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Mahomes-led Chiefs outclass Bills, return to Super Bowl

Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs throws a pass against the Buffalo Bills during the AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 24, 2021 in Kansas City.
Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs throws a pass against the Buffalo Bills during the AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 24, 2021 in Kansas City.

Want to knock off Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs?

If you don’t have a defence that can force them to punt — even just occasionally — then you’d sure better have an offence that can keep pace for more than just a quarter or two.

The Buffalo Bills had neither on Sunday night at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium. Thus, the Chiefs won their second consecutive AFC championship game, 38-24.

It also greatly helps your cause against this K.C. powerhouse if you don’t settle for field goals inside its 10-yard line when the game’s within reach. But that’s what Bills head coach Sean McDermott opted to do twice — once just before halftime (when his team trailed 21-9) and once just after halftime (when it trailed 24-12).

The next time the Bills got the ball, late in the third quarter, they were behind 31-15.

That’s how a game gets away from you. You just cannot match the high-powered Chiefs, field goal for touchdown. It’s got to be touchdown for touchdown. And when they score a field goal, you’ve got to score a touchdown at least some of the time.

But scoring touchdowns suddenly became a life-and-death challenge for the Bills this month.

Over the final five weeks of the regular season, excluding victory formations or end-of-half truncations, the Bills scored TDs on 22 of 49 possessions, or 45% of the time. Buzz-saw.

But after scoring touchdowns on three of their first seven possessions against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC wild-card playoff round two weeks ago, the Bills offence dried up.

It really did.

The NFL’s second-highest scoring team in the regular season (31.3 points per game) scored but three touchdowns in their last 20 offensive possessions to end the season. And one of those was a three-yard drive in the first quarter Sunday, following a fumbled punt by Kansas City’s Mecole Hardman inside his five. And another TD came in Sunday’s garbage time.

Buffalo’s 23-points-per-game playoff average this month was bolstered by a defensive touchdown last weekend against Baltimore, and the near special-teams score Sunday. K.C.’s punt-return gaffe, and subsequent three-yard TD pass from Josh Allen to tight end Dawson Knox, gave Buffalo a short-lived 9-0 lead.

But much as in most other playoff games over the past three seasons, the notoriously slow-starting Chiefs soon caught fire and dominated the game to its conclusion. In the second and third quarters they outscored the Bills 31-6.

“We’ve got the Lamar Hunt Trophy back in Kansas City,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid told the 16,993 on hand over the PA system afterward, in reference to the hardware that goes to the AFC champion, named after the Chiefs’ founding owner.

“And now we’ve got to go get the big one.”

Chiefs defensive banks mostly blanketed Buffalo’s all-pro wide receiver Stefon Diggs, whose added presence this season went so far to help Allen improve from an often over-matched ham-and-egger in his first two NFL seasons, to a worthy MVP candidate this season. Diggs caught two first-half passes for just 12 yards.

With Diggs so often well-covered, or double-covered, or both, Allen hesitated in the pocket way too often on Sunday, and way more than we’d seen him do in any game this season. He was sacked four times for 53 yards in losses, and was hit 10 times.

Do give credit to McDermott’s Bills, however. They didn’t quit. Trailing 38-15 with under eight minutes left, Allen led the Bills against soft coverage to one touchdown, to pull within 38-21. (McDermott inexplicably opted to go for two, which was unsuccessful, leaving them three scores behind, rather than kicking the single to pull within 16 points and two scores.)

Then, after a rare recovery of an onside kick — the NFL’s first since October — the Bills’ Tyler Bass drilled a 51-yard field goal to narrow the deficit to 38-24 with 3:14 left.

Again with the field goal.

But the Chiefs recovered the ensuing Buffalo onside kick, and ran out the clock.

Kansas City punted just once.

“They were the better team tonight,” McDermott said. “The Buffalo Bills will be back.

“This is a learning experience … We didn’t play our best game, we didn’t coach our best game. We’ll be back. We’ve been on a great climb.”

Mahomes, who doesn’t turn 26 until September, reportedly was not at top health for this game — not because of any known effects of the concussion he suffered seven days earlier against Cleveland, but because of the injury to his big left toe he suffered early against the Browns. It’s a turf-toe injury.

Pregame reports said Mahomes knows he must undergo post-season surgery to fix it.

But you’d have had to look awfully hard to notice any limitations in Mahomes play, especially after the game’s first 10 minutes or so.

By halftime, the 2018 league MVP and last year’s Super Bowl MVP had completed all but six of his 23 throws for 173 yards, for one touchdown.

He finished 29-of-38 for 325 yards, three TDs and no interceptions.

So it’s back to the big dance for Mahomes and the Chiefs, who are one win from becoming the NFL’s first back-to-back Super Bowl champions since New England in 2003-04.

“The job’s not finished,” Mahomes said. “We’re going to Tampa and we’re going to try to run it back.”

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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021

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