth quarter hindered both teams after the Pacheco touchdown. It started by Buffalo failing to pick up a first down on a fake punt attempt in its own territory. Kansas City only deployed 10 players for the punt return and still stopped the Bills’ Damar Hamlin short of the first down on the fake punt attempt. The Chiefs took the ball over on downs at the Bills’ 32-yard line.
“The defense, they turned it on in that fourth quarter. That is a great offense, that’s a great football player in Josh Allen and a great team and they were going up and down the field and the defense said enough is enough and they got the stops,” Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes said.
Two plays later, the Chiefs’ Mecole Hardman caught a pass from Mahomes and fumbled the ball as he was tackled near the goal line. Originally officials ruled Hardman down. Buffalo challenged the call successfully, as officials ruled the ball went out of the end zone for a touchback giving possession to the Bills.
The Bills seemed to put themselves in position to at least tie the game, but the Bass miss ended the Bills’ season.
Allen’s two first-half rushing touchdowns propelled the Bills to a 17-13 halftime lead. The first came on a 5-yard run early in the second quarter. The second helped Buffalo regain the lead at 17-13 on a 2-yard TD scamper near the close of the first half.
The Chiefs took a 13-10 lead when Mahomes connected with a wide-open Travis Kelce on a 22-yard touchdown reception with 3:33 left in the second quarter. Kelce blew a kiss and formed his hands into a heart in the direction of the suite where pop star Taylor Swift, Kelce’s girlfriend, watched the game in the stadium. Shortly after, Eagles center Jason Kelce, Travis’ brother, came to the front of the open-air suite shirtless to bellow his satisfaction for his brother’s touchdown.
Kansas City’s defense stepped up
With the Chiefs’ season on the line, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo relied on his best personnel, his dime package. With three safeties on the field — Justin Reid, Deon Bush and rookie Chamarri Conner — the Chiefs’ defense was able to prevent the Bills from entering the end zone on their final drive of the game. Chris Jones, the Chiefs’ best pass rusher, was exceptional, too. He created enough pressure to impact Allen’s final two pass attempts, both of which fell incomplete.
Even more impressive, the Chiefs didn’t give up the big pass to Allen despite safety Mike Edwards sustaining a concussion on just the second play of the game when he broke up a pass in the middle of the field. The Chiefs’ stop just outside the red zone in the closing minutes forced the Bills to take a potential game-tying field goal. When Bills kicker Bass missed his 44-yard attempt wide right, several of the Chiefs’ defenders celebrated by leaping into the air and in each other’s arms.
Similar to their season, the Chiefs’ offensive players should thank their defensive teammates. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Chiefs’ offense has two chances to score with a 27-24 lead. Their golden opportunity arrived when the Bills failed on a fake punt play deep in their own territory. But two plays later, on a pop-pass jet sweep, Hardman fumbled the ball near the pylon, the ball rolling into the end zone and out of bounds for a turnover. — Nate Taylor, Chiefs beat writer
The Bills’ playoff curse continues
For the third time in four postseasons, the Bills have had their Super Bowl dreams dashed by the Chiefs. Even with different terms this time around, having the chance to play the Chiefs at home in the playoffs for the first time since Sean McDermott became head coach, the Bills still couldn’t get over the hump. They were met with a near-perfect game by Mahomes, who delivered a statement win in his first-ever road playoff game. Now the Bills are left with yet another premature playoff exit and nothing but offseason questions with an aging roster and a big cap sheet that likely needs plenty of trimming.
The Bills had no answers in the middle of the field for the Chiefs, as Mahomes, Kelce and Pacheco were gaining chunk plays at will. The Chiefs clearly had a plan to attack linebackers A.J. Klein and Tyrel Dodson through the air, and it worked consistently. Kelce was open seemingly all game, and once that was established, Pacheco came through with clutch runs throughout the second half. Outside of a late forced punt, and a Hardman fumble, it was a perfect game from Mahomes, who continues to be a thorn in the Bills’ side when it isn’t the regular season. — Joe Buscaglia, Bills beat writer
(Photo: Timothy T Ludwig / Getty Images)