ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Bills are one win away from the Super Bowl, and the team standing in their way is the defending champions.
Buffalo will face off against the Kansas City Chiefs at 6:40 p.m. in the AFC Championship.
For the Chiefs, it’s the third straight year of hosting the conference title game. For the Bills, it’s the first AFC Championship appearance since 1994 (which was a 30-13 win against the Chiefs).
Buffalo Bills (15-3, 6-2 Away) at Kansas City Chiefs (16-1, 7-2 Home)
Date: Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021
Time: 6:40 p.m. EST
Venue: Arrowhead Stadium — Kansas City, MO.
Coverage: News 8 WROC/CBS
Moneyline: BUF: (+150) |KC (-170)
Spread: BUF: +3 (EVEN) |KC -3 (-120)
Total: 54.5 — Under: (-110) |Over (-110)
Tale of the tape
Yards/play: BUF: 6.1 (6th) |KC: 6.3 (2nd)
Yards/rush: BUF: 4.2 (19th) | KC: 4.5 (11th)
Yards/pass: BUF: 8.0 (4th) |KC: 7.9 (6th)
Points/game: BUF: 31.3 (2nd) |KC: 29.6 (6th)
Third down conversions: BUF: 49.7% (1st) |KC: 49.0 (3rd)
Red Zone TD percentage: BUF: 61.8% (13th) |KC: 61.0 (14th)
Turnovers allowed: BUF: 22 (20th) |KC: 16 (4th)
Yards/play: BUF: 5.5 (12th) |KC: 5.6 (18th)
Yards/rush: BUF: 4.6 (22nd) |KC: 4.5 (16th)
Yards/pass: BUF: 6.9 (8th) |KC: 7.1 (12th)
Points/game: BUF: 23.4 (16th) |KC: 22.6 (10th)
Third down conversions: BUF: 39.8% (13th) |KC: 41.0% (17th)
Red Zone TD percentage: BUF: 65.6% (28th) |KC: 76.6 % (32nd)
Turnovers forced: BUF: 26 (3rd) |KC: 22 (10th)
The teams faced each other earlier this year, a game the Chiefs won 26-17 in Orchard Park. Although the final score was relatively close, the Chiefs won nearly every major statistical category, with more first downs (27-20), passing yards (221-122), rushing yards (245-84), and time of possession (37:45-22:15).
Since then, the Bills are 11-1, and a Hail Mary pass away from being undefeated since that mid-October contest.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was cleared Friday from the league’s concussion protocol after his third consecutive day of practice and will be under center when Kansas City plays the Buffalo Bills in the AFC championship game.
Mahomes was hurt in the third quarter of the Chiefs’ divisional-round win over Cleveland. He returned to take the majority of snaps in a light workout Wednesday, then did the same during the longest practice of the week Thursday, before team doctors and an independent neurologist gave him the green light following Friday’s workout.
“The week has been a bunch of testing, a bunch of different things, to make sure I’m good to go and there’s no lingering effects and things like that,” Mahomes said. “Everything has been good. I went through everything; three or four different doctors have said everything is looking good.”
The reigning Super Bowl MVP was hurt when he was tackled around the head by Browns linebacker Mack Wilson while running a quarterback option. It never appeared that Mahomes hit his head on the turf — and if he did, it was not the kind of impact that usually leads to a concussion — raising the possibility that he had actually compressed a nerve.
Either way, Mahomes immediately showed the symptoms of a concussion. He remained on the turf for a couple of minutes, then nearly collapsed when he got to his feet. He was still wobbly as trainers helped him to the sideline and into the blue injury tent, though he looked more steady when he ran into the locker room a few minutes later.
The Chiefs wasted little time ruling Mahomes out, though. Chad Henne wound up finishing off the 22-17 victory.
“We had an option play called we ran a little earlier,” Mahomes recalled Friday, “and I ran out to the right. I got hit. I tried to get up, felt my legs go out and knew that wasn’t a good thing.”
Still, Mahomes had enough wits about him to tell the trainers to let him remain on the turf so that Henne would have a chance to warm up — “because I knew we were going to go for it on fourth down,” Mahomes said.
“You want to be out there, but you have to go through the protocol and do everything the right way. You have to look at everything long term as much as short term,” said Mahomes, who signed a 10-year contract in the offseason that could pay him close to a half-billion dollars over the course of the deal. “We have the belief there will be no lingering effects and I’ll be able to go out there and be myself and be who I am every single week.”
Mahomes was second in the NFL with 4,740 yards passing this season, despite skipping the regular-season finale with the Chiefs already assured of the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. The long layoff between Week 16 and last Sunday wasn’t a problem, either, as Mahomes threw for 255 yards with TDs running and passing before he was hurt.
He has 15 touchdowns, including three on the ground, without an interception in five postseason starts at home.
“I mean, he’s flying around as much as he can,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. “I know that guy is a tough son-of-a-gun, and he’s going to go out there and try to get ready the way he knows how, which is take every rep as if it’s a game rep. And his attention to detail, his preparation throughout the week, that hasn’t changed. Just him playing within the guidelines he was given knowing he’s in the concussion protocol.”
Mahomes also does not appear to be bothered by a toe injury he picked up against Cleveland. He acknowledged it was sore on Monday, but it has gotten progressively better throughout the week.
His injury status doesn’t just provide some clarity for the Chiefs, who otherwise would have started Henne with Matt Moore as the backup. It also provides some for oddsmakers and the gambling public. The opening line Sunday night varied widely depending on the sportsbook, with those confident Mahomes would play listing Kansas City as a 4-point favorite and those thinking he might not play giving the Bills a 2 1/2-point advantage.
The line had settled on the Chiefs as 3-point favorites by Friday afternoon.
NOTES: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (high-ankle sprain) also practice for the third straight day and appears likely to play for the first time since Week 15. CB Bashaud Breeland (concussion) is also likely to be cleared to play. … LB Willie Gay Jr. (high-ankle sprain) and RB Le’Veon Bell (swollen knee) were the only players that did not practice Friday.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WROC) — If an All-Pro wide receiver got zero catches and just two targets in a playoff game, you might think there would be some drama.
Not with the Buffalo Bills.
Against the Ravens, second-team All-Pro wideout Cole Beasley had that very stat line. The week before, he led the team with seven catches. But it didn’t bother him one bit.
“It doesn’t matter where it comes from. I don’t care if I have zero catches or 100, I’m going to give it my all and I’m going to do what I got to do to help us win,” said Beasley. “I don’t care how we have to do it. It’s not the most important thing, the most important thing is giving your all every play and doing the best you can.”
That’s the attitude that Sean McDermott has preached throughout his time in Buffalo and the rest of Beasley’s teammates appreciate it.
“Him being the teammate that he is, he came up to me after the game and said ‘I’m going to continue to get open, but I’ll do anything for us to win, I don’t care who gets the credit’”, said Diggs.
And the Bills’ first-team All-Pro wide receiver? He has the same mindset.
“I told [Beasley] ‘I don’t care how many balls come my way, I’m just trying to make the plays,’” Diggs said. “I don’t care if Gabe [Davis] gets 100 balls or [John Brown] gets 100 balls. As long as we win, it doesn’t really matter. We don’t really know how it’s going to shake out week in and week out. But a guy like Cole Beasley, as far as being unselfish and being that team player, we’re all beating with the same heartbeat.”
Beasley should be healthier for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. He was not listed on the injury report after being limited in practice every day last week with a knee injury. But don’t think that Beasley didn’t leave his mark on the team’s win just because he wasn’t in the box score.
“You can’t control where the ball goes all the time. A lot of people don’t understand that you can make an impact on the game without catching the ball,” said Beasley. “They have to worry about me underneath either way. If they’re bringing more attention to me in some areas then that’s going to free someone up down the field. As long as we win I’m happy as hell.”
The entire wide receiver echoes that mentality and Diggs thinks it’s helped them succeed this season.
“When [Brown]’s coming up with those big plays or Gabe’s coming up with big plays, it’s more so guys getting behind you. No matter who’s getting the success we’re pushing those guys and we want them to eat some more,” said Diggs.
Diggs hasn’t had to worry about going hungry this season. He’s caught at least six passes each of his last 15 games. One more would set the NFL record.
He’ll get that chance in the AFC Championship game. But he’s more focused on playing one game after that than any stats he puts up on Sunday.
KANSAS CITY, M.O. (WROC) — The Bills played in front of 6,700 fans during their first two playoff games at home, and the fans made a difference.
Every player felt the energy of the crowd in Orchard Park, but now they have to prepare for a much larger, more hostile crowd.
Arrowhead Stadium will welcome 17,000 fans for the AFC Championship game. The stadium is known for its noise, and even at a lower capacity, the Bills are still ready for Chiefs fans to bring the heat.
“We’re preparing for it, but until you’re in that moment, you’re not really sure what to expect,” said Josh Allen.
Allen has never played a game in Kansas City, but has heard stories about how intense of a playing environment Arrowhead can be for quarterbacks especially.
“Everybody tells me the fans are right on top of you, and it’s going to get extremely loud with 17,000 people,” said Allen. “They’re an extremely energetic fanbase, and when they get things rolling, it’s super loud in there.”
Stefon Diggs has played in Arrowhead before at full capacity, and knows what that crowd noise can do in game. Admittedly, he feels fairly comfortable with the upcoming crowd noise because it affects quarterbacks and linemen more.
“I don’t anticipate it being a huge problem but if it is, we going to have to prepare the right way and adjust accordingly,” said Diggs. “I anticipate it being just as loud with all that fans that are there. It’s something we definitely look forward to and we’re just going to have to adjust on the fly.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WIVB) – Bills fans wanting the team to host the AFC Championship game this weekend had their hopes dashed when the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
As a result, the Chiefs will host the Bills this coming Sunday. A Chiefs spokesperson confirmed to News 4 about 17,000 fans would be let into Arrowhead Stadium, about 22% capacity, for the game.
Nick Giammusso, the president and CEO of Buffalo-based VIP Tix, says there are tickets available.
“Roughly, there’s a little over 1,000 tickets that are floating around in the secondary markets,” he said.
On Monday afternoon, the cheapest seats available cost mid-to-high three figures. But Giammusso noted a seat on the 50 yard line would cost about $2,250.
“I’m sure we’ll hear our fair share of boos,” said John Graziano, one of the Bills fans who will be in attendance. “But I have a good feeling that there is going to be a decent amount of Bills Mafia out there in the stands.”
Graziano plans to fly out Friday and return on Monday. He managed to save money on tickets, spending about $450, thanks to a friend with good foresight.
“One of my buddies bought them about three or four weeks ago, just hoping that the Bills would make it to this point versus the Chiefs,” Graziano said. “He actually bought them without asking me. He knew I would be in.”
Unlike games at Bills Stadium, fans sitting in the upper level, club level, or lower level of Arrowhead Stadium do not need to be tested for COVID-19 to get in. Tailgating is permitted in the parking lots as well, something that was prohibited at Bills games.
Travel could be tricky for Bills fans living in Western New York, however, because of the New York State travel advisory. The advisory requires travelers entering New York State to quarantine for 10 days. There is an exception for travelers who receive a COVID test within three days of their departure for New York. Those individuals would be required to quarantine for three days, and then be tested again for the coronavirus on the fourth day.
“For a trip out that most Buffalo fans would be thrilled to do and have been waiting for so long to do, that quarantine may or may not hold them back depending on what they’re able to do with their job,” said Renee Pilley, a travel consultant with AAA.
It won’t be an issue for Graziano.
“I’m working from home full-time, so I will be easily able to quarantine,” he said.
“I feel like there definitely has to be some risk with COVID and everything going on,” the North Tonawanda resident added. “But I’ve been a Bills fan for 30 years now and I don’t remember the first five years. So it’s been forever since I’ve seen them in the playoffs. I feel like it’s worth the risk and it’s going to be a once in a lifetime experience seeing the Bills potentially go on and play in the Super Bowl.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes had enough wits about him after a concussion knocked the star quarterback from the Kansas City Chiefs’ divisional-round playoff win over the Cleveland Browns to get a rather clever hashtag trending on Twitter.
“HenneThingIsPossible,” it read.
It was a reference to his backup, Chad Henne, who came on when Mahomes got hurt midway through the third quarter Sunday. Henne pulled off two edge-of-your seat plays in the closing minutes, scrambling for 13 yards on third-and-14 before a fourth-down completion to Tyreek Hill, which allowed the Chiefs to run out the clock and preserve a 22-17 victory.
Now, the question is whether Mahomes will be cleared to play the Buffalo Bills in the AFC title game next Sunday.
“He’s doing great right now, which is a real positive as we look at this. He passed all the deals he needed to pass and we’ll see where it goes from here,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after the game. “I just talked to him and he’s doing good. We’ll see how he is tomorrow, but right now he’s feeling good.”
Mahomes had been shredding the Browns most of the cold, windy afternoon. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 255 yards with touchdowns on the ground and through the air, helping the Chiefs take a 19-3 lead at halftime.
They still led 19-10 after Baker Mayfield’s touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry early in the third quarter, and were on the move again near midfield. But on third-and-1, the Chiefs decided to run an option play toward their sideline and Mahomes elected to keep the ball, ducking for the first-down yardage just as Browns linebacker Mack Wilson got him around the head.
Mahomes remained crumpled on the turf as about 17,000 fans sat in stunned silence.
When he tried getting to his feet, his leg buckled and Mahomes nearly went down again. It took the training staff to help him get to the blue tent on the sideline, and he emerged from that a few minutes later and jogged to the locker room.
In a matter of minutes, he had been ruled out with a concussion.
“You never want to say someone purposely tries to take you out of the game, but after the initial hit, they were fired up, saying, ‘That’s what we do. That’s what we do,'” said Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who could be seen heatedly discussing the play with Browns pass rusher Myles Garrett on a couple of occasions.
“I don’t ever want him to feel like my guys or my team is out there trying to injure someone or put them out the game,” Garrett explained. “We’re trying to put some bruises on you and we’re trying to hurt you, but we’re never trying to injure someone or take them out on purpose.”
Following the game, Wilson went on Twitter and sent his best wishes for Mahomes to return next week.
“All good brother!” Mahomes said.
Wilson also defended his reputation, claiming he’s “never been a dirty player in my life. I just try my best to play fast and make plays.”
Mayfield was also concerned about Mahomes.
“Those hits are scary,” he said. “You never want to see that, especially with obviously me being extremely familiar with Pat. Hopefully, he is OK.”
Mahomes already had been hobbling after he appeared to tweak his ankle early in the game.
“I think when anybody goes down the team tries their best to rally around that particular player,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Today was Patrick Mahomes. I think the whole stadium knew he was out of the game. But definitely, it was all about team. Any time you get some motivation to pull it through, you have to take advantage of those moments.”
Indeed, the Chiefs rallied around Henne, a 35-year-old journeyman, who was ready for the spotlight in part because he had played the entirety of their loss to the Chargers in Week 17. The Chiefs had locked up the No. 1 seed and first-round bye, so Reid elected to sit Mahomes and most of his starters for the otherwise meaningless game.
His appearance Sunday? There couldn’t have been much more meaning to it.
“I’m always a competitor,” said Henne, who threw an interception in the end zone but had enough gumption to flush the bad play for his memory, then make two spectacular ones when the Chiefs needed to put the game away.
“I felt confident,” Henne added. “There’s a lot of playmakers out there and just a great opportunity for me to make plays.”
The Chiefs also lost cornerback Bashaud Breeland to a concussion in the fourth quarter, while the Browns lost left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. to an ankle injury on their first offensive play and his backup, Kendall Lamm, to an elbow injury.
DALLAS (COVERS) — The wildest NFL season in history is down to its final four teams with betting lines for the AFC and NFC Championships hitting the board Sunday.
But just when you thought the 2020-21 campaign couldn’t get any nuttier, the best player in the league is a question mark for Championship Weekend. That could leave the odds for the AFC title game looking very different come Sunday.
Getting the best of the number is always the sharpest NFL betting strategy, especially when there are only two games on the board. These are our top NFL betting tips for the spreads and totals to bet now and which ones to bet later.
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (-2.5): Bet Now
Patrick Mahomes’ status for the AFC Championship Game has gamblers tuning into Kansas City sports talk radio, getting cozy with local beat reporters, and even following Mahomes’ fiance on Instagram. Anything to get that edge.
As of Sunday night, the chatter – at least from the medical expertise of Chiefs head coach Andy Reid – is that Mahomes is OK and “passed all the deals that he needed to pass.” Whatever the hell that means.
While that may not be an official medical thumbs up, it was enough to slide the opening spread of Kansas City -1 (which played ping pong between K.C. -1 and +1 for a few minutes) to -2.5 and -3, depending on the book.
The lookahead line for this potential matchup climbed as high as K.C. -5.5 at offshores shops after the Bills’ listless win over the Baltimore Ravens Saturday. And midway through the Browns-Chiefs game on Sunday, some Vegas shops were hanging an early spread of -4 before Mahomes left due to a concussion in the third quarter.
If you’re buying into the coach speak and early line moves and think Mahomes is back under center next Sunday, get this one now—especially under the key number of a field goal, although it will cost you as much as -125 juice. Or better yet, grab Kansas City moneyline as low as -150 and put your mind at ease when it comes to any spread movement between now and Sunday’s 6:40 p.m. ET kickoff.
If Mahomes gets the green light, expect this spread to go through a field goal and close somewhere close to -4, as Buffalo has looked far from dominant in its two playoff wins.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3.5) vs. Green Bay Packers: Bet Later
The Buccaneers pulled a Randy Orton and sent Drew Brees out to pasture (possibly) in the Divisional Round, forcing four turnovers and sticking that mighty New Orleans offense in mud in the second half.
Tampa Bay allowed only 190 passing yards and checked Brees to 19-of-34 passing with one touchdown to three interceptions. In fact, 56 of those total passing yards came on a TD bomb from Jameis Winston. Now, the Bucs’ fifth-ranked pass defense in DVOA at Football Outsiders turns its attention to Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bay was a 3-point favorite on the lookahead line before Sunday’s Divisional Round game and hit the board as official 3.5-point chalk on the opening line at most books (although the Superbook in Las Vegas opened Packers -4.5 and were instantly hit with Tampa action). With the forecast for Lambeau calling for classic Cheesehead weather, early money moved the juice on the Packers to -3.5 (-115) and some shops are already dealing -4.
If you’re not afraid of a little snow and are backing the Buccos in the NFC Championship, wait it out and see if you can get Brady & Co. at +4 or more.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Green Bay Packers (Under 52): Bet Now
The Packers take on another hard-hitting defense in the Buccaneers this Sunday after laying waste to the L.A. Rams’ vaunted stop unit in the Divisional Round. But it’s not just Tampa Bay that could be working against the points in the NFC Championship.
The extended forecast for Green Bay, Wisconsin is calling for snow and wind (gusts up to 24 mph) with temperatures in the low 20s (with a feels-like temp of 14 degrees) this Sunday. That could shorten the deep pass attacks of both of these explosive playbooks and force some miscues on offense.
The Packers and Bucs could lean on the run games more if the wind and visibility play a problem. And while Tom Brady is used to these bad weather games, his current offense isn’t. Tampa is a vertical route-running team that thrives on air yards (third in NFL in completed air yards) rather than short passes and yards after the catch – standard gears for slick, snowy surfaces.
The total hit the board as high as 52 points at some books while others led with 51.5. Given all the hype around the potential “Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field”, the Under could be the popular play out the gates. If you’re on board with a lower-scoring NFC title game, get ahead of that move now. But as always, keep an eye on the forecast as there’s an entire week for this mess to blow over.
Brady vs Rodgers, possibly Mahomes vs. Allen in title games
Tom Brady will take on Aaron Rodgers in a matchup of quarterback legends in the NFC title game.
The AFC championship could feature two of the top young QBs if Patrick Mahomes is healthy enough to start for Kansas City against Buffalo’s Josh Allen.
An enticing final four in the NFL was set up Sunday when Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the New Orleans Saints 30-20 after the Chiefs held on for a 22-17 win over Cleveland after Mahomes left with a concussion.
Backup Chad Henne converted a fourth-and-1 pass to Tyreek Hill to seal the win for Kansas City after Mahomes had been knocked out of the game.
“We’re one team. We’re one heartbeat. We play for one another and that’s really always the thought,” defensive back Tyrann Mathieu said. “Any time any of our teammates go down we always feel the need to kind of step it up a notch and take care of what we need to take care of.”
Coach Andy Reid’s gutsy call helped make sure the Chiefs would become the first team to host the AFC championship game for the third straight year. No AFC team has ever done that and the only one to do it in the NFC was Reid’s Philadelphia Eagles in the 2002-04 seasons.
Kansas City (15-2) will host the Buffalo Bills (15-3) next Sunday with a return trip to the Super Bowl on the line for the Chiefs. Kansas City won the regular-season matchup 26-17 in Buffalo in Week 6.
“Great team. Big-time quarterback. Playmakers all over the place,” Mathieu said of the Bills. “A really, really good defense, so we’re going to have our hands full next week.”
Mahomes’ status won’t be known until much later in the week. He threw a TD pass and ran for another score in the first half before getting hurt on a quarterback option midway through the third quarter.
Brady threw two TD passes and relied on his defense to make it to his 14th conference title game and first since joining Tampa Bay (13-5) in the offseason.
Brady will be the fourth quarterback to start in conference title games in both the NFC and AFC with his boyhood hero Joe Montana the most recent to do it.
The Bucs will visit Green Bay on Sunday to take on Rodgers and the Packers (14-3). Tampa Bay won the regular-season matchup 38-10 in Week 6.
“It’s great for our team,” Brady said. “We worked hard to get to this point. Two road playoff wins is pretty sweet.
“We’ve got to go beat a great football team we know pretty well. Aaron’s playing incredible, and we’re going to have to play great to beat them.”
Brady threw short TD passes to Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette, and ran for another score following three of the four turnovers by the Saints (13-5) as the Bucs avenged two regular-season losses to New Orleans.
Drew Brees threw three interceptions in what could be his final game before a possible retirement. This is the third straight season the Saints have been eliminated with a home playoff loss.
Kansas City raced out to a 19-3 halftime lead behind Mahomes and held on for the win thanks to Henne and the defense.
Mathieu intercepted Baker Mayfield in the third quarter and the Chiefs made a third-down stop late in the fourth quarter on Cleveland’s last drive.
Henne and the Chiefs then ran out the clock. Henne converted a third-down pass to Darrel Williams and then scrambled 13 yards on third-and-14 to set up the biggest play of the game with a little over a minute to play.
Instead of playing it safe and punting, Reid called a pass play and Henne completed a 5-yarder to Hill to ice the game.
The other key play came late in the first half when Cleveland receiver Rashard Higgins tried to stretch the ball over the goal line for a touchdown. Kansas City’s Daniel Sorensen delivered a hit, popping the ball loose and into the end zone for a touchback.
Aaron Rodgers threw two touchdown passes and also ran for a score as the top-seeded Green Bay Packers beat the Los Angeles Rams 32-18. The win sends Rodgers to his fifth NFC title game as starting quarterback and the first at home since taking over from Brett Favre in 2008.
Rodgers threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams and a game-clinching 58-yarder to Allen Lazard with 6:52 left for Green Bay (14-3). Rodgers also had a 1-yard touchdown run, the first by a Packers quarterback in a playoff game at Lambeau Field since Bart Starr’s winning sneak in the Ice Bowl against Dallas on Dec. 31, 1967.
Taron Johnson returned Lamar Jackson’s interception 101 yards for a touchdown to send the Buffalo Bills to their appearance in the AFC title game since the 1993 season with a 17-3 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
The interception return matched the longest in NFL playoff history and punctuated a stellar defensive outing in which Buffalo (15-3) limited the NFL’s top running offense to 150 yards on 32 carries.
Josh Allen threw a 3-yard TD pass to Stefon Diggs for Buffalo’s first touchdown.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — In what was supposed to be a showdown between Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, Taron Johnson literally stole the show.
If not for the wall separating the field from the stands in the back of the east end zone, the Bills cornerback might still be running after returning an interception 101 yards for a touchdown that propelled Buffalo to its first AFC championship game appearance in 27 years.
Johnson’s pick-6 of Jackson’s pass with 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter helped secure a 17-3 win over the Ravens in a divisional-round playoff game Saturday night.
“We’re excited. It’s not done yet, we’re not done yet,” Johnson exclaimed. “It’s just a blessing. Our defense stepped up to the challenge.”
Johnson’s return matched the longest in NFL history and punctuated a stellar defensive outing in which Buffalo (15-3) limited the NFL’s top running offense to 150 yards on 32 carries.
Jackson, last season’s NFL MVP, was sacked three times and did not return after sustaining a concussion following the final play of the third quarter, and two plays after Johnson scored. He finished 14 of 24 for 162 yards passing, while being limited to 42 yards rushing on nine carries.
Allen, an MVP candidate this year, finished 23 of 37 for 206 yards and a touchdown.
In a season in which the Bills relied mostly on their dynamic Allen-led offense to outscore opponents, the third-year quarterback was gratified to see Buffalo’s defense make a difference in a game the pass-happy attack was kept mostly in check.
“I can’t say enough words for what that game was for our defense,” Allen said. “Taron Johnson’s is a play that people are going to remember for a long time here in Buffalo, potentially a franchise-altering play.”
The Bills advanced to the AFC championship game for the first time since 1994 on their way to making — and losing — their four consecutive Super Bowl appearance. Buffalo also extended a season in which it has broken numerous droughts by claiming its first AFC East division title in 25 years and, with last week’s victory over Indianapolis, winning its first postseason game since the same year.
The Bills, have won eight straight to match their best streak since 1990 and will play the winner of the AFC’s other divisional playoff between Cleveland and Kansas City on Sunday.
The fifth-seeded Ravens (12-6) had their season come to an end after leading the NFL in yards rushing for a second consecutive year.
Baltimore clinched its third playoff berth in three years by winning its final five regular-season games. The winning streak came after a 1-4 skid capped by a 19-14 loss at Pittsburgh on Dec. 2 in a game rescheduled three times due to COVID-19 issues.
“It’s a sad moment, but this team has been through a lot,” tight end Mark Andrew said. “It’s tough right now, but teammates and coaches and camaraderie, it was a group of special guys that worked hard, came to work every day and didn’t take anything for granted. We’re going to hold our heads high and come back and work.”
Tied at 3 after the first half, the Bills took control in the third quarter.
Buffalo went ahead 10-3 on Allen’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs to cap an 11-play, 66-yard opening drive.
The Ravens threatened to answer on their next drive, which ended with Johnson’s interception. With Baltimore facing third-and-goal from the 9, Johnson jumped in front of the pass intended for Andrews and took off up the right sideline. He followed teammate Tre’Davious White, who made sure Jackson didn’t have an angle to push Johnson out of bounds.
Johnson, who also returned an interception for a score in a 26-15 win over Pittsburgh on Dec. 13, said he initially thought about going down after catching the ball, before seeing no one in front of him.
“I caught the ball and kind of looked down, but then I looked up and saw a whole bunch of green grass to that side of me,” he said. “At that point, there’s one person I have to beat. And that’s No. 8 (Jackson).”
Johnson’s interception return matched Packers defensive back George Teague’s INT return in Green Bay’s 28-24 win over Detroit in a wild-card playoff on Jan. 8, 1994.
Things turned worse for Baltimore two snaps later, when Jackson was forced out of the game.
Facing second-and-10 at Baltimore’s 25, center Patrick Mekari snapped the ball over Jackson’s head. The quarterback turned and chased the bouncing ball down inside the 5, turned and quickly threw it away as Tremaine Edmunds had him by the legs and Trent Murphy fell on top of him.
Jackson’s injury left Tyler Huntley to finish the game after being promoted off the practice squad.
“I’m not frustrated at all,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in announcing Jackson sustained a concussion. “The players are disappointed. It’s tough to lose a game. Our guys played like crazy, and if you don’t win the game you’re going to feel it.”
Gusting winds played havoc with the kickers.
Baltimore’s Justin Tucker, the NFL’s most accurate kicker, hit the left upright from 41 yards and the right upright from 46 yards, before hitting a 34-yard attempt. It was the first time he missed twice from inside 50 yards in the same game.
Buffalo rookie Tyler Bass missing two of three field goal attempts — a 43-yarder that was wide right in the second quarter and a 44-yarder that sailed wide left with 5:30 remaining.
PRACTICE SQUAD TO PLAYOFFS
Huntley, who had attempted just five passes in two appearances this season, finished 6 of 13 for 60 yards on three drives, the final two in which Baltimore turned the ball over on downs.
Ravens: Season over.
Bills: Advance to AFC championship game for first time since 1994, where they’ll face Cleveland or play Kansas City for a second time this season following a 26-17 loss to the Chiefs on Oct. 19.
After losing Mahomes, Chiefs and Henne hold off Browns 22-17
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs had lost Patrick Mahomes to a concussion and were in danger of losing the game.
Then their defense and Chad Henne — their defense and Chad Henne?! — along with a gutsy call by Andy Reid kept their hopes of a Super Bowl repeat alive, holding off the Cleveland Browns 22-17 on Sunday to advance to their third straight AFC championship game.
With their star quarterback reduced to a spectator, the oft-forgotten bunch opposite Mahomes’ high-powered offense forced the Browns to punt in the waning minutes. Then, his 35-year-old backup showed some moxie with a 13-yard third-down scramble and audacious fourth-down completion to Tyreek Hill — when go-for-broke Reid decided to go for it — that gave the Chiefs (15-2) a first down with just over a minute left and allowed them to run out the clock.
“That’s why we love Big Red. He’s always on time,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “He’s like our spirit warrior out here behind the scenes. He’s always trying stuff. We always knew he has one play on the table.”
Or, as Mahomes wrote on Twitter after the win: “#HenneThingIsPossible.”
“We go through all those Saturday night with the quarterbacks, those situations: ‘Fourth-and-1 to win the game, what do you want?’” said Reid, who never once thought about punting on fourth down. “My coaches were on board, they all did a great job with the spot, with the calls, everything — they were spot-on. It was a great job.”
Mahomes hadn’t played in 21 days, since the Chiefs clinched the AFC’s top seed in Week 16, but he hardly missed a beat before leaving midway through the third quarter. He finished 21 of 30 for 255 yards and a TD, and ran for another score.
Harrison Butker added three field goals for the Chiefs, who nearly blew a 19-3 lead but survived to become the first AFC team to host three consecutive conference title games. They’ll face the Buffalo Bills next Sunday.
“It stings,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “We came here to win and didn’t get the job done. There is a finality to that.”
Baker Mayfield threw for 204 yards with a touchdown and a pick for the Browns (12-6), who were coming off their first playoff win since the 1994 season. But their inability to drive for the winning touchdown — they punted with 4:23 left in the game — and defensive letdown kept them from winning two playoff games in a season for the first time since 1950.
“It came down to us on defense and we let it slip,” Browns pass rusher Myles Garrett said. “We had two opportunities. We didn’t make it happen. It was right in front of us and we just — this time we didn’t get it done.”
Mahomes completed 11 of his first 12 passes and led the Chiefs to back-to-back touchdowns to start the game. He ran for the first and let Travis Kelce turn a dump-off into a 20-yard catch for the other, making him the first player since the 49ers’ Steve Young in 1995 with three straight playoff games with TDs on the ground and through the air.
In fact, Mahomes was so sharp passing in the first half that he even completed a celebratory heave to a lucky fan in the far reaches of Arrowhead Stadium’s upper deck following his touchdown jaunt.
After the teams swapped field goals, with Butker breaking the Chiefs playoff record with a 50-yarder into the wind, the Browns marched for what could have been a momentum-swinging score heading into halftime. But just when Rashard Higgins tried to stretch over the goal line, the Chiefs’ Daniel Sorensen arrived to deliver a hit, popping the ball into the end zone for a touchback — the call stood after a video review.
The entire complexion of the game changed early in the third quarter, though.
First, the Browns held the Chiefs when Mayfield threw an interception and Butker missed a field goal. Then, Mayfield led them briskly the other way, capping a 77-yard drive with a TD throw to Jarvis Landry. And finally, roughly 17,000 fans allowed in the stadium due to pandemic were left sitting in stunned silence when Mahomes was tackled around the head with 7:27 left in the quarter and left crumpled on the turf near midfield.
Mahomes, already hobbled by a foot injury, stumbled as he tried to get to his feet. He was eventually helped to the blue tent on the sideline, then ran to the locker room, where he was evaluated for a concussion.
“It kind of knocked the wind out of him and everything else,” Reid said after the game. “He’s doing great right now, which is a real positive as we look at this. He passed all the deals he needed to pass and we’ll see where it goes from here.”
The momentum finally turned, the Browns began to lean heavily on their vaunted run game, which had produced just 18 yards in the first half. Nick Chubb converted on fourth down with a hard run, then Hunt followed another fourth-down conversion on the same drive by hitting the end zone against his former team to make it 22-17 with 11:07 to go.
It remained with Cleveland when Karl Joseph picked off Henne in the end zone a few minutes later, but the Chiefs stuffed Chubb on first down, forced an incompletion and ultimately made Cleveland punt.
Henne’s gutsy scramble and Reid’s equally daring fourth-down call kept the Browns from having another chance.
“It’s a little different when your quarterback goes down, someone so important to your offense and your team,” Kelce said, “but you have to throw it all into the same bucket of, ‘When adversity hits, what are you going to do? Where does your mind go? Where do we go from here as a team?’ We rallied around Chad, gave him some confidence, knowing we were out there making plays every single snap, just like if Pat was out there.”
BACK ON THE FIELD
Stefanski made his playoff head coaching debut after missing last week’s game in Pittsburgh because of COVID-19. Pro Bowl OL Joel Bitonio and CBs Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson also were back from their illnesses.
Browns: LT Jedrick Wills Jr. left with an ankle injury on their first offensive play. His backup, Kendall Lamm, left with an elbow injury, forcing Blake Hance to make his second NFL appearance.
Chiefs: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle) was inactive after returning to practice this week for the first time since mid-December. CB Bashaud Breeland left in the fourth quarter with a concussion.
The Chiefs begin preparing for the Bills next Sunday. They beat them 26-17 in Buffalo in Week 6.