Moments after Josh Allen’s 19-yard strike to Gabriel Davis deep in the fourth quarter, television crews cut to the quarterback’s family celebrating in a box at Arrowhead. The Bills led 36-33 and the champagne was about to be popped. Tears of joy streamed down Joel Allen’s face as he watched his son, who was having a perfect postseason, punch his ticket to the AFC Championship.
Or so we thought.
Then the Allen family had to sit through the most excruciating 13 seconds of their lives. CBS’s Tony Romo actually joked about the improbability of what was to come, “What can Patrick Mahomes do with 13 seconds left? Probably nothing. [Pause] But maybe something …”
Maybe something was right because thanks to his immense skill and Buffalo’s inexplicably bad prevent defense, Mahomes had two quick completions, the first a 19-yard pass to Tyreek Hill, followed by a 25-yard dart to Travis Kelce. In marched Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker to knock through a 49-yard field goal with no time in regulation remaining. 36-36.
Buffalo were stunned. Arrowhead was deafening. Kelce later explained how he and his quarterback freestyled on the completion: “I told [Mahomes] I’m probably not going to run the route that’s called and I was going to run to the open area. And in his cadence he was yelling to me, ‘Do it! Do it!”
Again, the Bills coaching staff are going to have a lot of regrets when they evaluate film of those final 13 seconds. And Bills fans will wonder why the team didn’t try a squib kick after scoring their final touchdown, something that would have taken vital seconds off the clock (instead, Tyler Bass’s touchback saved the Chiefs valuable time).
Butker’s field goal was the culmination of perhaps the most exhilarating two minutes the NFL has ever produced. Yes, there were bad defensive calls from both teams. But above all, it was Allen and Mahomes showing every inch of their talent and heart, the best v the best.
In the two-minute span, there were three lead changes and a tie. Twenty-five points scored. The quarterbacks combined for 221 passing yards and three touchdowns in the same period. Bills wideout Gabriel Davis, until Sunday barely known outside Buffalo, became a household name – he finished the game with 201 receiving yards and four touchdowns, an NFL postseason record. Mahomes made magical throws from every angle. Allen did the same and picked up a litany of first downs using his legs.
Mahomes v Allen is now the most compelling quarterback rivalry in football and will be for years to come. Allen finished the day with 329 passing yards and four touchdowns, Mahomes with 378 passing yards and three touchdowns. Neither quarterback threw an interception. But it will be those final moments that will define this epic duel.
To recap a two-minute span like no other:
1:54 remaining. Allen to Davis on a 27-yard touchdown (two-point conversion is good): Bills 29-26 Chiefs
1:02 remaining. Mahomes to Tyreek Hill on a 64-yard touchdown (extra point good): Bills 29-33 Chiefs
13 seconds remaining. Allen to Davis on a 19-yard touchdown (extra point good): Bills 36-33 Chiefs
0:00 remaining. Butker’s 49-yard field goal is good. Bills 36-36 Chiefs
Then there was overtime. If we learned anything from the final two minutes of regulation it was that the winner of the coin toss was marching down the field and winning the game. Kansas City got the ball and lo and behold, Mahomes led his teammates against an exhausted Bills defense, found Kelce in the end zone and voila, the Chiefs will host the AFC Championship for the fourth consecutive year.
The NFL overtime rules, under which the team that receive the ball can win with a touchdown, will be under much scrutiny this offseason. It was a travesty to deprive Allen the opportunity to match Mahomes point for point just because a coin landed on the wrong side for the Bills. But that’s a debate for another day. For now we should sit back and thank the football gods for a phenomenal divisional weekend topped off by a Bills-Chiefs classic. How much longer do we have to wait for these two powerhouses – and these two brilliant quarterbacks – to meet in the playoffs again?
Matthew Stafford, quarterback, Los Angeles Rams. OK, this should be a joint one for Mahomes and Allen but it would be a shame not to discuss Sunday’s earlier game. Sean McVay wasn’t going down without a fight. The tide had taken a drastic turn for the Rams, who had let a 27-3 lead evaporate in the second half against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. McVay’s playcalling was timid. There were fumbles and a high snap that went awry. Meanwhile, Brady was doing what he’s done so often. He was laser-focused on destroying the soul of his opponent.
But with 35 seconds remaining, McVay wasn’t messing around. He dialled up consecutive Stafford passes to Cooper Kupp, first a 20-yarder followed by the nail-in-the-coffin, a perfectly placed 44-yard strike to Cupp who had blown by safety Antoine Winfield. Gay knocked through the 30-yarder to send Los Angeles back home to host the NFC Championship. Stafford, who was almost flawless in the first half, threw for 366 yards, knocked off the Super Bowl champs, and is headed back to LA where his team will host the NFC Championship against the 49ers.
“Lots of decisions to be made. I don’t want to be part of a rebuild if I’m going to keep playing” – Aaron Rodgers following Green Bay’s 13-10 loss to San Francisco.
Rodgers’ season may have abruptly ended but that doesn’t mean we’ll get a break from nonstop chatter about where he goes from here.
Rodgers has his ticket out of Green Bay in the form of a restructured deal last summer that saves the team $20m if he’s traded before June 2022. The Packers are about to be $44m over the salary cap, leaving the future of many key players – including Davante Adams who will be a free agent and command a massive paycheck – in doubt. Despite the off-the-field distractions this season, Rodgers is still an elite quarterback whose departure would command high draft picks at the very least, and put the Packers in a strong position to rebuild. (Not to mention a notable reduction in stress.) But there’s also a disparity in success between the regular and postseason versions of Rodgers. That the 38-year-old Rodgers has only played in one Super Bowl at this point in his career is underachieving at its finest, from both the player and his team. Perhaps he’ll have better luck in Pittsburgh, Denver or New Orleans.
What an authentic moment of joy between Robbie Gould and Jimmy Garoppolo following the 49ers’ dramatic win at a snow-covered Lambeau Field. In the video, captured by NFL Network reporter Stacey Dales, Garoppolo called Gould “a fucking legend”. Hard to argue with the quarterback’s assessment given that Gould is now 20-for-20 on field goals in the postseason, including Saturday’s game-winner. Garoppolo also let out an audible curse directed at the Packers. The emotions were perhaps not surprising from a quarterback raised in Illinois and a kicker who played 11 seasons in Chicago.
More ice from Gould:
9. The Tennessee Titans pass rush was ready for its close-up, sacking Joe Burrow nine times. Defensive end Jeffery Simmons was unstoppable, collecting three sacks. Yet the Titans still lost 19-16. Racking up nine sacks in a playoff game and still losing is not an easy feat; in fact, the Titans are the first team since the 1970 merger to earn the honor. But when Ryan Tannehill throws an interception on his first pass of the game, his first of the second half, and his last of the season, it’s a scenario that starts making more sense.
The Bengals weren’t exactly offensive juggernauts but the final 32 seconds was a masterclass in clutch. A Logan Wilson interception. A 19-yard pass from Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase that set up the game-winning field goal. Evan McPherson nailing the 52-yarder. It’s on to the AFC Championship for Cincinnati.
Tom Brady’s future will now take centerstage after an ESPN report suggested the 44-year-old is mulling his future. Brady was non-committal when asked about his future following the Bucs’ loss to the Rams on Sunday: “I haven’t put a lot of thought into it. I’ll just take it day by day. And we’ll see.”
Bengals defensive tackle DJ Reader had a spectacular performance shutting down Derrick Henry and the Titans rushing game all day. When he wasn’t creating space for the linebackers, he was making tackles of his own. After the game, Reader spoke about a recurring theme for his team whose motto has been Why Not Us. “We’ve been getting slept on the whole year. It’s something we take pride for in this locker room. We take it as disrespect every time.”
When San Francisco beat the Rams in a Week 18 thriller, SoFi Stadium looked and sounded like a 49ers home game. The Rams are trying to prevent a repeat in the NFC Championship game by restricting ticket sales. I’m sure no one will figure out a workaround.