Another year, another disappointing playoff exit. After winning five straight games to win their division and get into the playoffs as the second seed, the Buffalo Bills met their kryptonite yet again, losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round, 27-24.
Below we’ll take a look at the most inspiring performance of the game, inquire about the questions surrounding this team, dive into which unit and coach requires a better performance, and rant about the most irksome part of the game.
Inspire – Bills’ Offense:
Another game of Josh Allen vs. Patrick Mahomes didn’t disappoint. Allen and the rest of the Bills’ offense was fantastic, finding a way to control the ball with the run game in the first half before Allen took the game into his own hands in the second half. Khalil Shakir had himself another phenomenal game to cap off a strong sophomore season, snagging an incredible catch in the red zone to convert a third down before hauling in another clutch play for a touchdown against L’Jarius Sneed. The Bills wanted to win the game by keeping the ball away from the Chiefs, and for the most part, it worked. The Bills were able to run the ball effectively and control the game on their terms in the first half, with Cook and Allen having their way, and even Ty Johnson finding yards as well. While it seemed the Bills may have stuck a little too closely to that plan in the second half even though the run game wasn’t working as well, the Bills had opportunities and didn’t take advantage. Stefon Diggs had a long pass go through his hands, and Trent Sherfield dropped a deep ball, though it would have been a difficult catch. It’s tough to be in the position of Allen when so few of your supporting cast is helping you when you need big plays to complement your ground game. Regardless, the Bills’ offense played well for most of the game and were in a position to win the game against a very tough Kansas City defense.
Inquire – Where to go next?:
After what has felt like two straight long offseasons, a third appears to be in store after this loss to the Chiefs. With the Bills projected to be nearly $50 million over the cap, and a lot of mainstays of this team such as Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, and Gabe Davis set to be free agents, the Bills are at a bit of a crossroads. Do you reset and take a tough year where you likely won’t be competing for a Super Bowl to reset your roster and get younger and cheaper? Or do you double down, push the money down the road again, and try to hit on more cheap free agents again? There’s no one correct answer, despite what many pundits will try to tell you over the next seven months. They can increase their chances down the line by restructuring now, but it likely means taking lumps in 2024, and potentially 2025 as well. Which is tough when the rest of the AFC is also loading up and improving. If you double down now, there might not be enough resources to improve in areas where they need help. It will be interesting to see how general manager Brandon Beane will navigate this offseason with so much of the future on the line.
Require – Bills’ Special Teams:
Let’s talk about the fake punt. Was it the right call? Actually, yes. As was pointed out by Jay Feely on the CBS broadcast, the Chiefs were caught with 10 men on the field during the play, and according to long-snapper Reid Ferguson, the call was made from the sideline, presumably by Sean McDermott. The problem, as has been the case for the season with the Bills special teams, was execution. When you have the numbers advantage, you should be able to win your blocks and steal a first down in that situation. But when you don’t execute, when your guys get blown up, almost as if the Chiefs are expecting a fake punt (which they likely weren’t), you have to wonder how that play gets coached up during practice. In addition, Sam Martin is clearly not healthy. The Bills brought in Matt Haack in case they felt like Martin couldn’t go. Despite the fact that he couldn’t go at 100%, the Bills still started Martin and cut Haack before the game. Martin had a few poor punts but did a good enough job as a holder, which in all likelihood, is the main reason they went with Martin as opposed to Haack. Regardless, Matthew Smiley’s special teams unit has been a problem all year, and it continued again in this game. The rancid cherry on top was the game-ending missed field goal by Tyler Bass, who, in Smiley’s two years as special teams coordinator, has regressed. Despite how far the Bills managed to go this season, Smiley needs to be fired. Smiley has been a member of McDermott’s staff since he was hired in 2017, but there is too much money spent for the amount of mistakes that are happening there.
Irk – Bills’ Defense:
Another game of Allen vs. Mahomes didn’t disappoint- if you’re a fan of offense. The Bills’ defense could not stop the Chiefs’ offense for most of the night. The injuries coming into this game were many, and the Bills had done a good job defensively despite those injuries. But after a certain point, there is a straw that breaks the camel’s back. While Buffalo fans may look to point fingers at a coach or a player for the outcome here, the reality is that it’s extremely difficult to win games in the NFL with the amount of injuries the Bills have dealt with. It’s even more difficult in the playoffs, especially when the Chiefs play their best game offensively in months. There’s only so much that coaches and schemes can do to mask a lack of talent, and that is what the Bills had to contend with. Had the Bills been even moderately healthy coming into this game, odds are, they would have won this fairly easily. But they weren’t, and they had to play this game with who they had. Healthy players, however, were guys like Ed Oliver and Daquan Jones, who were both held to zero pressures in this game according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, and Trey Smith are all good, if not top-tier offensive linemen. But those are exactly the players you have to beat when everything is on the line, and Buffalo’s defensive tackles simply did nothing. It was a frustrating performance from the Bills defense, who turned in their worst performance since the bye week, while the Chiefs happened to turn in their best offensive performance in months. That particular cocktail of circumstances concocted a crushing Bills’ loss.
The Bills have now been eliminated from the postseason and move into the offseason. Questions loom over this team after another exit, despite the great comeback they made to save their season. Does Sean McDermott retain the defensive play-calling and coordinating duties? Is Joe Brady retained as the offensive coordinator? Does he change much of the offense if he is? How do the Bills handle their cap situation? Who stays and goes in free agency?
These questions will all be discussed right here at Cover 1, through written pieces and podcasts. We will take you through the offseason together, analyzing and breaking down everything from the Senior Bowl later this month, to the NFL Combine, and free agency, the draft, everything will be broken down in full detail here at Cover 1.
On a personal note, I am once again grateful to all of you who have read my post-game recaps. This is three straight years of doing this recap, and through success and failure, you all have been here to read my thoughts. I will always be grateful for this platform to provide me a chance to break things down in the aftermath of each game, and I can’t wait for 2024 to roll around.
Until then, God bless, and Go Bills.