‘Be the Grim Reaper’: How Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes outlasted Bills, Josh Allen in battle of QB excellence
KANSAS CITY, Mo.— The Bills left just 13 seconds on the clock when they grasped a 3-point lead.
Patrick Mahomes needed no more.
“When it’s grim, be the Grim Reaper,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he told his quarterback as the fourth quarter waned. “ 'And go get it.’
“He did that. He made everyone around better, which he’s great at.”
Mahomes carried the Chiefs to their fourth straight AFC championship game in a 42-36 win Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium . He did so by demonstrating, yet again, his elite ability in all facets of quarterbacking. Rising to the highest caliber of his position was necessary in a game in which Bills quarterback Josh Allen similarly elevated his level of play to contribute his own 397 offensive yards, including 68 by ground, and four touchdowns with no turnovers.
Allen was spectacular, and then there was Mahomes.
“He had a chance to prove once again he’s definitely at the top of the helm when it comes down to quarterbacks in this league,” said Tyreek Hill, who led Chiefs targets with 150 receiving yards and a touchdown. “I definitely feel like he’s top two. And he’s not two.
“Another step for him into the Hall of Fame.”
In what facets did Mahomes distinguish his game Sunday? It’d take fewer words to describe where he didn’t.
In the passing game, Mahomes completed 33 of 44 attempts for three touchdowns and no interceptions, his record perfect in a 9-of-9 third quarter and 6-of-6 overtime. He completed deep balls and perfectly placed darts, including the pass that led Hill on his way to a 64-yard score with 1:13 to play in regulation. Mahomes completed perimeter passes just crisp enough for tight end Travis Kelce to haul in with one hand, and side-arm throws from angles too absurd and at times too low for anyone but his intended receiver to grab them.
Mahomes posed further danger in the running game. He led all Chiefs players as he powered seven carries to a career-best 69 rushing yards and Kansas City’s first touchdown. His runs routinely resulted from cycling through his reads, scurrying around the field and ultimately deciding defenders’ coverage on his targets made the pass more risky than the run. Mahomes required the Bills defense to respect his legs and in turn opened up options downfield.
“They started out in a lot of zone coverages, playing a lot of zone shells overtop,” he said. “I ran whenever I had the opportunity to, and once they saw we were willing to do that, they had to play more man coverages.”
But a quarterback can’t succeed merely by exuding athleticism. He needs to demonstrate leadership as well. There, too, Mahomes epitomized how a franchise quarterback could pave the way.
Teammates and Reid said he never flinched when Allen and the Bills repeatedly rallied. He didn’t worry when the Bills took a lead as late as with 13 seconds remaining in the game. Why stress? Mahomes found Hill for a 19-yard gain. During a pair of timeouts, Kelce noted how the Bills were playing the perimeter more carefully, leaving favorable matchups in the seam. Kelce said he might test the middle of the field. As Mahomes readied to take the snap, he glanced at Kelce to his left.
“Do it, Kelc!” he yelled to his perennial Pro Bowl tight end. “Do it, do it.”
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Kelce glanced out as he headed upfield on a favorite route on which he already had successfully nabbed a catch. But this time, he continued to a double move that capitalized on his inside leverage. Kelce laughed, describing the 25-yard completion as “just a little backyard football” to set up the 49-yard field goal that sent the Chiefs to overtime. Soon, Mahomes would find Kelce for a game-winning touchdown over his back shoulder in the right corner of the end zone.
It was almost poetic for a quarterback three years removed from his own heartbreaking playoff overtime loss at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs falling to the Patriots Jan. 20, 2019 after a furious end-of-regulation comeback in the AFC championship game. In that instance, Tom Brady’s offense received the ball, and New England ended the game promptly. Sunday night, Mahomes ensured he had the last and only say in the fifth period .
Mahomes congratulated Kelce for the game-winning touchdown then demonstrated excellence in still another dimension of NFL play: sportsmanship. It was striking to think back three years ago, when Brady, then 41, had roamed the Arrowhead tunnels to wish Mahomes well and tell the young signal-caller that a bright future awaited.
This time it was 26-year-old Mahomes offering solace as he jogged the length of the field past where his teammates celebrated. Mahomes pulled Allen into a bear hug, sharing words of encouragement and a handshake before celebrating a victory he said he’ll “remember forever.” Allen was devastated but didn’t overlook the gesture.
“Lot of respect for Pat,” he said. “He throws a winning touchdown and he comes straight over and finds me. To be in that situation and to do that, that was pretty cool of him to do.”
To Mahomes, it was natural.
He was simply living out the mantra he implores his teammates to live by each huddle, his insistence “let’s be great” not merely empty talk.
“When he says it, it’s not corny,” Reid said. “It doesn’t come off that way. The guys believe in him and he tries to do that every snap.”
Sunday, Mahomes was great before, during and after the snap. He’ll aim to repeat the caliber of performance when hosting the Bengals next week, a Super Bowl berth in Los Angeles on the line.
Mahomes enters that game with similarly steadfast belief in his self and his team, insistent that faith is not an option but the only option. If matters get dire next week, he’ll cling to his coach’s Grim Reaper encouragement. But be it 13 seconds, an overtime drive or otherwise, Mahomes will believe and will inspire those around him to.
“If you’re not going to go down fighting, then you don’t deserve to be here,” he said. “We believed. I think that’s the biggest thing on this team: we believe no matter what.
“We had the belief we were going to do it. ... You have to have that belief.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein .
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘Be the Grim Reaper’: How Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes outlasted Bills, Josh Allen in battle of QB excellence