KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Only 8 seconds remained as the Kansas City Chiefs lined up at the 44-yard line trailing by three points in the AFC Divisional round Sunday on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
Patrick Mahomes looked at tight end Travis Kelce and started barking a command.
“Probably midway through his cadence, he was screaming at me at the line of scrimmage, ‘Do it,’” Kelce said. "I was like, ‘All right, here we go boys.’”
The Bills had taken the lead with 13 seconds to go.
Hope for a win seemed bleak, but Tyreek Hill had caught a 19-yard pass, providing a glimmer of hope, and the Chiefs called a timeout.
That’s when Mahomes and Kelce had a quick conversation that would etch Kansas City’s remarkable, implausible and exhilarating 42-36 overtime win in NFL postseason lore.
“After the timeout, we looked at what the defense was doing and (Kelce) actually said to me, ‘If they do it again, I’m going to take it right down the middle between both the guys guarding me,’” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said.
Buffalo was playing a pretty standard prevent defense.
Its secondary was deep, the coverage was soft — worried less, ironically, about giving up a first down than giving up a chunk of yards — so Kansas City's receivers got a free release.
“It’s a pretty common defense in a situation like that,” Kelce said. “The defense will try to take away the sideline throws, kind of give you more of the seams and the middle of the field open. That, and that they’re soft and off, so you can get a little bit of a head start.”
Kelce told Mahomes he planned to exploit that soft spot in the coverage up the seam rather than run the play as designed.
“I told him (Mahomes), ‘I’m probably not going to run the route that’s called. I’m just going to run to the open area,’” Kelce said.
That stroke of brilliance — built on trust during the last five seasons at practice, honed in the playoffs during the last four years and virtually unprecedented in NFL annals — paid off handsomely.
Kelce caught a 25-yard pass up the seam, got down and called a timeout.
Harrison Butker then drilled a 49-yard field goal to force overtime, where Kansas City marched 75 yards on eight plays for the game-winning touchdown.
“It was just a little backyard football with a couple seconds left that gave us an opportunity to take the game into overtime,” Kelce said.
Fittingly, it was that Mahomes-to-Kelce connection that ended the game with an 8-yard, back-shoulder fade — touching off one of the loudest roars Arrowhead Stadium, the loudest stadium in the country, has ever heard.
“That was a fun experience,” Kelce said. “I’ll remember the catch and seeing Tyreek standing over me calling ‘game’ and then Pat running over to me. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.”
As Chiefs coach Andy Reid waited for the touchdown to be confirmed — for what “felt like 5 minutes" — the players celebrated on the field.
Kelce never had a doubt that he delivered Kansas City its record fourth straight home AFC Championship Game.
“I knew right away that it was a touchdown,” Kelce said. “I got full control of it, got both feet on the ground. I knew it was a touchdown right away.”