The winning quarterback shook his head. He smiled a weary smile. He knew what he’d just done. He knew what he’d just seen. He understood what he’d just taken part in. Mostly, he looked across the field at Arrowhead Stadium and saw the losing quarterback.
“Josh,” Patrick Mahomes said, “played his ass off.”
The losing quarterback shook his head, too, but there were no smiles. Maybe in a week, maybe in a month, maybe years from now he’ll look back and be able so grin. Not now. Not yet. He scanned the field, at the gathering madness. He shook hands with the winning quarterback, exchanged hugs and good wishes.
“Pat was amazing,” Josh Allen said. “He really was.”
They both were. They were extraordinary. They were remarkable. They gave us what has to be the greatest, grandest display of back-and-forth quarterbacking in a big game that anyone has ever seen. The Chiefs won the game 42-36 in overtime, and will play a fourth straight AFC Championship game at home, at Arrowhead, next week against Cincinnati.
The Bills lost, and will spend the offseason wondering how. They will certainly spend next weekend scattered to the wind, watching or ignoring that title game, knowing they should be the ones playing the Bengals at their big, old stadium in the Buffalo suburbs.
“We ended up on the wrong side of one of the best games in NFL history,” Mitch Morse said. He centers for Allen in Buffalo now. He used to do that for Mahomes. Nobody better understood what had just happened than Morse.
“Incredible,” he said. “Just … incredible.”
It was every bit of that. The game, as a whole, was an epic. The 5 minutes and 28 seconds after the two-minute warning were something even beyond that, football elevated to art, elevated to majesty, Mahomes and Allen throwing haymaker after haymaker at each other, fighting, as all great heavyweights do, for the championship of each other, in addition for the right to buy another week of season.
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Twice, Allen had to assume he’d delivered one of the signature moments in Bills history, once on fourth-and-the-season, just under two minutes left, a 27-yard scoring strike to Gabriel Davis, then another 19-yarder to Davis, 13 seconds from the final gun. Against any other team, any other quarterback, Allen isn’t just the toast of Orchard Park this morning but of the entire NFL.
But against the Chiefs, against Mahomes, he would wind up merely a foil, a co-star, a sidekick. It wasn’t enough that the Chiefs regained the lead with a 52-second drive; somehow, after that second Allen-to-Davis strike, with only 13 seconds to go, Mahomes completed two balls for 44 yards, setting up a game-tying field goal.
“We played about as well as you can play,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said.
“We feel like we just played in one of the great games you could ever play in,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.
Think about it: After the two-minute warning these quarterbacks combined for 221 yards and three touchdowns. This was as close as football can ever come to a game of H-O-R-S-E. This was anything-you-can-do, I-can-do-better taken to an unprecedented place. Most remarkable of all, as hyped and ballyhooed as this quarterback matchup was coming in, they managed to exceed all of it.
The winning quarterback said, “I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.”
The losing quarterback said, “They made one more play than we did.”
The winning quarterback threw for 378 yards, had three TDs passing, another rushing, and probably set the gold standard forevermore at “13 seconds” for joking a team has left a quarterback “too much time.” He is 26 years old.
The losing quarterback threw for 329 yards and four touchdowns, and looked like he’d throw for as many more as he had to if only he could have touched the ball in overtime. But he never did. He is 25 years old.
They will be back. They will be back plenty, in more big games, in more big moments. They may never duplicate what they did Sunday afternoon … but, then, would it surprise you if they did? Good for us, who marveled at an afternoon for the ages. Good luck to the rest of the AFC, trying to keep this from becoming a regular part of the January itinerary