This week’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs has to be the most deflating loss of the year for the Buffalo Bills and their fan base. Kansas City came into the game undefeated at 8-0, and were the clear national favorites once again, but the feeling here in Buffalo throughout the week was that the Chiefs were quite vulnerable, and ready to receive their first loss.
There were a few keys to the game that almost everyone had identified leading up to this game. A heavy dose of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson would be necessary to help rookie Jeff Tuel make his first NFL start, and to keep Kansas City’s tough defense playing honest against the pass. Many also agreed that the Bills defense needed to have a big day stopping Kansas City’s short passing game, and multi-threat back Jamaal Charles.
So considering this pre-game prescription how did the Bills lose? What went wrong? Who had the largest impact on the game?
The Bills defense.
The defense did their part, more than just holding their own; they in fact completely stymied the unbeaten Chiefs offense, allowing only three field goals throughout the game. Alex Smith, who has not exactly lit-up the passing charts this year, was held in check for the entirety of the game by the Bills defense, save for a few passes in the direction of the still injured Stephon Gilmore.
One of the keys for the Bills defense was Kyle Williams, who once again was an unstoppable force early in this game. The only way that Kansas City could stop the pressure brought by the Bills front four was by holding Williams repeatedly. It was not just Williams that had an impact; the entire front four was extremely active in their gaps, allowing defenders on the second level to make stops throughout the entire game.
Aaron Williams clearly benefited from this solid gap control, especially against the run, totaling 8 tackles including 7 solo. The defense, although not forcing a turnover, clearly played its best game of the year. Mike Pettine understood what Kansas City liked to do on offense, and was able to formulate a game plan that opponents of the Chiefs will attempt to emulate in the future.
The running game.
If not for the outstanding performance by the defense, my lead in this article would have been the resurgence of the Bills ground attack. Most agreed that if the Bills were to have a solid chance of winning, the running game would have to shoulder the weight of carrying the offense led by third-string rookie Jeff Tuel.
Nathaniel Hackett correctly predicted that the Chiefs would sit on the run early, and dare Jeff Tuel to beat them down the field. He called perhaps more deep passes than in any other game this year, effectively forcing Kansas City to play deeper coverage, thus opening up room for Spiller and Jackson. This was easily the best game of the year for the running tandem of Spiller and Jackson. Spiller (12-116) finally looked close to 100% and was back to making the sharp cuts into the gaps that he had been unable to do for most of the season. This cutting ability, combined with his incredible acceleration through them allowed C.J. to have his most impressive day since the Carolina game in week 2, most aptly highlighted by his 61-yard scamper in the second half.
Spiller’s running was perfectly complimented in this game by another strong performance from Fred Jackson (16-77). A friend that I watched the game with aptly described Fred Jackson as “a man who likes to impose his will on other men,” and in this game that was indeed the case. Jackson had plenty of runs in his typical fashion, crashing through seams that are seemingly not even there.
So What Went Wrong?
I am hoping that this does not become a trend for these post game reaction articles, but once again, the Bills inability to keep possession of the ball led directly to this loss.
Also, much like last week, this is not the time to bash Jeff Tuel for these turnovers. Kansas City boasted the fourth-ranked defense against the pass coming into this game, so most fans understood not to expect Tuel to be the person to lead the team to victory. What fans did expect from Tuel was more of a game management style, that emphasized ball security, and conservative passes. To Tuel’s credit, he did connect on some long passes, but his misfires were the biggest reason for the Bills loss. The second of his interceptions from the two yard line of Kansas City, the more glaring of his two, was the product of a misread. An attempt to hammer the ball into a tightly covered T.J. Graham, while Stevie Johnson was breaking free into the back middle of the end zone, was the definition of a rookie mistake.
The fumble by T.J. Graham on the Bills 13 yard line, which was scooped up and returned for a touchdown by Tamba Hali was a turnover of a different sort. That is play that the player cannot allow to happen, especially considering the struggles of the offense to that point, and knowing the Bills needed a scoring drive at that point of the game. While the Bills Defense held the Chiefs to only 6 points on drives where Kansas City received a punt or kickoff, Kansas City was able to score 17 points directly off of Buffalo turnovers, and that was the difference in the game.
Although this loss was crushing for many fans, and almost guarantees that the Bills will miss the playoffs for a fourteenth straight year barring a miracle win-streak, there are plenty of positives to be taken away.
With both running backs close to one hundred percent, the Bills were finally able to establish the type of running game that many fans had expected from the beginning of the season. The change of pace and running styles offered by Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller was on full display against a tough defense, and is hopefully something fans will be able to see more often moving forward.
Marquise Goodwin was also another bright spot, once again displaying his downfield speed beating double coverage by simply running through it.
Finally, Nathaniel Hackett and Mike Pettine. While perhaps I should be praising the man who hired them, it was the game plans drawn up by these two coordinators that allowed the Bills to have a chance at winning this game.
Pettine provided his best overall game plan of the year against the predictable Chiefs offense, holding it to 210 total yards. This was clearly a performance that the defense as a whole should be able to grow from in the future. Why Hackett? While forced to make a game plan for his third starting QB of the season, Hackett’s offense was able to roll up 470 yards, including 241 on the ground. While the offense struggled to put the ball into the end zone, largely due to turnovers, it makes one wonder just what it could have done with a healthy EJ Manuel at the controls.