It’s not always immediately apparent that you are watching one of the best games you’ve ever seen. Sometimes you need the benefit of hindsight or historical context in order to appreciate a game’s timelessness. This was not the case for anyone watching Sunday night’s divisional round game between the Chiefs and the Bills. By the time Gabriel Davis planted Mike Hughes into the turf and got himself open for a touchdown with 1:54 left to play in regulation, everyone watching must have understood that a legendary game was unfolding before them. Our mistake was thinking that it had shown all it had to show. There were still 25 points left to be scored.
Where do you even start with a game like this? I suppose the final score, 42-36 in favor of the Chiefs, is the place, but the result of such a game feels so much less important than everything that came before it (for those of use who don’t root for the Chiefs or Bills, anyway). What really mattered, what football fans will remember for years to come, are all the capital “M” moments with which this game was overflowing. They’ll remember the flurry of points scored between the two-minute warning and the end of overtime; they’ll remember Davis becoming the first wide receiver in history to catch four touchdowns in a playoff game; they’ll remember Tyreek Hill throwing up two as he sped by one last, desperate defender; they’ll remember Josh Allen throwing some of the most beautiful passes that have ever graced a football field, and Patrick Mahomes responding to each one in kind. God, there was just so much in this game. A 13-second drive to get into field-goal range! Travis Kelce’s walk-off touchdown! The look on Josh Allen’s face after that game-tying field goal sailed through the uprights! Everything was so perfectly paced and cinematic that even Andy Reid was able to come up with a quote worthy of a movie trailer:
(Briefly, a defense of the rules that saw this game end without the Bills ever getting the ball in overtime: The end to a game like this should be unsatisfying. A game has to end somehow, and the commencement of overtime should be acknowledged as an admission that not only are the two teams on the field an equal match, but that the original parameters of the game are insufficient for sorting out which side has the edge over the other. At that point, a resolution that more or less boils down to a coin flip is more just than one that would require the two teams to go on banging into each other and exchanging touchdowns until exhaustion or a mental error became the deciding factor.)
The best football games are the ones that break free from the shackles that the game so routinely and mercilessly places on the people who take part. You watch the Giants play the Eagles, and you come away from the experience convinced that not only is football the most difficult sport in the world, but that the people who play it (and watch it!) must do so only because they have some kind of humiliation fetish. But then a game like last night’s comes along, in which the confluence of talent and fortitude is so great that it’s the players who start dishing out punishment to the game itself. Football’s supposed to be complicated? Watch Allen and Mahomes make it simple with every scramble and flick of the wrist. Football’s supposed to punish your body? Watch Hill move so quickly that nobody will ever be able to touch him. Football’s supposed to crush your spirit? Watch Mahomes stare down a three-point deficit with 13 seconds left to play and come out a winner.
When people talk about this game a decade from now, they’ll talk about all those sublime moments that just kept piling up until what happened on the field became something greater than just a contest between two teams to see who gets to play again next week. They’ll remember this game not because of who won or lost, but because of who transcended.