Despite falling behind early by nine points, the Kansas City Chiefs' bid for back-to-back titles remains on track and headed for Tampa, Florida. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs rallied past Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills for a 38-24 win in Sunday's AFC Championship Game and a berth in Super Bowl LV in Tampa against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the Chiefs defense coming up huge and Mahomes, Travis Kelce and the offense finding a rhythm in the second half, Kansas City is headed back to the Super Bowl for a second-straight season and looking to complete its quest for a repeat championship.
1) The box score and the game tape from this one looked a lot like most of the Chiefs' wins. Kansas City peppered its offensive possessions with gains of 10-15 yards, taking what the Buffalo defense gave it as the Bills aimed to prevent the explosive plays for which the Chiefs are well known. The problem was the Chiefs' smaller chunks turned into explosive plays, and by the time we got to the second half, the Chiefs had posted three touchdown drives of five minutes or less. It comes as a surprise to very few to see that Tyreek Hill finished with nine catches for 172 yards, Travis Kelce caught 13 balls for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and Patrick Mahomes finished with a passer rating north of 127. Kansas City provided the internet with a bushel of easy-to-share clips of Hill streaking down the field and Mahomes extending plays to find open targets for big gains, all with the same theme for the unfortunate defenses trying to stop them. In the end, it was once again simple: Buffalo couldn't do it, just as Cleveland couldn't, nor could the vast majority of teams the Chiefs faced in the regular season. Save for a futile comeback attempt to make the score a little more respectable, the Bills lost this track meet by a wide margin in a fashion that's all too familiar to the many clubs unfortunate enough to find themselves in Kansas City's path.
2) The exciting showdown so many of us thought was coming never materialized because the Bills' explosive offense couldn't get its gunpowder out of the barrels it had rolled out onto its sideline. Credit is due to Kansas City's defense, which sabotaged Buffalo's attempts to put significant points on the board by limiting the Bills to a 5-of-14 night on third down, and held Buffalo to three field goals on trips into Kansas City territory -- including two possessions that ended inside the 10-yard line. The key to Kansas City's defensive success centered largely on the Chiefs' ability to take Stefon Diggs out of the game. At halftime, Diggs had just two catches for 12 yards, and he reached the start of the fourth quarter with a total of four receptions for 28 yards. Josh Allen was forced to look elsewhere, finding early success in short-yardage situations by dumping it off to tight end Dawson Knox, but without his top receiver making much of an impact and no rushing game to speak of (Allen led the Bills with 88 yards on seven attempts), Buffalo's offense entered a rut it couldn't lift itself out of until the game was already decided. Add in Kansas City's ability to get after Allen -- the Chiefs pressured him on 25% of his drop-backs, holding him to a completion percentage of 33.3 on such attempts -- and their four sacks for a combined loss of 53 yards, and we saw what a watered-down Bills offense would look like in a pivotal contest.
3) It's interesting (if not downright frustrating) to witness coaches who typically direct their teams fearlessly then suddenly tighten up in big moments, pivoting to taking the points just to keep a game somewhat within reach instead of flirting with a blowout. That was Sean McDermott's approach Sunday evening. McDermott sent the field goal unit out for an attempt with the ball at Kansas City's 2-yard line just before halftime in a 21-9 game, then did it again from Kansas City's 8-yard line in a 24-12 game midway through the third quarter. Sure, it kept the Bills within striking distance -- if a touchdown plus a field goal is considered striking distance against the league's most explosive offense -- but it didn't make the dent that is absolutely essential to attempting to take down the reigning champs. It wasn't until the Bills were down, 38-15, that McDermott threw caution to a wind that had already swept away his team a quarter earlier, going for it on fourth and-1 to extend a drive that ended in a touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie to cut the deficit to 38-21. And even then, Buffalo's two-point conversion attempt failed via interception in the end zone. Too often, the Bills were on the doorstep of matching Chiefs touchdowns with their own, but elected to take the points and keep the score within nine, burning precious time and wasting away rare opportunities to try to keep pace with the fast-moving Chiefs. There's coaching to win, there's coaching to not lose, and there's coaching to not lose by a huge difference in points. Only one of those actually wins you the game, and in a massive moment like Sunday night's conference championship game, McDermott did not coach to wrest the AFC crown from the Chiefs' grasp.
4) This moment felt like it was a little too big for Allen, at least in the first half. The progress the quarterback had made in his best season to date seemed to melt away amid the pressure of the AFC Championship Game, with Allen reverting to tendencies that doomed him in previous campaigns even after a hot start that saw the Bills take a 9-0 lead. By halftime, Allen had completed just 12 of 23 attempts for 104 yards and the game's first score, and Buffalo's offense was struggling to find a pace needed to match the Chiefs, especially when presented with scoring opportunities. A failed third-down conversion inside Kansas City's 10 just before half (which led to the aforementioned field goal) felt as if it would end up being more significant than it appeared at the time, and thanks to the Chiefs' growing momentum advantage that carried over into a second-half scoring onslaught, it proved to be correct. Diggs was far from the game-changing receiver he'd been, too, and when it was all said and done, it felt as if this game was more of a teaching opportunity for the upstart Bills than it was a legitimate chance to reach the Super Bowl. The Bills are on a great track to see them return to this type of stage for years to come, and we can't wrap this game up without commending rookie kicker Tyler Bass, who was lights out in his four attempts, including two from 51 yards in a high-pressure environment. But just like Michael Jordan's Bulls had to hit the weights before they were strong enough to take down the Bad Boy Pistons, these Bills had to taste defeat at the hands of the kings before they could potentially discover their own success. It's not guaranteed they'll be back, but if they do return, the Bills will be happy to have had this experience under their belts.
5) If you're tired of hearing the Beastie Boys' "Fight For Your Right", you're going to have to get used to hearing it for at least two more weeks thanks to Chiefs fans. We can't guarantee we'll get another chilly parade with a hoarse Kelce screaming the same part of the chorus into a microphone, but we can assure you the Chiefs will be back in the Super Bowl with their sights set firmly on a repeat title. Kansas City is again the AFC champion and is headed to Florida for a second time in as many seasons armed with the experience gained from a come-from-behind triumph in Super Bowl LIV. They'll need it against the greatest to ever play quarterback, Tom Brady, and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who will be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium on Feb. 7, and the Bucs will have to take down the reigning champs to complete their own magical run. A battle of the G.O.A.T. and the face of the future of quarterbacking promises to be a good one, and we'll get two weeks to discuss it. What we learned more than anything on Sunday night is simple and was easy to see coming: The Chiefs remain the kings for at least two weeks, and they'll have quite a giant-slayer awaiting them in Tampa.