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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Free Agents Montana, Allen Set the Pace

ST. LOUIS, Missouri -- Want to know the impact of free agency on the National Football League? Look no further than the American Football Conference championship game this Sunday in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Kansas City Chiefs are in this contest for the first time in 24 years because of one man, a hired free-agent gun from San Francisco. Montana's the name and, man, can he still play this game.

Houston dared get into a shootout with him last Sunday and suffered dearly for its transgressions. Talked too much about how the Old Man would be shot down in the face of all those Buddy Ryan blitzes. Better believe the Buffalo Bills will say all the right things about Mr. Montana in the days before this showdown.

So much already has been achieved. Two playoff victories, both constructed on second-half comebacks. Twenty-nine times in his career, Montana has molded successful fourth-quarter rallies and here he is doing it again, at age 37, after almost two seasons of inactivity, with a reconstructed throwing arm that should not be this strong or accurate.

"He is a tough son of a (gun), and he shows it," Kansas City center Tim Grunhard says about Montana. "We knew he was going to get hit. We just wanted to keep him healthy."

Now the Chiefs want to keep him healthy for two more weeks. Since defeating the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, in the 1970 Super Bowl, the Chiefs had won only one other playoff game. But Montana, despite a season interrupted by the type of injuries you would expect a guy this old to sustain, has proved dramatically why Kansas City hired him for $4.2 million this season. This may be the only season they get out of him, but who is to say he already hasn't earned every nickel?

"It feels as good as ever," says Montana, who already owns four Super Bowl rings. "Especially when a lot of people were counting you out. It's as good as I've ever felt."

Pride can be such a motivation. Look no further than the Bills and their quarterback, Jim Kelly. They have decided the whole world, maybe even folks who do not even know football exists, hate them and wish fervently that they become the next Montana victim. Instead, they want to become the first team to appear in four consecutive Super Bowls. It is the "we versus they" mentality magnified to the highest possible degree. But this time, "they" is represented by Montana. No easy task, this one, for the resilient Bills.

But there is something majestic about these Bills too, just as there is about Montana. Their horrible Super Bowl performances the past two years have destroyed their regular-season credibility, yet they keep bouncing along. They fell behind the Los Angeles Raiders, 17-6, last Saturday amid intolerably cold conditions at Rich Stadium (minus 2 temperature, minus 32 wind-chill factor), then rallied behind a sensational performance by Kelly to run away with a 29-23 victory.

However, almost two months ago, Kelly flunked a test against the Chiefs, who intercepted three of his passes and forced a fumble to forge a 23-7 victory in Arrowhead Stadium. The Bills rushed for a mere 43 yards that day and gave up four sacks. Fast forward to the Chiefs' triumph against Houston. The Oilers ran for only 39 yards (3 in the second half) and allowed an embarrassing nine sacks. See a pattern developing? Better believe Buffalo needs to find ways to free up Thurman Thomas on the ground while also remembering to provide Kelly with adequate protection.

And remember, Montana is bringing along another free-agent buddy, Marcus Allen, who carved out 74 tough yards against Houston, including a 21-yard score in the final moments that stripped the Oilers of all their braggadocio. The Chiefs desperately need Allen to be a running force Sunday.

Additionally, the Bills might be in for a slight surprise as they study films of the Chiefs this week. Kansas City normally is not much of a blitzing team, but against the Oilers, they turned into a Ryan clone. The Chiefs came after Warren Moon on almost every other play. By the second half, especially after the Oilers lost starting linemen David Williams and Mike Munchak to injuries, Moon nearly came unraveled. Besides enduring the sacks, he fumbled five times.

Flash back a couple of years, to the 1992 Super Bowl, when the Washington Redskins attacked Kelly relentlessly, forcing four interceptions and a load of nightmarish wild passes. Will Kelly face a vanilla Chiefs defense or these new blitz masters?

You can only visualize how excited Montana will get once he studies Buffalo. The Bills' defense finished next to last in yardage allowed in the NFL and survives only because it forces turnovers (most in the league). But that is a tough way to survive against Montana, who has constructed his magnificent career on being nearly perfect in his execution.