This time, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs win with the luck of the draw and the skill of a surgeon

By | January 24, 2022

On a similarly frigid evening against a similarly blistering opposing quarterback who’d likewise spent the previous four months terrorizing the AFC East, the Chiefs had the entirety of their season placed at the mercy of a coin flip. And they lost. They lost the toss. They lost the game.

Remember that?

Not talking to you, Chiefs fans. Of course you remember. That kind of agony does not subside merely because one’s team wins a Super Bowl, plays in another and now stands 60 minutes from a third in a row, something only two other teams in the six-decade history of the “Big Game” have achieved.

BENDER: Where does Bills-Chiefs rank among greatest playoff games?

Not talking to you, Patrick Mahomes. You watched helplessly hoping as Tom Brady raced the Patriots downfield in the AFC championship game in January 2019, and now, three years later, you assured Josh Allen would experience that same sideline suffering.

I’m talking to those of you who are wondering if it’s fair the AFC divisional round playoff game between the Chiefs and Bills, the greatest game in the history of this weekend, was essentially decided by which side of a coin faced skyward after landing on the muddy grass at Arrowhead Stadium.

MORE: Is Tom Brady retiring? QB addresses rumors

The answer: It’s not. It wasn’t in 2019 when the Chiefs lost that toss and couldn’t cease the Patriots’ March toward another Super Bowl. And it isn’t now that KC zipped down the field after the flip came up heads and generated a winning touchdown and 42-36 triumph on a brilliant throw from Mahomes and a more brilliant catch by tight end Travis Kelce.

It is interesting, at least, how those 50/50 propositions have a way of evening out.

“Listen, it was a great game,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid told reporters. “I’m just kind of sorting it all out right now.”

MORE: Bills-Chiefs classic by the numbers

We don’t know what the true consequences of this game will be until the Chiefs face the Bengals a week from now in the AFC championship game. If Cincinnati can go into Arrowhead and win, then this will have been not much more than four hours of brilliant entertainment for all of us who love NFL football. If KC finds its way to another Super Bowl, however, this can be one of those legendary division games that propels its winner to history, like the Ravens’ overtime victory over Denver in 2013 or the Steelers’ harrowing escape at Indianapolis in 2006 or the Giants’ 2008 conquest of the Cowboys that ended, functionally, on a Tony Romo interception.

We do know, however, Mahomes essentially executed two game-winning drives, one impossible and the other inevitable.

After the Bills scored what looked to be the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left on a throw from Allen to wideout Gabriel Davis — who set a playoff record with four TD receptions – the Bills clearly did not think anyone could move a team into field goal range in the time remaining.

The Chiefs insisted they believed.

MORE: Updates, highlights from Bills-Chiefs

“We’ve got tremendous leaders on both sides of the ball, whether it’s offense, defense — or special. teams,” receiver Tyreek Hill said. “So nobody panicked, nobody was really like, ‘Ah, the game is over, 13 seconds left.’ So we just went out, made plays. Like I said, the rest is history.”

Maybe they knew what they were up against. The Buffalo coaching staff goofed by not sending the post-TD kickoff into the field of play, on a pooch kick or squib kick or something short of the goal line — any of which would have consumed several of those remaining seconds, only the last of which offered a significant risk of KC making a big special teams play.

The Bills’ defensive strategy on the plays that advanced the Chiefs 44 yards in 10 seconds was bewildering. Buffalo rushed four players each time, which left more room in the secondary than was optimal. On the first, the DBs played so far back that Hill was able to make an unchallenged catch just 5 yards beyond the line and generate speed for 14 yards before encountering a single Bills defender. On the second, Kelce was able to streak uncovered for 15 yards down the left seam without anyone moving in time to disrupt him. His reception was good for 25 yards. It was among the greatest failures of defensive football you’ll see in your lifetime.

IYER: What went wrong with Bills’ defense in playoff loss to Chiefs? Everything

“Those guys are hurt. We’re disappointed. We’re all disappointed,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “We’re all hurt, sick to our stomach. So, yeah, you move on and you try to get yourself to learn from it. It stings.”

Had the coin come up differently, the Bills might have been redeemed, but this is how the NFL chooses to decide its biggest games. The league wants the spectacle inherent in that toe-tapping TD by Kelce to stand as the lasting memory of a playoff elimination game, not the anticlimax of a team trying and failing to match it on a fourth-and-14 fling.

It seems a better-than-even bet that would not have been the scenario in this game.