Chiefs advance to 6th straight AFC title game after another classic with Bills
Jan 21, 2024, 8:01 PM | Updated: 8:20 pm
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Travis Kelce caught two touchdown passes from Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs advanced to their sixth straight AFC championship game with a 27-24 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night.
Isiah Pacheco scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 4-yard run 40 seconds into the fourth quarter in a game during which the teams traded leads five times. The Chiefs clinched the win by running out the clock after Buffalo’s Tyler Bass was wide right on a 44-yard field goal attempt with 1:43 remaining.
The defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs (13-6) move on to Baltimore to face Lamar Jackson and the conference’s top-seeded Ravens, who beat Houston 34-10 on Saturday.
Kansas City is 0-1 in the playoffs against the Ravens, following a 30-7 loss in the 2010 wild-card round. Baltimore defeated Kansas City 36-35 in their most recent regular-season matchup in Week 2 of the 2021 season.
“There’s no weakness there,” Mahomes said of the Ravens. “It’s going to take our best effort. Defense, offense, special teams, they do it all. It’s always a great challenge and that stadium’s going to be rocking, so we’re excited for the challenge.”
Buffalo and Kansas City traded unlikely turnovers, with the Bills (12-7) failing to convert on a fake punt when Damar Hamlin was stopped for 2 yards on a fourth-and-five at Buffalo’s 32. The Chiefs then gave the ball right back two plays later when Mecole Hardman lost a fumble into the end zone for a touchback.
The game wasn’t decided until the Bills’ final drive stalled at the Chiefs 26 when Allen threw a pair of incompletions, leading to Bass’ miss. It came a week after he had a field-goal attempt blocked and also missed from 27 yards in a 31-17 win over Pittsburgh.
“I wish he wouldn’t have been put in that situation,” Allen said. “You win as a team, you lose as a team. One play doesn’t define a game.”
Kansas City has never lost in the divisional round since Mahomes took over as starter in 2018, and the Chiefs have now won five consecutive playoff games since a 27-24 overtime loss to Cincinnati in the AFC championship game during the 2021 season.
Mahomes, a two-time NFL MVP, can also check off another first on his record by winning his first road start in the playoffs — not counting Super Bowls — and improving his postseason mark to 13-3.
“First of all, this is a great environment, man,” Mahomes said of Buffalo. “It really is. We did hear it all week, man, about playing a road game, and we’re here to prove a point and show that we can play anywhere.”
The Bills had their third consecutive postseason end in the divisional round, following losses to Cincinnati last year and the Chiefs in 2021. And the Chiefs ended Buffalo’s season for the third time in four years, including a 38-24 decision at Kansas City in the AFC championship game in the 2020 season.
It was another disappointing finish for a Bills team that won its fourth consecutive AFC East title, and was on a six-game roll since a 20-17 win at Kansas City on Dec. 10.
Mahomes finished 17 of 23 for 215 yards and the two TD passes to Kelce were the 15th and 16th times they’ve combined for scores in the playoffs, one more than Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski for the NFL record for most for a quarterback-receiver combination.
Kelce celebrated his first touchdown catch — a 22-yarder — by making a heart gesture with his hands and directed it at girlfriend and pop music superstar Taylor Swift, who was sitting in a suite at the opposite end of the field.
Also on hand was Kelce’s brother, Jason, the Eagles center who told teammates in confidence after Philadelphia’s playoff loss to Tampa Bay last week that he’s retiring after 13 seasons. Jason Kelce celebrated the touchdown shirtless while holding a can of beer.
Buffalo’s Josh Allen finished 26 of 39 for 186 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for two scores. Allen finished with a team-leading 72 yards rushing to increase his career playoff total to 563, the second most among NFL quarterbacks in league history and trailing only Steve Young (594).
Buffalo scored on four of its first five possessions, with Allen’s 13-yard TD pass to Khalil Shakir putting the Bills up 24-20 with 3:23 left in the third quarter.
The Chiefs scored on five of their first six possessions, including a kneeldown to end the first half. Pacheco’s touchdown capped an eight-play 75-yard drive.