Everything about that Bills-Chiefs game was jaw-dropping and spectacular, but nothing stretched the bounds of belief more than Patrick Mahomes’s complete warping of space and time on the final drive of regulation, with the Bills leading 36-33. Two passes for 44 yards and then a field goal, all in just 13 seconds, corrected the team’s obituary and helped send them to the AFC Championship Game for the fourth straight season. How is that even possible?
It started with a gift of 19 yards from the Buffalo defense, on a short pass from Mahomes to Tyreek Hill, as the Bills played things as conservatively they could. Aside from the four guys the Bills used to rush the QB, not a single defender stood within even 15 yards of the line of scrimmage on the drive’s first play, allowing a quick connection with Hill just five yards upfield. Then, with the aid of Hill’s speed and two well-placed wide receiver blockers out of the trips formation, the Chiefs were able to call timeout at their own 44, having expended just five seconds.
This is where Buffalo gave Kansas City’s offense exactly what they wanted. Not only did they come out in another prevent look that the Chiefs thought they could take advantage of, but the Bills then called timeout to allow the other side to talk about it. Travis Kelce, specifically, got the idea to go off-script and run right where the defense wasn’t going to be.
Something interesting happened as Kelce lined up, though. He noticed the defense ahead of him was backing off, so he could get a running start. It also took away the sideline throws, which left most of the middle open.
That information wasn’t going to help him much … until Buffalo used a timeout to make sure it was set defensively. It was then that Kelce went over to Mahomes and told him about what he saw.
“We got a look at what the defense was doing,” Mahomes said. “And he actually said, ‘Hey, if they do it again, I’m gonna take it right down the middle between both the guys guarding me.’”
So perfect was Kelce’s intuition that you could actually hear Mahomes shouting, “Do it, Kel! Do it! Do it!” on the game broadcast, right before the ball was snapped and the two combined for a legendary play. Nobody came near Kelce on the first 15 yards of his route, as he split two defenders in zone coverage, and by the time he caught the throw he had more than enough momentum to get down in field-goal range. That play took another five seconds, and the Chiefs called their second timeout. (Remember when Andy Reid couldn’t manage a clock to save his playoff life?)
It’s funny how, looking back on this extraordinarily difficult game situation, Mahomes makes it all look like destiny. The weaknesses in the Bills’ defense become so glaring only as soon as he exploits them. Why rush four guys when it would be to Buffalo’s benefit if Mahomes held the ball a little longer? Why not attempt to slow down the Chiefs’ receivers around the line of scrimmage, potentially costing them an extra second getting downfield? And why were the Bills content to play just 5-on-4 with their pass coverage around the field-goal range line, with a majority of their defenders either too close to Mahomes or too close to the end zone to be relevant to what the Chiefs were trying to do?
Watching this particular angle, over and over again, is the closest you’ll ever get to feeling like Patrick Mahomes. What he and Kelce noticed in real time, with the pressure of an entire season on their shoulders, becomes painfully obvious in looped slow-motion. Levi Wallace, the Bills cornerback, dooms his team by retreating toward the sideline, as if he thought the Chiefs didn’t have any timeouts. And though Mahomes is knocked down because of poor blocking just a moment after letting go of the ball, he had as wide a window as he needed to take advantage of that open space. Watching this GIF makes me want to reach through the screen, pick up Wallace, and shift him a few yards to his left. I can’t imagine what it’s like for a Bills fan.
Did the Bills make it too easy for Mahomes? Yeah, I guess they probably did. But Mahomes’s talent, and the weapons at his disposal, also make things easy. It’s pretty tough to sell myself on the idea that anything could have been effective against him when he’s playing like this. Even 13 seconds was more time than he needed.