KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It took the Kansas City Chiefs five frustrating decades to make their second Super Bowl appearance. Now they're headed to the big game for the second straight year and trying to repeat as champions.
Showing no lingering effects from a concussion incurred just a week earlier, Patrick Mahomes sliced up the Buffalo Bills' secondary with ruthless efficiency as the Chiefs rolled to a 38-24 victory in the AFC championship game Sunday night. Mahomes threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns, with most of it to favorite targets Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.
Now the Chiefs will face a familiar foe: Tom Brady, from his days with the New England Patriots. Brady's new team is about to become the first to play a Super Bowl in its own stadium after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Green Bay Packers 31-26 earlier Sunday to win the NFC championship.
Super Bowl LV is Feb. 7 in Tampa, Florida, and while the Bucs (14-5) will be going for only their second NFL title in franchise history, Brady will be going for No. 7. The Chiefs beat the Bucs 27-24 on Nov. 29 in Tampa, and they won last year's Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers in Florida, doing so in suburban Miami.
The 6:30 p.m. game will be televised by CBS, and the Chiefs opened Sunday as 3 1/2-point favorites with an over-under of 57 1/2 by the Westgate Superbook and the Station Casinos chain.
Against the Bills (15-4), Kelce finished with 13 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and Hill added nine catches for 172 yards, becoming the first duo in NFL history with consecutive games of at least 100 receiving yards each in a single postseason.
"It was just trusting each other. The best thing about this team is we believe in each other," said Mahomes, who was also dealing with a toe injury. "But the job's not finished. We're going to Tampa; we're trying to run it back."
Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams added short touchdown runs for the Chiefs (16-2), who will try to become the eighth franchise and first team since the Brady-led Patriots in 2003-04 to hoist the Lombardi Trophy two straight seasons.
"So glad to get to do it again," said Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, whose father Lamar founded the franchise. "Thought a lot about my dad tonight, thought about my family and how excited my father would have been that we got to do it again in Arrowhead Stadium. That's what he would have liked the most about it."
Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen, who had his worst game of the season in a loss to the Chiefs on Oct. 19, again struggled against the blitzing Kansas City defense. He finished with 287 passing yards with two touchdowns and an interception, but a big chunk of his numbers came as the Bills tried to rally from a 38-15 deficit in the final minutes.
Their frustration boiled over with 3:19 to go, when Allen was getting sacked by Tanoh Kpassagnon. Alex Okafor finished off the tackle, and Allen pitched the ball in his face in resentment. Offensive linemen Jon Feliciano and Dion Dawkins rushed in and leveled Okafor, resulting in a flood of offsetting personal foul penalties.
"Obviously a lot of emotion," Allen said. "Any time you don't finish the season with a win, that's the type of emotion you're going to have. The way it ended doesn't sit right with me with how chippy and ticky-tack it got. I'm disappointed in myself. I let my emotions get to me there. That's not how you're supposed to play football."
It capped a bitter loss for the Bills, who had reached their first AFC title game since beating Kansas City at home on Jan. 1, 1994. They had won 11 of 12 since their loss to the Chiefs earlier this season — in fact, they hadn't trailed in the second half since Week 8 — and were riding a wave of confidence that this might finally be their championship year.
Instead, after finally conquering the Patriots in the AFC East Division, the Bills have a new roadblock to the Super Bowl.
"It stings to get this far," said Bills coach Sean McDermott, who once worked under Chiefs counterpart Andy Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles. "Sometimes the further you go, the harder it is to lose. It's a learning experience for us as an organization."
The Chiefs actually spotted the Bills a 9-0 lead, thanks in large part to Mecole Hardman's muffed punt inside their 5 that gifted Buffalo a touchdown. But the reigning champs were hardly rattled; the Chiefs, after all, rallied from double digits in each of their postseason wins last season, including the Super Bowl, when Mahomes was the MVP.
Mahomes and Kelce soon found their groove against the Bills, and the rest of the offense followed suit.
They surgically took apart Buffalo's defense on a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that ended with a short throw to Hardman — no hard feelings over that fumble. Then the Chiefs cruised 82 yards in just five plays, the big one Hardman's 50-yard end-around carry that set up Williams' touchdown tumble. Finally, they made it three scores in three possessions when Edwards-Helaire — in his first game back from an ankle injury — capped a 77-yard drive with a short plunge.
The only answer from Buffalo was Tyler Bass's chip-shot field goal that made it 21-12 at the break.
You don't beat Kansas City by kicking field goals from the 3-yard line, though. Or from the 9, where the Bills settled for another one to close within 24-15 late in the third quarter.
That became painfully clear on the ensuing drive. Mahomes hit Hill in stride, and the All-Pro wide receiver promptly made the Bills secondary look downright foolish. Weaving in and out of woebegone defenders, Hill was finally caught inside the 5-yard line after a 71-yard gain, ultimately setting up Kelce's short touchdown catch a few plays later.
"You watch him on film, you see what he's doing. It's like he's running at a different speed compared to everybody else," Bills safety Micah Hyde said. "And tonight, we saw firsthand for the second time. He's fast."
Any hopes the Bills had of a comeback were dashed when Rashad Fenton picked off a tipped pass deep in Kansas City territory. The Chiefs breezily marched the other direction, and Mahomes and Kelce kicked off the celebration of another trip to the Super Bowl when they connected for their second score of the game.
"I'm proud of these guys," said Reid, who moved into a tie with Joe Gibbs for fourth on the career list with his 17th playoff win. "They did a phenomenal job, and hats off to the Buffalo Bills and the great job they did all year, and most of all, listen, we have the Lamar Hunt Trophy back in Kansas City.
"Now we have to get the big one."