Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane envisioned this type of performance against the Kansas City Chiefs when he selected Greg Rousseau with the No. 30 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
After an embarrassing and disheartening loss to Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game, Buffalo was intentional about upgrading their pass rush during the offseason. And under the lights, in a primetime game against that same opponent, Rousseau rose to the occasion and played a huge role in the Bills’ 38-20 win over the vaunted Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs.
Rousseau was nothing short of dominant throughout the entire contest, registering five tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack, an interception and a pass break up. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound rookie looked like a seasoned pro, utilizing his long, powerful frame to consistently win his reps as a run defender – whether it was stacking and disengaging to make the stop himself, or anchoring and forcing the run back inside for his teammates to clean up.
According to Pro Football Focus, Rousseau registered three quarterback pressures against Chiefs right tackle Lucas Niang and was rewarded with a sack, as well.
But Rousseau’s biggest impact on the game was an interception on a game that perfectly encapsulated all of the traits that made Beane fall in love with the 21-year old pass rusher.
On the 10th play of a Chiefs drive late in the third quarter following Micah Hyde’s pick-six, Rousseau tipped Patrick Mahomes’ pass intended for Mecole Hardman right back to himself and stumbled forward for three yards before falling to the turf with possession of the ball. It was a huge play in a critical situation, thwarting what was looking to be another scoring drive for the Chiefs that would have cut Buffalo’s lead to 11. While the Bills went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, it still took the Chiefs out of scoring position and maintained an 18-point lead.
“Huge play, I mean we made plays,” head coach Sean McDermott said of Rousseau’s interception following the game. “A year ago, we came here and they made a lot of plays and we didn’t make as many as we needed to [in order to] win the game. We made those plays tonight and that was great to see. I thought they were in a great space mentally and they put in a lot of great work physically throughout the week to get ready for this game.
“When you see a young player [like Rousseau] make a play like that, I mean the future is bright. But again, another unselfish player. The way he approaches every week – he’s had some success but he’s hit some bumps too. So it’s great to see guys hit the reset button and continue to play.”
Rousseau wasn’t the only defender to get in on the action, though.
Fellow rookie Boogie Basham was impactful in the game as well. The Wake Forest product played over 20 defensive snaps, and was a force as an inside-out rusher. Basham had three tackles and split a sack with Jerry Hughes.
Second-year defensive end A.J. Epenesa and offseason acquisition Efe Obada added QB hits of their own.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier called a perfect game that resulted in the Chiefs scoring just 20 points and totaling 392 yards, despite running 89 plays. The Bills held Kansas City to 5-of-12 on third down and 2-of-5 in the redzone.
Buffalo’s revamped defensive line was able to consistently generate pressure without blitzing a single time and the performance was incredible all-around, especially when contrasted to their two meetings with the Chiefs in 2020.
The Bills sacked Mahomes twice while hitting him on eight more of his dropbacks. When they weren’t delivering direct blows to Mahomes, the ferocious pass rush was flushing him out of the pocket and making him force passes into blanketed receivers. The ability to pressure Mahomes with four rushers allowed the secondary to play deep in a two-high shell which limited Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce’s ability to make explosive plays.
Mahomes completed just 33-of-54 passes for 272 yards, throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions. Mahomes is one of the few truly elite players in the NFL, but led by Rousseau’s dominant performance, the Bills were able to exact revenge on their AFC rival. Everyone knows the Josh Allen-led offense is one of the league’s best, but now, the defense is firing on all cylinders and is ranked No. 1 in the NFL.
Buffalo will once again rely on its defensive line as they travel to Nashville to take on Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football next week.