Los Angeles—Matt Gay kicked a last-gasp field goal as the Los Angeles Rams sent Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers crashing out of the NFL playoffs on Sunday.
Gay drilled a 30-yard field goal as time ran out to give the Rams a thrilling 30-27 win after Brady and the Bucs had recovered from 27-3 down to tie the game at 27-27 just moments earlier.
The win means the Rams will advance to an NFC Championship game at home to the San Francisco 49ers next week where a place in the Super Bowl will be at stake.
In Sunday’s other playoff action, Patrick Mahomes led the Kansas City Chiefs to an epic 42-36 overtime victory against the Buffalo Bills in a classic shoot-out at Arrowhead Stadium.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen looked to have given Buffalo victory after finding Gabriel Davis in the end zone to make it 36-33 with 13 seconds remaining.
But Mahomes marched the Chiefs back into field goal range to send it to overtime before hitting Travis Kelce on the first drive to settle a remarkable encounter. The Chiefs advance to an AFC Championship game with the Cincinnati Bengals next week.
Tampa Bay’s loss meanwhile ended the 44-year-old Brady’s hopes of adding an eighth Super Bowl title to his record haul of seven Vince Lombardi Trophies.
“We let them back into the game with a bunch of mistakes on offense,” Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said.
“But we’re a tough team, this is what we’re all about,” added Stafford, who finished with 366 passing yards from 28 of 38 attempts.
‘Tough loss’: Brady
Brady, who was sacked three times and hit on six other occasions by the Rams defense, threw for 329 yards with one touchdown.
“We were down a bunch and a lot of guys made a bunch of different plays to get us back into it. They just made one more than us,” Brady said afterwards.
The Rams very nearly were left facing up to the end of their season after an error-strewn second-half display allowed Brady to mount a comeback for the ages.
The Rams had dominated to take a 27-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
Stafford threw for two touchdowns to Kendall Blanton and Cooper Kupp before rushing for a score of his own to give the Rams a 24-point lead.
But just when it looked as if the Rams were home and dry, errors crept into the visitors’ game and enabled Tampa Bay to come roaring back.
A Kupp fumble led to a Leonard Fournette touchdown to make it 27-13.
Gay then missed a field goal that would have extended the Rams lead, and Brady soon afterwards picked out Mike Evans with a 55-yard touchdown reception to make it 27-20.
The sense of a Rams implosion deepened when running back Cam Akers then fumbled on the Los Angeles 23-yard line.
That gave Tampa Bay the ball back in prime territory, and seven plays later Fournette rumbled over from nine yards to set up Succop’s game-tying extra-point.
The momentum appeared to be all with Tampa Bay, but the Rams responded superbly, with Stafford making a 20-yard pass to Kupp before finding his favourite receiver again with a 44-yard completion.
That left Gay a chip to win the game from the Tampa Bay 12-yard line.
Mahomes seals OT thriller
The drama in Tampa was matched by an epic duel in Kansas City between Mahomes and Buffalo counterpart Allen.
An incredible game saw both teams combine for 25 points in the final two minutes of regulation as the lead changed hands three times.
Mahomes threw for 378 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for another as the Chiefs stayed on course for a third straight Super Bowl appearance.
But the loss was cruel on Allen, who finished with four touchdowns and 329 passing yards.
Allen twice mounted touchdown drives in the final two minutes to give Buffalo the lead, but each time Mahomes and the Chiefs responded.
Harrison Butker’s 49-yard field goal sent the game to overtime, and the Chiefs snatched a sudden death win when Mahomes found Kelce in the back of the end zone.
“It was a great game between two great football teams,” Mahomes said afterwards. “Josh (Allen) played his ass off, pardon my language.”
Kansas City coach Andy Reid meanwhile revealed his advice to Mahomes when the quarterback needed to save the game with 13 seconds left.
“When it’s grim, be the grim reaper—and go get it,” Reid said. “He did that. He made everyone around him better which he is great at. He does that effortlessly.
“When it gets tough, he’s going to be there battling. And players appreciate that.”