At various points of their Super Bowl defense, the Kansas City Chiefs discharged traces of vulnerability. They developed a chronic penchant for close games. Patrick Mahomes stumbled and departed a playoff game last week after a nasty hit around his head. The rise of Josh Allen in Buffalo allowed for the possibility that another team may match the force of nature they deploy at quarterback. Early in Sunday evening’s AFC championship game, they trailed by two scores. They allowed the rest of the NFL periodic reason for hope, hope that always dissipates once it comes time to play.

Until further notice — or maybe until Tom Brady has his say — there are the Chiefs and there is everybody else. Kansas City is headed back to the Super Bowl after its 38-24 dispatching of the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., another statement of its superiority. In two weeks, Mahomes and the Chiefs will face Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a dream Super Bowl LV matchup. The Chiefs will be favored over the legend playing at his home stadium in his 10th Super Bowl, a fitting acknowledgment of their place atop the league.

“We just got to be ourselves,” Mahomes said afterward, standing on a podium erected in the middle of the confetti-covered field. “I trust my guys over anybody.”

The Chiefs kept alive their bid to become the first repeat Super Bowl champion since Brady’s New England Patriots in the 2004 season. In his fourth year, at age 25, Mahomes could become the eighth quarterback to win consecutive Super Bowls. The first seven do not require first names: Brady, Elway, Aikman, Montana, Bradshaw, Griese and Starr.

Mahomes already belongs with the greats. He exited last week’s victory early after a choke-slam tackle left him wobbly and glass-eyed. He spent the week navigating the NFL’s concussion protocol and healing a banged-up toe that forced him to limp before his departure against the Cleveland Browns. In his third straight AFC championship game appearance, Mahomes completed 29 of 38 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns, one of which he shoveled underhand a couple of feet to tight end Travis Kelce, who merely caught 13 balls for 118 yards and two scores.

“You guys are seeing him grow right in front of you,” Chiefs Coach Andy Reid said in a virtual news conference. “You’re seeing the steps that he’s taking. I’m sitting there, I’m an old guy that’s seen a couple good quarterbacks. This guy seems to amaze more every game.”

Late Sunday night, Reid recalled the moments after the previous highest-stakes meeting between Brady and Mahomes. After Brady’s Patriots beat the Chiefs in the AFC championship game two years ago, Brady entered the Chiefs’ locker room to speak with Mahomes. “Patrick responded like a young guy would talking to the GOAT,” Reid said.

The reverence for Brady will cease once the whistle blows. Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark was asked if he had a message for Brady. He did not. “I’ll see his ass on Sunday in the Super Bowl,” Clark said.

The Bills emerged from the wilderness this season with their best team since the Super Bowl bridesmaids of the mid-1990s, a powerhouse that had won eight straight entering Sunday. Allen harnessed the power in both his arms and legs and elevated to elite status among quarterbacks. They and their raucous fans came to see themselves as a team of destiny. They realized they are ultimately, in one way, no different than the rest of the NFL: not as good as the Chiefs.

Down 3-0 after the teams’ first possessions, Kansas City forced Buffalo to punt. Mecole Hardman muffed it inside the 10, and the ball squirted to the 3, where the Bills recovered. The disastrous start left the Chiefs down 9-0, one point shy of the deficit they faced in last year’s AFC championship game against the Tennessee Titans.

The Bills discovered the same hard truth as the Titans: The Chiefs are never really in trouble because their offense is an unsolvable problem. When a defense attempts to plug one leak, another springs up, then another.

The Bills played a defense designed to protect against the big plays made possible by the speed of wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Hardman, a sound choice. But the Chiefs also have one of the greatest in NFL history at exploiting soft coverage in the middle of the field. Kelce snared nine passes in the first half, constantly delivering first downs.

For the Chiefs’ first touchdown, Reid essentially chose to uplift Hardman, who scored on a screen pass at the goal line. Hardman then jump-started the Chiefs’ next drive with a blazing 50-yard sprint on an end-around. The Chiefs would score 21 points in the second quarter and take a 21-12 lead into halftime after the Bills made the fatal mistake of kicking a field goal inside the 5-yard line to end the half.

Almost immediately, the Chiefs showed why field goals will not beat them. Early in the second half, the Bills moved up their safeties to deal with Kelce. On the first play of the Chiefs’ second possession, Hill turned a slant off a run-pass option play into a ­71-yard gain, dancing around Buffalo defensive backs as if they were traffic cones. Despite the Bills’ intentions, Hill still caught nine passes for 172 yards.

Allen played a valiant game and flashed his immense talent, but the Chiefs’ battle-tested defense and veteran coordinator Steve Spagnuolo exposed his lack of experience. Spagnuolo’s ever-changing scheme made Allen play tentative in a way he had not all season. Stefon Diggs, the star wideout who powers the Bills’ offense, caught only two passes for 12 yards in the first half and was not a factor, finishing with six catches for 77 yards. Afterward, Diggs lingered on the Bills’ sideline and watched the Chiefs’ celebration.

“The way it ended, it doesn’t sit well with me,” Allen said.

In the spring of 2017, the Chiefs fell in love with a quarterback out of Texas Tech, but they knew they were picking too late in the first round of the draft to select him. They convinced the Bills to trade them the 10th overall pick. By the end of the night, the Chiefs had Patrick Mahomes, and the Bills did not. On Sunday night, in the end, that made all the difference.

— Adam Kilgore

The live updates below were reported by Des Bieler.

3:07 a.m.
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Chiefs defeat Bills, will face Buccaneers in Super Bowl

The defending NFL champion Chiefs are going back to the Super Bowl, where fans will be treated to quite the quarterback showdown. After helping defeat the Bills in the AFC championship game Sunday, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes will square off with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Tom Brady for this season’s NFL title. (Final: Chiefs 38, Bills 24)

3:04 a.m.
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Bills get FG, cut Chiefs’ lead to 38-24

Well, the Bills have certainly made things interesting in the late stages, if not completely competitive. After recovering an onside kick, Buffalo cut its deficit to 14 points with just over three minutes left — but only after taking a sack for a loss of 18 yards.

Tyler Bass made a field goal from 51 yards out, after Buffalo had initially gotten to Kansas City’s 15-yard line. One play before that, Allen was grabbed and held by Kansas City defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon, and officials called the quarterback in the grasp and blew the play dead.

However Chiefs defender Alex Okafor, who had been called for roughing the passer on the previous Buffalo drive, ran over and knocked Allen down. That led the quarterback to throw the football at Okafor’s head, setting off a minor fracas.

Ultimately, officials decided on a pair of offsetting penalties, essentially leaving the play in place. After the field goal, Buffalo failed to recover another onside kick. (Chiefs 38, Bills 24, 3:19 left in fourth quarter)

2:48 a.m.
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Bills now down 17 points after late TD

It’s almost certainly too little, too late, but the Bills got a fourth-quarter touchdown to trim the Chiefs’ lead to 38-21. Buffalo failed on a subsequent two-point conversion.

Quarterback Josh Allen hit wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie on a six-yard pass to get six points. That capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive in which the Bills also benefited from a 12-yard roughing-the-passer flag on Kansas City’s Alex Okafor.

Buffalo then made things even more interesting by recovering an onside kick. It’s not quite over! (Chiefs 38, Bills 21, 4:11 left in fourth quarter)

2:42 a.m.
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Chiefs turn pick into another Travis Kelce TD, lead 38-15

Just getting a fourth-quarter interception off Bills quarterback Josh Allen probably sealed Buffalo’s doom, but the Chiefs went ahead and turned that pick into another Travis Kelce score and an imposing, 23-point lead.

Kelce, who has 118 yards and two scores on 13 catches — a record for any pass-catcher in an NFL conference title game — scored on a five-yard lob from Patrick Mahomes.

Allen was intercepted when a pass intended for wide receiver John Brown was deflected into the arms of Chiefs defensive back Rashard Fenton, who returned it 30 yards to the Kansas City 42. Buffalo’s first turnover of the game ended a 12-play, 55-yard drive. (Chiefs 38, Bills 15, 7:36 left in fourth quarter)

2:11 a.m.
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Travis Kelce TD helps Chiefs extend lead to 31-16

The Chiefs have not punted since their opening possession, and now they have a 16-point, third-quarter lead against a Bills squad that’s in real trouble.

Patrick Mahomes tossed an underhand pass to tight end Travis Kelce, who scored from one yard out. That was just the fourth play of a 75-yard drive that took 2:20 off the clock.

On the second play of the drive, Tyreek Hill caught a short pass over the middle while running to the right, then cut back to the left and was not tackled before he gained 71 yards. Hill has 160 yards on eight catches, while Kelce has 101 and a score on 11 catches. (Chiefs 31, Bills 16, 3:34 left in third quarter)

2:03 a.m.
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Bills FG gets them to within nine again at 24-15

We had a Bills field goal just before halftime, and now the second half has started with alternating field goals. The net effect has been a nine-point lead for the Chiefs midway through the third quarter.

As they did on their previous drive, the Bills drove inside the Chiefs’ 10-yard line before stalling and settling for three points. This time, the kick came at the end of a 10-play, 67-yard drive in which Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen made several plays after escaping pressure. On the final third-down play, however, he was quickly flushed from the pocket by Kansas City defensive tackle Chris Jones and could not connect with wide receiver Stefon Diggs in the end zone. (Chiefs 24, Bills 15, 5:52 left in third quarter)

1:51 a.m.
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Chiefs start second half with FG, take 24-12 lead over Bills

Kansas City got the ball to start the first half, and much as Buffalo did to start the first half, the Chiefs drove for a field goal. That gave the home team a 12-point lead over the Bills, and it capped a 10-play, 48-yard drive.

With the Bills continuing to keep defensive backs deep to prevent big plays, Kansas City again opted for shorter plays that still consistently yielded profitable results. Of the 10 plays on the field goal drive, six went for at least five yards. (Chiefs 24, Bills 12, 10:53 left in third quarter)

1:34 a.m.
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Bills get FG, trail Chiefs 21-12 at halftime

The Bills drove to the Chiefs’ 2-yard line with seconds left before halftime, but faced with a fourth-down play, Buffalo chose to kick a short field goal. That cut Kansas City’s lead to 21-12 after two quarters, with the winner representing the AFC in the Super Bowl.

The Chiefs went three-and-out on their opening drive, but only after Tyreek Hill let what would have been a long completion go through his hands on a third-down play. After that, Kansas City scored touchdowns on its next three possessions, with quarterback Patrick Mahomes completing 17 of 23 passes for 173 yards, one touchdown and a 109.5 passer rating.

Perhaps the best news for the Chiefs was that Mahomes, who was cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol Sunday, also showed little to no ill effects from a toe injury he suffered last week against the Browns. The injury, reported to be a case of turf toe that might require offseason surgery, necessitated a left shoe a half-size bigger than normal to accommodate an orthotic device, but Mahomes displayed good mobility in Sunday’s first half.

Allen had an uneven first half, completing 12 of 23 passes for 104 yards, a touchdown and a 78.9 rating, while taking one sack for a 15-yard loss. He struggled to connect with star wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who led the league this season with 127 catches and 1,535 receiving yards but caught just two passes for 12 yards in the first half.

The time of possession split was fairly even, with Kansas City holding a 15:48-14:12 edge, but the Chiefs took sizable advantages in first downs (11-6), total yards (244-162) and yards per play (7.6-4.6). While wide receiver Cole Beasley led Buffalo with 31 yards on two catches, Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce had nine catches for 92 yards and Hill had three for 52.

All told, the Bills might feel reasonably fortunate to only be down by nine points at the half, particularly given Allen’s performance thus far, which included two near-interceptions and other miscues. However, Buffalo will probably need to force Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense into some more mistakes of their own, following an early and costly muff on a punt return, or Kansas City appears more than capable of steadily pulling away.

1:00 a.m.
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Chiefs take 21-9 lead on Clyde Edwards-Helaire TD

Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who had missed the team’s three previous games with an ankle injury, ran into the end zone from one yard out to help give Kansas City a 12-point lead over Buffalo in the first half.

The score by the Chiefs’ first-round pick last year finished off a nine-play, 77-yard drive on which quarterback Patrick Mahomes completed four of six passes for 60 yards. Three of those completions went to tight end Travis Kelce, who already has nine catches for 92 yards.

The Bills gave up the most receptions to tight ends in the regular season, while Kelce set an NFL single-season receiving yardage record for his position. That combination augured well for him, and thus far Kelce has stayed on track for a monster outing. (Chiefs 21, Bills 9, 4:12 left in second quarter)

12:51 a.m.
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Josh Allen off to shaky start

Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen had a fantastic regular season that put him in the fringe of the NFL MVP conversation, and he played well in Buffalo’s first two playoff games, but he has gotten off to a shaky start Sunday against the Chiefs.

Through four dives, Allen has completed just 7 of 15 passes for 49 yards, with one touchdown after Kansas City muffed a punt and gave him the ball at its own 3-yard line. That punt was one of three by the Bills already, and Allen has also been nearly picked off twice. At other points in the game, the third-year quarterback has been criticized by CBS analyst Tony Romo for trying to complete big plays downfield rather than checking down to open receivers.

12:40 a.m.
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Chiefs get rushing TD, take 14-9 lead over Bills

The Chiefs spotted the Bills a 9-0 lead but now have a 14-9 lead midway through the second quarter. Running back Darrel Williams punched it in from six yards for Kansas City’s second touchdown.

That ended a drive in which the Chiefs went 82 yards in just five plays, the biggest of which was a 50-yard run by wide receiver Mecole Hardman on an end-around. Kansas City got the ball after Buffalo was forced to punt for the second time in the game. (Chiefs 14, Bills 9, 9:35 left in second quarter)

12:26 a.m.
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Chiefs score TD, cut deficit to 9-7

The Chiefs responded to the Bills’ first touchdown with one of their own when Patrick Mahomes threw a short pass to wide receiver Mecole Hardman, who ran it into the end zone for a three-yard score in the second quarter. An extra point by kicker Harrison Butker trimmed Buffalo’s lead to 9-7 and capped a 14-play, 80-yard drive.

The touchdown amounted to a measure of redemption for Hardman, whose muffed punt in the first quarter handed Buffalo the ball at his team’s 3-yard line, from where the Bills scored easily.

Earlier in the drive, the Chiefs went for it on fourth-and-one from the Bills’ 23 and converted it with a nine-yard pass from Mahomes to running back Darrel Williams. After a three-and-out on Kansas City’s first drive, Mahomes got into a rhythm on the second, completing 10 of 13 passes for 82 yards and the score.

As they did in the team’s first meeting, a 26-17 Chiefs win in Week 6, the Bills appear to be playing a defense featuring plenty of defenders back in soft coverage, choosing to eschew blitzing Mahomes in favor of forcing Kansas City to need long drives to score. (Bills 9, Chiefs 7, 14:16 left in second quarter)

12:10 a.m.
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Bills turn Chiefs’ muffed punt into TD, 9-0 lead

A muff on a would-be punt return by the Chiefs’ Mecole Hardman was quickly turned into a touchdown by the Bills and a 9-0 lead at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium.

One play after Hardman muffed the punt, with the Bills recovering at the Chiefs’ 3-yard line, Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen found tight end Tyler Knox with a short pass to the left sideline, and Knox ran it in for the game’s first touchdown. Bills kicker Tyler Bass, who connected on a 51-yard field goal on his team’s first drive, hit an upright for a missed extra point.

Earlier in the Bills’ drive, Allen ran for 17 yards on a third-and-three play, but two plays later he was sacked for a loss of 15. The Bills got the ball when the Chiefs went three-and-out on their first possession and punted. Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes found Tyreek Hill deep downfield on a third-and-four play but the wide receiver was not able to corral the pass. (Bills 9, Chiefs 0, 6:14 left in first quarter)

11:55 p.m.
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Bills get field goal on opening drive, lead 3-0

The Bills got the ball first and used a fourth-down conversion to help continue a 10-play, 42-yard drive that ended in a field goal and a 3-0 lead over the Chiefs.

Rookie kicker Tyler Bass, a sixth-round pick out of Georgia Southern who had an impressive regular season, split the uprights from 51 yards out — the longest field goal in the playoff history of Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium — to put the first points on the board. Quarterback Josh Allen completed four of seven passes for 38 yards on the drive, including an eight-yard completion to tight end Tyler Knox on a fourth-and-one play from the Chiefs’ 48. (Bills 3, Chiefs 0, 11:32 left in the first quarter)