For the third time in four years, Buffalo’s quest for a Super Bowl has been vanquished by Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. As my afterthoughts at the end of the article allude to, how much more of this can Bills players and fans take?
Buffalo’s opening possession was full of chaos, and it started on the very first play. A short pass from Josh Allen to Stefon Diggs saw the receiver gain three yards before fumbling the ball. Luckily, rookie Dalton Kincaid was able to bat the ball out of bounds to maintain possession, but drew a flag for illegally batting it forward. Facing 3rd and 17 after an incomplete pass, Allen scrambled up the middle for four yards, before lateraling it to Ty Johnson. The running back caught the pass and ran for 12 yards, setting up 4th and 1. Allen’s QB sneak was successful, gaining six yards after running to the outside rather than directly up the middle.
Facing another 3rd down three plays later, Allen hit Kincaid on a corner route for 14 yards. The rookie made a great adjustment and catch in tight coverage to keep the drive alive. Another catch by Kincaid, this time for 10 yards, moved the Bills to the 11 yard line. A four yard run by Cook looked promising, but a loss of yardage and incomplete pass forced the Bills to kick a field goal on 4th and 8.
KC’s opening drive was much quicker, but still resulted in three points. Under pressure on 2nd and 9, Mahomes evaded the sack attempt from Greg Rousseau, and found the rookie Rashee Rice all alone in the flat. Rice turned upfield and gained 25 yards on the play, already across midfield. A 15 yard completion to Travis Kelce moved the Chiefs in field goal range. A tackle for loss by Tyrel Dodson made it 3rd and 5, and Dane Jackson generated a pass break up to force a field goal.
Running Through the Chiefs
Allen attempted just two passes on Buffalo’s next drive, a six yard completion to Khalil Shakir and 14 yard completion to Johnson. Allen, Cook, and Johnson dominated the ground game, totalling 55 yards on nine carries. The drive ended with Allen running towards the left pile-on for a five yard score.
The Chiefs settled for another field goal, after two incomplete passes from Mahomes inside the 10 yard line. Buffalo gained one first down but punted four plays later. A 28 yard run from Clyde Edwards–Helaire moved KC into scoring range, and a busted coverage left Kelce (of all people) wide open in the endzone for a 22 yard score.
The run game continued to produce as it led to another Buffalo scoring drive. Allen ran for 18 yards to move the Bills into the redzone. A ridiculous five yard catch from Shakir reset the downs, and Allen powered up the middle for a two yard rushing touchdown, his second of the game.
Even though it doesn’t show up in the box score because of a flag, a tackle for loss from Von Miller ended the first half, with the Bills leading 17-13.
Chiefs Make It Look Easy
The Chiefs came out firing in the second half, with the first play being a 30 yard deep shot to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. MVS hauled in the pass along the sideline in tight coverage, with the undersized Taron Johnson unable to make a play on the ball. A 24 yard run from Mahomes moved KC into the redzone. Three plays later, a three yard screen to Kelce saw the tight end diving towards the pile-on for his second score of the game.
Slow and Steady
After KC’s quick touchdown drive, Buffalo opted to pump the breaks, executing a methodical, 15 play drive that also resulted in a touchdown. The longest play of the drive was a 15 yard run by Johnson, which set up 1st and Goal. On 3rd down, Allen rolled to his left, squared his shoulders, and threw a dart towards the pile-on. Shakir made a diving catch, while keeping both feet in bounds, to complete the amazing 13 yard play.
Momentum for KC
Mahomes completed his second deep shot of the night, connecting with MVS again downfield for a 32 yard gain. Three plays later, Isiah Pacheco powered through Buffalo’s defense for a four yard touchdown to retake the lead. Buffalo failed to get a first down, after an eight yard run by Allen was negated by a three yard loss from Cook. On 4th and 5 from their own 30, the Bills opted for a fake punt, partly because they needed a spark and a first down, and partly because KC only had 10 players on the field. The direct snap to Damar Hamlin resulted in just a two yard gain, and suddenly KC had a prime chance to extend their lead potentially out of reach of Buffalo.
Following a 29 yard run from Pacheco, the Chiefs tried to get cute inside the five yard line. A touch pass to Mecole Hardman looked like it resulted in a touchdown, but after further review, Jordan Poyer punched the ball out before he was down, resulting in a touchback and Buffalo ball. Unfortunately, the Bills couldn’t capitalize on the gift, punting three plays later after a deep shot to Sherfield was dropped by the receiver on 3rd down.
Bills Get a Shot
Buffalo’s defense came up with another much needed stop, even after an incorrect pass interference penalty on 3rd down gave KC an automatic first down. Down by three with over eight minutes left, the Bills were in prime position to retake the lead. Buffalo chewed the clock all the way down to the two minute warning, successfully completing short passes to methodically drive downfield. Allen’s third deep shot attempt was a 65 yard rope to Diggs, but the wide receiver was unable to come down with the perfect pass. The Bills were able to convert on 4th and 3 when Shakir was left open in the flat, but two incomplete passes after the two minute warning left 1:47 on the clock. However, none of it would matter when Tyler Bass missed his 44 yard game-tying attempt wide right. The Bills had lost.
After a crazy, chaotic, fun, overall successful regular season, the Bills had their turn to host Mahomes and couldn’t get the job done. No Tyreek Hill, a Travis Kelce that didn’t look the same, and an issue at left and right tackle, this was the most depleted form of KC’s offense the Bills were going to get. Granted, the Bills were severely banged up, already missing Matt Milano and Terrel Bernard in the middle, and Tre’Davious White on the outside. But, the defensive line was perfectly healthy, and they seemed non-existent. There was no pressure on Mahomes, and Buffalo failed to shut down KC’s run game. They came up with stops when they needed to the most, but the offense only produced seven points in the second half.
KC’s defensive strategy was clear. Sit back, don’t allow anything deep, and let Josh Allen make the mistake of forcing the ball downfield. Instead, Allen, who turns into a different animal in the playoffs, stayed composed and took advantage of what the defense gave him. When he saw his opportunities downfield, he took them, which resulted in three drops from his receivers on perfectly placed passes. That to me was the difference in the game. MVS caught both 30+ yard attempts from Mahomes, but Sherfield and Diggs were 0/3 downfield.
Shakir has quickly become one of my favorite Bills players, as he seems like he just catches everything. There were at least three passes that were a little off the mark or heavily contested that he still came down with, and his ability to make plays after the catch is a bonus. The young trio of Cook-Shakir-Kincaid is certainly promising, and hopefully a first round wide receiver is thrown into that bunch this offseason.
For those criticizing Allen’s decision to throw to Shakir in the endzone rather than take the checkdown to Diggs late in the game, I hear you. But inside two minutes, you take the touchdown if you can get it. I understand the strategy behind playing the clock game, but we should know by now that the clock is irrelevant to Patrick Mahomes. If anything, KC might’ve scored too quickly, giving Allen another shot. Or who knows, maybe the defense makes some plays like they did in the second half and prevent the score like in Miami, or generate a turnover like the Taron Johnson pick that ended the regular season matchup against KC two years ago. In the end, it was the right decision by Allen in my opinion, whose arm was hit by the retreating Dion Dawkins as he was throwing the ball.
Overall, it was another crazy, chaotic, fun, and overall successful regular season that led to a disappointing playoff exit. At the end of the day, the Bills have Josh Allen, 31 other teams don’t. Their “window” is still wide open as long as #17 is wearing red and blue, but at some point, something needs to change.
Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. What does that mean for the Bills? Well, that seems like something I should save for a different article…
Editor’s babble: We thank Colin Richey for his terrific postgame reviews, no matter how painful. You can also find Colin on Xwitter @whatthef00tball.