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AP photo by Reed Hoffman / Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones celebrates during the second half of a 22-17 win against the Cleveland Browns in the divisonal round of the playoffs on Jan. 17. The Chiefs have shown a knack for coming out on top in one-possession games this season, including winning seven in a row from early November to late December.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs would be the first to tell you the final score is all that matters. All but twice this season, they've been on the right end of it.

The reigning NFL champions also would be the first to tell you the final score doesn't always tell the whole story. That much is evident in studying their results.

The Chiefs (16-2) won seven straight games by one possession, two clear of the previous NFL record, including one against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-5), their opponent Sunday at Super Bowl LV. CBS will televise the 6:30 p.m. game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

Yet not all of them were as close as critics want to believe. Four were two-score games with five minutes to go, and in most cases, Kansas City's offense was able to close things out without breaking much of a sweat.

"We won a lot of games this year off different guys making plays — offense, defense or special teams," Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens said. "I keep saying that. We find a way to win, and that's what good teams do."

It has been a process, though.

Kansas City has a chance to cap a season played amid a pandemic by becoming the eighth back-to-back Super Bowl champion and the first since the New England Patriots completed the feat in February 2005. However, it was just two seasons ago that the Chiefs lost 37-31 to the Patriots in the AFC title game, failing to stop New England in overtime and unable to give playmaking quarterback Patrick Mahomes and their own offense a chance with the football.

It was the latest in a series of late-game meltdowns that left critics wondering whether Kansas City and Andy Reid would ever get back to the big game, the Chiefs having gone half a century since their second Super Bowl appearance — and lone title — and Reid trying to end a drought that stretched back to his lone trip as a head coach, the Philadelphia Eagles' loss to the Patriots to cap the 2004 season.

Well, Reid and the Chiefs got there last season, and they did it while still struggling in one-score games. Kansas City rolled to a 12-4 record in the 2019 regular season but was just 5-4 in games decided by one possession. None of the Chiefs' games on their playoff march — except their rally past the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl — wound up being that close.

This season has been a different story entirely.

The Chiefs beat the Los Angeles Chargers 23-20 in Week 2. Then, starting with a game against Carolina in early November — when the Panthers missed a field-goal attempt that would have beaten Kansas City — the Chiefs rattled off seven close wins in a row. They pieced together a winning drive against the Las Vegas Raiders — who had beaten Kansas City 40-32 on Oct. 11 — then held on to enough of a big early lead to beat Tampa Bay.

They followed with wins over the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints. By the time they watched the Atlanta Falcons miss a 39-yard field-goal attempt to escape with a 17-14 win in Week 16, they had locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC and a first-round playoff bye. Kansas City's top starters sat out the inconsequential 38-21 loss to the Chargers to close the regular season.

"This team is definitely resilient," said backup quarterback Chad Henne, who took over when Mahomes sustained a concussion in the divisional round of the playoffs against the Cleveland Browns, then threw an audacious pass in the final minutes to convert on fourth down and allow Kansas City to run out the clock on a 22-17 victory.

"Down in some games in the fourth quarter, we come back to win, or the defense gets a big stop for us and we get the ball back with a chance to win as well. Definitely resilient. Those tough games and the best shot we got from every team is definitely going to help push us through."

Therein lies the upshot of all those close games: The Chiefs are never nervous when things get tense.

"We might not have been able to handle that with our 2018 team," Mahomes said of last month's playoff win over the Browns, "but we've been through that adversity. We've been through those battles."

To put in perspective the dominance Kansas City has shown in one-possession games, the Bucs were 3-3 in those situations during the regular season, including back-to-back losses to the Los Angeles Rams and the Chiefs by a field goal.

"In this league, you've just got to stay aggressive all the time. Teams are just too good," Reid said. "You have to do the best you can to score points and stop them. That's really what it comes down to. There's so much parity in this league, such a small margin between winning and — even during the regular season, you're not going to be using many four-corner stalls. That's not how you're going to roll."

 

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