On an equally frigid night against an equally scorching opposing quarterback who had also spent the previous four months terrorizing the AFC East, the Chiefs had their entire season at the mercy of a coin toss. And they lost. They lost the draw. They lost the game.
I’m not talking to you Chiefs fans. Of course you remember. That kind of agony doesn’t subside simply because your team wins one Super Bowl, plays in another, and is now within 60 minutes of a third in a row, something only two other teams in the six-decade history of the “Big Game” have done. accomplished. .
I’m not talking to you, Patrick Mahomes. He watched helplessly hoping Tom Brady would run against the Patriots in the AFC championship game in January 2019, and now, three years later, he assured Josh Allen would experience the same ordeal on the bench.
I’m talking to those of you who are wondering if it’s fair that the AFC divisional round playoff game between the Chiefs and the Bills, the greatest game in history this weekend, was essentially decided by which face of the coin was looking skyward after landing on the muddy grass at Arrowhead Stadium.
The answer: it is not. It wasn’t in 2019 that the Chiefs lost that toss and couldn’t stop the Patriots’ March to another Super Bowl. And it’s not now that KC slid down the field after the flip was expensive and generated a game-winning touchdown and a 42-36 win with a brilliant throw from Mahomes and a more brilliant catch from tight end Travis Kelce.
It’s interesting, if nothing else, how those 50/50 propositions have a way of balancing out.
“Listen, it was a great game,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid told reporters. “I’m just figuring everything out right now.”
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 to Arrowhead and win, then this won’t have been much more than four hours of brilliant entertainment for all of us who love NFL football. However, if KC does find its way to another Super Bowl, this may be one of those legendary division games that propels its winner into history, like the Ravens’ overtime victory over Denver in 2013 or the gut-wrenching escape of the Steelers in Indianapolis in 2006 or the Giants’ win over the Cowboys in 2008 that ended, functionally, with a Tony Romo interception.
However, we do know that Mahomes essentially executed two game-winning drives, one impossible and the other unavoidable.
After the Bills scored what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds remaining on a throw from Allen to wide receiver Gabriel Davis, who set a playoff record with four TD receptions, the Bills clearly didn’t think anyone could move a team onto the field. goal range in remaining time.
The Chiefs insisted they believed.
“We have tremendous leaders on both sides of the ball, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams,” wide receiver Tyreek Hill said. “So no one panicked, no one really said, ‘Ah, game over, 13 seconds left.’ So we went out, we made plays. Like I said, the rest is history.”
Maybe they knew what they were up against. Buffalo’s coaching staff made the mistake of not sending the post-TD kickoff into the field of play, with a dog kick or a firecracker kick or something near the goal line, either of which would have consumed several of those remaining seconds, just the last of which offered significant risk of KC making a big special teams play.
The Bills’ defensive strategy on the plays that moved the Chiefs 44 yards in 10 seconds was puzzling. Buffalo rushed four players each time, leaving more room in the secondary than was optimal. In the first, the DBs played so far back that Hill was able to make an undisputed catch just 5 yards beyond the line and generate speed for 14 yards before meeting a single Bills defender. In the second, Kelce was able to scramble 15 yards down the left seam without anyone moving in time to stop him. His reception was good for 25 yards. It was one of the biggest failures of defensive football that you will see in your life.
“Those guys are hurt. We’re disappointed. We’re all disappointed,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “We’re all hurt, sick to the stomach. So yeah, you go ahead and try to learn from it. It hurts.”
If the coin had gone another way, the Bills might have been traded, but that’s how the NFL chooses to decide its biggest games. The league wants the spectacle inherent in that Kelce toe touchdown to remain the enduring memory of a playoff elimination game, not the anticlimax of a team trying and failing to match it in a fourth-tier adventure. and 14.
It seems like a better bet than even if it hadn’t been the setting in this game.