The Kansas City Chiefs stayed on course for a fourth Super Bowl appearance in five years by winning another nail-biting play-off game against the Buffalo Bills.
Sunday’s divisional round match-up was eagerly anticipated after the AFC rivals produced a play-off classic two years ago, the Chiefs winning 42-36 in overtime.
And the rematch lived up to the hype as Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen again had a quarterback shootout before the defending champions held on for a 27-24 win during a nervy finale.
It is the third time in four years that Kansas City have knocked the Bills out of the play-offs – and this time they did it in Buffalo.
The Chiefs will now play in the AFC Championship game for a sixth straight year and are looking to become the first team to win back-to-back NFL titles since the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
Earlier, the Detroit Lions held off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win 31-23 and book a spot in the NFC Championship game for just the second time.
Both they and the Chiefs will visit the top seed in their conference on Sunday, with Kansas City taking on the Baltimore Ravens (20:00 GMT) before Detroit face the San Francisco 49ers (23:30).
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After their 2022 epic, Mahomes and Allen were expected to meet many more times in the post-season and before their latest match-up, some pondered whether they could develop a rivalry like legendary quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
This was Allen’s best chance yet to get one over his off-season golf buddy in the play-offs as, such has been the Chiefs’ recent dominance, Mahomes’ 16th play-off game was his first on the road.
Buffalo had 37 minutes of possession, 14 more than the visitors, with 27-year-old Allen rushing for two touchdowns, but Mahomes made the most of his opportunities with the ball, passing for 215 yards and two touchdowns for Travis Kelce.
After a cagey start, Allen first got into the end zone in the second quarter, and the Chiefs cut the deficit to 10-6 with their second field goal.
The lead then changed hands five times over the next 20 minutes, beginning with Kelce diving into the corner for a 22-yard score, before Allen charged in to give the Bills a 17-13 lead right before half-time.
Mahomes, 28, needed just three minutes of the third quarter to take the Chiefs downfield and back into the lead through Kelce’s second touchdown, which took the pair past Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski for the most TD connections in play-off history (16).
Allen fired a 13-yard laser to Khalil Shakir to cap a Buffalo drive lasting more than eight minutes and, right at the start of the fourth quarter, Isiah Pacheco barged over to put the Chiefs back in front.
That set up a tense finish and Buffalo turned over the ball on downs before Kansas City’s Mecole Hardman fumbled while reaching for the end zone.
Buffalo breathed a sigh of relief as the Chiefs failed to recover a fumble by Allen and the Bills kept the drive going to set up a 44-yard field-goal attempt with less than two minutes left.
But Tyler Bass sent the kick wide right, just as Scott Norwood did as the Bills suffered the first of four straight Super Bowl defeats in 1991, and their latest loss to Kansas City extends their wait to return to the NFL’s title game.
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Lions reach NFC Championship game for just the second time
NFL play-offs: Detroit Lions beat Tampa Bay Buccaneers – highlights
Like the Bills, Detroit have won multiple NFL championships, but all of those came before the first Super Bowl in 1967 and the Lions are one of just four teams never to play in the Super Bowl.
Detroit hosted its first play-off game in 30 years last week and the long-suffering Lions fans celebrated a first play-off win in 32 years.
That secured another home game in the divisional round against an in-form Buccaneers team that just would not go away.
Defences were on top for most of another electric evening in the Motor City, with Cade Otton’s touchdown for Tampa Bay cancelling out a Josh Reynolds score to make it 10-10 at half-time.
The third quarter started with three punts before quarterbacks Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield, both former number one draft picks, got in the groove.
Craig Reynolds crashed into the end zone from a yard for the Lions, before the Bucs replied with Mayfield sending Rachaad White over for a 12-yard score.
Jahmyr Gibbs charged into the corner from 31 yards to put Detroit back in front at the start of the fourth quarter and Amon-Ra St Brown’s touchdown gave them breathing space.
Again, Tampa Bay hit straight back with Mayfield finding Mike Evans to keep the game alive and they got the ball back with two minutes left, but Detroit sealed victory as linebacker Derrick Barnes intercepted Mayfield – the QB’s second pick of the game.
Goff, who finished with 287 passing yards and two touchdown passes, now has the chance to reach a second Super Bowl having led the Los Angeles Rams to the big game in 2019.