The Buffalo Bills won a win-or-go-home game to make the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons. For the first time in the 1990s, Kansas City will be sitting out the postseason.
Jim Kelly, battling flu, threw four-yard touchdown passes to Tony Cline and Quinn Early in the fourth quarter, lifting the sluggish Bills to a 20-9 victory over the Chiefs and a home playoff game next week.
"We persevered," Coach Marv Levy said. "We didn't set the world on fire, but we got moving when we needed it. It's a great credit to our players. It's as exciting a win as I've had in some time."
Steve Christie kicked field goals of 41 and 42 yards for the Bills, who will play the Jacksonville Jaguars at Rich Stadium next weekend.
"This team show its resiliency," Bill defensive end Bruce Smith said. "Now that we're in the playoffs, everybody is zip-zip. We all have the same record. It's a whole new ballgame."
Pete Stoyanovich's three field goals accounted for all the scoring for the Chiefs, who needed a Jacksonville loss to reach the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.
The Chiefs had been the only team to make the playoffs every season this decade, and they lost four of their last five after an 8-3 start to fall out of the playoffs, losing a tiebreaker to the onrushing Jaguars.
"I don't know that we embarrassed ourselves," Chief Coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "You embarrass yourself when you don't play hard. Every player on this team played hard."
The Bills were hardly in playoff form. In fact, there were series in the first three quarters in which they were awful.
Buffalo had three turnovers and helped Kansas City build a 9-6 lead going into the final quarter. The Bills recovered two of their own fumbles, but did nearly everything else to try to hand the Chiefs a victory.
Kansas City didn't take it.
Steve Bono, playing for injured starter Rich Gannon, completed 14 of 28 passes for 138 yards and two interceptions. He was one of seven for nine yards in the first half, but Kansas City still led, 6-3, on Stoyanovich's field goals from 19 and 24 yards.
Kelly completed 20 of 29 passes for 279 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Thurman Thomas gained 43 yards rushing and joined Detroit's Barry Sanders as the only two backs to eclipse 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons.
The Chiefs took a 9-3 lead in the third quarter after Buffalo return specialist Eric Moulds fumbled away the second-half kickoff, but Kansas City was unable to put the Bills away.
The Bills, who lost four consecutive Super Bowls to start the decade, avoided its first four-game losing streak under Levy.
"Don't count us out," Bill center Kent Hull said. "This team seems to enjoy [adversity]. They thrive on adversity and bad times. I couldn't be prouder of the players on this team."
The Bills took a 13-9 lead with 12:26 left in the game on Kelly's pass to Cline, and they put it away with 4:13 remaining when Kelly found Early.
Buffalo's offense struggled for the fourth consecutive game before it finally got moving in the fourth quarter.
"We're accustomed to being [in the playoffs] for six straight years, but hey, it's over," Kansas City linebacker Derrick Thomas said.
"We'll just have to start over again."