The Chiefs looked destined for elimination with 13 seconds remaining in their AFC divisional round playoff game against the Bills.
Gabriel Davis had just scored his fourth touchdown of the night to give Buffalo a 36-33 lead. Kansas City would get the ball back, but there seemed to be no way the Chiefs could tie the game with 13 seconds left, even with three timeouts in the pocket.
But Patrick Mahomes helped get the job done. He moved the team 44 yards in just two 10-second plays to set up Harrison Butker’s game-tying 49-yard field goal. The last-gasp drive kept the Chiefs alive and allowed them to win 42-36 in overtime after they won the coin toss and scored a touchdown on the first possession of the extra frame.
The Kansas City faithful should thank Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce for the last-second improvisation that helped make the win possible.
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How Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce saved the Chiefs’ season
Mahomes and Kelce had the game-sealing touchdown, but their biggest play came during the 13-second drive at the end of regulation. The Chiefs had the ball at their own 44-yard line with eight seconds remaining and needed to get the ball into field goal range on the next play to avoid a low-probability Hail Mary on the final play of the contest.
That’s when Kelce recognized a hole in the Bills’ defense. Buffalo was playing soft coverage and almost a kind of pre-emptive look. The Bills were leaving the middle of the field open while protecting the sideline, which opened up a lot of room for Kelce to work.
Kelce was able to tell Mahomes about the hole he saw after the Bills took time out. The duo agreed that if it happened again, Kelce would strike out on his own, make his own route, and look to open up in the middle of the field and move downfield quickly.
“We took a look at what the defense was doing,” Mahomes said, by the Kansas City star. “And he actually said, ‘Hey, if they do it again, I’ll take it right in the middle between the two guys protecting me.'”
Buffalo showed the same look after the timeout. Mahomes then called the audible, giving Kelce permission to run his own route.
“Do it Kels! Do it! Do it Kels! Mahomes barked at his tight end, as can be heard below the commentary on the CBS broadcast.
The play obviously worked, as Kelce’s unorthodox route allowed him to break through immediately. Mahomes was able to get the ball off him quickly, which negated the effect of the oncoming Buffalo pressure. The play took just five seconds to execute from start to finish.
“It was just a little bit of backyard football with a couple seconds left,” Kelce said, “which gave us an opportunity to take the game into overtime.”
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Chiefs win probability against Bills in the last 13 seconds
When the Bills returned the ball to the Chiefs after their go-ahead touchdown, they had a 91 percent chance of winning. The Chiefs managed to change that quickly.
Here’s a rundown of how key events over the Chiefs’ past two seasons changed the team’s chance of victory.
Tyreek Hill catches 17-yard pass
The Chiefs had only one 9.5 percent chance of winning after his first pass with less than 13 seconds to go. Hill caught a short pass from Mahomes and turned it into a 17-yard gain with the Bills playing extremely soft coverage. The play took only five seconds to execute and Hill was able to go out of bounds to stop the clock.
Travis Kelce catches a 25-yard pass
Kelce’s catch represented a huge improvement in the Chiefs’ chance of victory. jumped from 9.5 percent to 33.7 percent after the 25-yard reception. That 24.2 percent change represented one of the biggest changes in the probability of winning during the game.
Harrison Butker field goal
The Chiefs had to make a 49-yard field goal to send the game into overtime. He was able to do that, despite missing a shorter field goal and an extra point earlier in the contest, and that tied the game as regulation time expired. That made the Chiefs’ probability of victory 50 percent.
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Bosses win coin toss
For those wondering, ESPN’s probability of victory metric was not affected by the Chiefs winning the coin toss in overtime. In fact, after the Bills kicked a touchback to start overtime, the Chiefs’ odds of victory dropped to 49.9 percent. That represented the last time the Bills were favorites to win Sunday night’s game.
However, NFL data analyst Michael Lopez estimates that the Chiefs’ probability of victory after the coin toss actually improved to 62.5 percent, by Gambletron time stamps. That probably better reflects the advantage of Kansas City winning the coin toss, especially since teams that win the coin toss in overtime are 10-1 in the playoffs since 2011.
Mecole Hardman creates a first-and-goal opportunity
Hardman caught a pass on the penultimate play of the game and turned it into a 26-yard gain. That moved the Chiefs from the Bills’ 34-yard line to the eight-yard line and set up a first-and-goal opportunity. Changed the Chiefs’ probability of victory from 68 percent to 90.1 percent, marking a 22.1 percent change, the second largest after the 13-second mark in regulation.
Kelce’s game-winning touchdown
On the final play of the game, Kelce caught the game-winning touchdown, which obviously gave the Chiefs 100 percent probability of winning.
That completed the 91 percent swing in just 4:28 of playing time and capped off a wild end to the game, as you can see in the complete win probability chart below.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.