(AP) — Everyone seems to keep waiting for the problems that have plagued the Kansas City Chiefs all season to be their downfall.
The dropped passes. The turnovers. The penalties.
But one thing has yet to fail them: their defense. It showed up again in Sunday night’s 27-24 victory in Buffalo, which sent the Chiefs to their sixth consecutive AFC championship game. It kept the Bills out of the end zone in the closing minutes and, when Tyler Bass missed a potential tying field goal wide right, Kansas City was on to the next round in Baltimore.
“The defense really picked it up that second half, and really put it down, even to the last drive where they had to kick that field goal,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday. “I thought that was big. They said: ‘Enough is enough. We can’t let them score.’”
The defense has said that a lot this season.
The Chiefs have held their opponent to 24 points or fewer in 18 of 19 games, the best defensive run since the famed “Legion of Boom” in Seattle during the 2013 season. That group, led by Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman, led the league in points, yards and just about every other relevant defensive statistic, and proceeded to stuff the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
“For three quarters offensively, we were moving the ball up and down the field, but we got shut down in the fourth quarter,” said Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has never lost in the divisional round. “I went over to the defense and told them: ‘Y’all shut it down and we’ll win this football game. We’ll get to the AFC championship game.”
The Chiefs still had issues Sunday night — Mecole Hardman fumbled a ball out of the end zone for a late touchback, which could have cost dearly. But with their defense playing so well, and just two wins away from another Super Bowl ring, perhaps they simply can overcome the problems that have followed Kansas City throughout the season.
“Nothing comes easy, man,” said defensive tackle Chris Jones, who could be headed to free agency and would love a third ring before that happens. “It took a lot of commitment from a lot of guys in order to be successful.”
Harrison Butker has been as automatic as kickers can be this season. He’s made 14 straight field goals, going 6 for 6 in two playoff games. Butker’s value was underscored Saturday night, when the Packers missed a tying field goal in the final minutes of their loss to San Francisco, and again Sunday, when the Bills missed one that would have tied their game.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Chiefs have been among the NFL’s best against the pass all season, but they have been susceptible to the run. The Bills ran for 182 yards on 39 carries Sunday night, helping them dictate the tempo of the game. And given that QB Josh Allen ran for 72 yards and two scores, that doesn’t bode well with the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson on deck.
Isiah Pacheco touched the ball only 16 times but turned that into 111 yards and a go-ahead touchdown. He also had a battering run on first down in the final minute that allowed the Chiefs to run out the clock on the win. Pacheco dealt with a shoulder injury midway through the season but has been at his best down the stretch and into the playoffs.
One week after his effort was questioned in the Chiefs’ wild-card win over the Dolphins, Hardman fumbled through the end zone, which could have come back to bite them. Can the Chiefs trust him to play mistake-free going forward?
The Chiefs played most of the way without safety Mike Edwards (concussion) and linebacker Willie Gay Jr. (neck), while LG Joe Thuney was expected to have an MRI on Monday for a pectoral injury. Rookie safety Chamarri Conner played well when Edwards went down, and Nick Allegretti did a fine job as a fill-in guard. But the Chiefs planned to use Gay to spy on Allen, who gouged them with his feet, and will likely have him in the same role against Jackson this week.
6 — The number of seasons that Mahomes has been the starter, and the number of consecutive years that he has led Kansas City to the AFC title game. The previous five were at Arrowhead Stadium while this one will take place in Baltimore.
The Chiefs have not played a road conference championship game since Jan. 23, 1994, when they lost 30-13 in Buffalo. They won two conference title games on the road before that, though, beating the Bills in 1967 and the Raiders in 1970.