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The NFL’s Present and Future Were on Display in the Chiefs-Bills Playoff Classic

Josh Allen was unstoppable, but Patrick Mahomes had the ball last. Kansas City and Buffalo’s overtime thriller was the final game in an epic divisional-round weekend.

AP Images/Ringer illustration

CBS wanted its viewing audience to know during the Bills-Chiefs broadcast that the teams’ respective quarterbacks, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes, represent the present and future of the NFL. If that’s the case—and it almost certainly is—then I might have to retire from covering professional football. Because even at the age of 29, I don’t think my heart will be able to take many more games like the 42-36 overtime win for Kansas City we witnessed on Sunday night.

The Bills should have won this game. With 8:55 left on the clock, Buffalo began a masterful 17-play, 75-yard drive that ended with this 27-yard score to Gabriel Davis on a do-or-die fourth-and-13:

That score, followed by a successful two-point conversion pass to Stefon Diggs, put the Bills up by three. Buffalo was clearly trying to burn clock on this drive, as they called seven run plays, something almost unheard of for one of the pass-happiest teams in the league. But of course, leaving Patrick Mahomes 1:54 remaining and all of his timeouts is a death sentence, and the Chiefs quickly did this:

In fact, it was too quick. The Chiefs ran just five plays and burned less than a minute off the clock on their go-ahead drive, and leaving Josh Allen 1:02 left and all of his timeouts facing a four-point deficit is also a death sentence. The Bills responded with a six-play, 75-yard drive, which featured completions to Davis of 28 yards, 12 yards, and the go-ahead 19-yard score:

Now, giving the ball back to Mahomes with 13 seconds left should not be a death sentence. Even with Kansas City still in possession of all their timeouts, the Bills just needed to squib the opening kickoff to burn some more time off the clock and get themselves to within seconds of the right to host the AFC championship game. Instead, kicker Tyler Bass booted the ball into the end zone, giving the Chiefs the ball on their 25-yard line with the full 13 seconds—and all of their timeouts—available. Here, head coach Andy Reid had some words for Mahomes: “When it’s grim, be the grim reaper.”

Thirteen seconds is nothing in the NFL. If you recall, the Cowboys ran their last-minute surprise QB draw play with 14 seconds on the clock … and that play ended up taking so long that it ended their season. Yet the Chiefs were able to run two plays from scrimmage while still retaining time for a successful field-goal attempt to send the game to overtime.

Kansas City won the coin toss and elected to receive to start overtime, and Mahomes quickly went to work. He threw six passes on this drive, and all six were completed. Along with two short runs from Clyde Edwards-Helaire, it took the Chiefs eight plays to reach the end zone and punch their ticket to their fourth-straight AFC championship game:

This was an instant classic. It’s one of the greatest playoff games in history, capping what is surely the most exciting postseason week ever. All four of the divisional games came down to last-minute field goals; the underdog won in three of them. If the wild-card round was boring, the divisional round was football nirvana. The final few minutes of the Bills-Chiefs game were such a wild roller coaster that there’s no doubt more than a few people in Buffalo experienced nausea after the game:

And as Jim Nantz and Tony Romo noted more than once, this game was a glimpse at the future of the sport. Allen and Mahomes were both unstoppable. Allen completed 27 of 37 passes for 329 yards and four touchdowns while gaining 68 yards on the ground. He added a whopping 0.51 expected points per play. And Mahomes matched that performance, completing 33 of 44 passes for 378 yards and three touchdowns while adding 69 yards and a score on the ground. He also tallied 0.51 expected points per play. These two are primed to form the NFL’s next great quarterback rivalry, and these two teams will likely battle in the playoffs for many years to come.

There’s also the ripple effects that these QBs are already having on the league. Allen and Mahomes both entered the NFL as big-armed, athletic, tools-y prospects whom their respective franchises hoped to mold into football gods. That’s actually happened—and their success will no doubt influence teams to chase that type of quarterback in future NFL drafts.

This game could even help change the NFL rule book. There are already calls from fans to change the league’s overtime rules. Think back to the final few possessions for the Bills offense, and you’ll see the problem. Allen’s last throw in this game went for a touchdown. The Bills’ final two drives went for touchdowns. Allen never got a chance for a rebuttal after Travis Kelce’s overtime touchdown.

The argument for the current OT rules is, of course, that there are two sides to football, there are more players than just quarterbacks, and the Bills just needed to make a stop to give themselves a chance to win. They could have stopped Kansas City from going 44 yards in the final 13 seconds of regulation, or stopped the team from going 75 yards in overtime. Buffalo finished the regular season with the no. 1 overall defense by DVOA, and Mahomes cut through it like he was playing a high school’s junior varsity team.

But the counterpoint to the “just make a stop” argument is that while the Bills needed to make a stop, the Chiefs didn’t. The Kansas City defense had no answer for Allen or Buffalo’s offense, just like the Bills had no answer for Mahomes. Yet only one team got the benefit of having back-to-back possessions to win the game, and it was the one that simply lucked out with the coin toss to begin overtime. In total, the Chiefs ended the game with 11 possessions on offense while the Bills got only nine. And while the NFL overtime rules aren’t necessarily more unfair than the college game’s rules, not letting Allen possess the football one final time certainly wasn’t fun. For what it’s worth, Allen wasn’t complaining:

One way or the other, this game will shape the league for years to come. The Bills made defeating the Chiefs their mission this season; that will remain their mission as they head into the offseason. Allen-vs.-Mahomes is a matchup that fans should get used to in January. Other teams will try to emulate the success of these two squads. And if the NFL makes a change to the overtime rules in the next few years, it will surely be because of the outcome of this game, at least in part.

And finally, if Allen and Mahomes can deliver more games like this in future playoffs, it will lead to one other major ripple effect: a spike in blood pressure medication sales nationwide.