Notes From A Crumbling NFL Empire: Part XVI

Kansas City Chiefs 42, Buffalo Bills 36

Charlie Riedel, AP

I watched the whole game with my two brothers, something that has turned into a tradition of ours during the playoffs over these last four years. We were together to watch the Chiefs lose to the Patriots in overtime of the 2018 AFC Championship Game; we were together to watch the Chiefs beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl in 2019; we were together to watch the Chiefs lose to the Bucs in the Super Bowl last year.

I was pacing around our living room when Buffalo QB Josh Allen heaved a laser beam touchdown to WR Gabriel Davis, who with that catch set an NFL postseason record with his fourth TD reception. That score put the Bills ahead 36-33, and at the time there were just 13 seconds left in the game. Devastated, I calmly opened the sliding door leading out to the backyard, lit a cigarette and finished off what was left of my fourth beer. I just needed a moment to myself.

The game was over, and on the back patio I searched for the best way of taking this Chiefs loss as well as I could. Long ago I traded in my childhood outbursts; it’s been like 20 years since I’ve slammed doors or thrown all my clothes in the trashcan. I lean in the complete opposite direction nowadays. I just don’t want anyone talking to me. I’ll be quiet, and I’ll be good, so long as I can get a few minutes to myself.

But inside I still feel the same way. The feeling of being a kid and getting betrayed by my favorite sports teams, in the biggest moments of the biggest games, has never left. I still want to slam doors. I still want to cry. I just found, somewhere along the way, that that type of behavior is completely embarrassing and it’s not my style to let anybody or anything get the best of me.

And there were still 13 seconds left. I watched, about midway into my cigarette that was disappearing faster than usual to calm my obvious nerves, through the sliding glass door as the Buffalo Bills made their critical mistake: they opted to kick the ball through the end zone, giving the Chiefs the ball at their own 25 yard-line and taking no time off the clock. (The proper play in that situation would have been to pooch it inside the 10, and force the Chiefs to take a handful of seconds off the clock during the return.)

Patrick Mahomes proceeded to hit Tyreek Hill on a downfield screen pass, netting the Chiefs 19 yards while taking just five seconds off the clock. Timeout Kansas City. There were 8 seconds left, and the ball was on their 44 yard-line.

Then, the impossible happened. Mahomes drilled Travis Kelce on a seam route, and he carried it all the way to the Bills 31 yard-line. Timeout Chiefs. There were 3 seconds left. I panicked and put my cigarette out, came inside, and my brothers already knew the good news (because our Hulu stream was about 30 seconds behind): Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker nailed a 49-yard field goal to tie the game at 36-36, sending the game into overtime.

You could probably blame me for losing faith in my team, but what the fuck do you expect? In all my years watching football I have never seen a team go 50 yards down the field in two plays with just 13 seconds to work with. For all intents and purposes I was ready, and had already turned the page in my head, to give it up to Josh Allen and the Bills. They were the better team, I thought.

The game really game down to the overtime coin flip. Allen called tails, and it came up heads. Right there I was absolutely convinced that the Chiefs were going to win the football game. It was actually the same position Kansas City was in three years ago when they lost the AFC Championship Game in overtime against Tom Brady and the Patriots. New England won the coin toss, marched the ball down the field and scored a touchdown, winning the game 37-31. The Chiefs never got a chance to possess the ball.

This time around it was Mahomes who drove it down the field, and on a first-and-goal he threw it to Travis Kelce in the end zone, giving the Chiefs a 42-36 walk off victory. I celebrated in the living room with my brothers, hugging them both and telling them I love them. It was by far the best, coolest moment we’ve ever had watching sports together.

The game was full of crazy shit. Both quarterbacks — Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes — played like champions. The score was 26-21 Chiefs with less than two minutes left in the game. Buffalo scored (and got a 2-point conversation) to make it 29-26 with about 1:50 left on the clock; Mahomes then threw a 64-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill to make it 33-29 with about 1:00 left; Allen scored the go-ahead touchdown to Davis (that I mentioned earlier) with 17 seconds left; then Mahomes did what he did to send the game into overtime.

The emotional swings were almost too much to bear. Even when Mahomes found Hill with about a minute left, I knew instinctively that there was too much time left on the clock. When Allen subsequently did his magic, scoring what everyone thought was the game-winning touchdown, it felt like he deserved it. That’s why, even in my private moment outside, I couldn’t get terribly upset. I mean, I was. But at the same time I respect the hell out of the way Josh Allen played. And I figured, if all that is what it’s going to take to beat the Chiefs, so be it.

By this point — as I write this on Wednesday evening — I have probably watched the replay of the last two minutes of the game and overtime roughly a dozen times. It’s an all-time type of moment for me as a Chiefs fan, one that I will look back on as the greatest win I have ever witnessed. But it’s not going to mean nearly as much if Kansas City doesn’t win the Super Bowl this year.

The first roadblock comes by way of Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals, the other team involved in next Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. I would be lying if I said Burrow doesn’t scare me, and I’d also be lying if I said the Bengals don’t have a chance to win. He does, and they do.

But this is why I have said so often this year that it’s going to take something crazy for Patrick Mahomes to lose when the games matter the most. All the way back in the second installment of this series, on October 22nd, 2021, I opined that:

It is still a very young football season, and I don’t want to make any substantial proclamations about how it’s all going to end up. My gut feeling, however, tells me that the hunters — like Buffalo and Los Angeles — probably aren’t ready to beat Mahomes or Brady when all the chips are down. It makes for compelling television when the underdog comes out on top. But it’s usually the guys who are there every year, whose teams are conditioned to play the opposing team’s Super Bowl every week, that are still standing in the end.

Of all the nonsense, and absolutely utter fucking bullshit, I’ve used this platform to speculate about during the 2021 football season, what I said in that paragraph is by far the most prescient. Justin Herbert beat Patrick Mahomes in Week 3, 30-24, but it was Mahomes who won the rematch (which had the AFC West on the line). Josh Allen beat Patrick Mahomes in Week 5, 38-20, but it was Mahomes who won the rematch (which had a ticket to the AFC Championship on the line).

As a Chiefs fan, I’m not necessarily in love with a rematch against Joe Burrow — because I think Joe Burrow is really fucking good. I just have a feeling, given that the Bengals upset the Chiefs, 34-31 in Week 17, that it’s again going to be Mahomes who comes out on top. He’s a better player than Burrow is, the Chiefs are a better team than the Bengals, and Patrick Mahomes takes it personally — much like Tom Brady did before him — whenever a challenger comes along.

In other words, if history is any indication, Mahomes lets you have the small pots. He’ll let you win a majority of the poker hands. But when he’s playing the big pots — where division titles or Super Bowl appearances are at stake — he ain’t losing.

Despite a Super Bowl win two years ago, and despite playing in the AFC title game for a fourth consecutive year, I have never been prouder of having Patrick Mahomes as my quarterback as I am right now. He’s simply the best.

For so much of my life, having been a fan of Virginia Tech football, and the Texas Rangers, they have seemingly never won when it mattered the most. For the first time ever I have a guy, and a team, who wins those games. Who are capable of erasing 24-0 leads — like they did against the Texans in 2019. Who are capable of erasing a 20-10 deficit — like they did against the 49ers in the Super Bowl two years ago.

And yes, who are capable of using 13 seconds to travel 50 yards down the field to send a game into overtime against the Bills. Once Mahomes got there, he did what he had to do to win a football game.

I’m just so happy that he plays for my favorite team.

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