The Buffalo Bills are still in their AFC playoff era.
After taking a 14-0 lead, the Bills continued to fight, battle, scratch, claw, and grapple their way to a hard-fought victory against the Kansas City Chiefs. A true must-win game to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Bills did everything they had to do to keep themselves going and continue to climb the ladder in the AFC playoff picture.
Below we’ll discuss the most inspired part of this game, inquire about a position group that needs some help, talk about a coach who requires a better performance, and break down the most irksome part of today’s win.
Inspire – Winning:
We all felt it. Up by three points, just under two minutes left, and Patrick Mahomes with the ball. We’ve seen this before. We’ve seen this so many times this season and it felt sickening to see it happen again, like watching a car crash at a dangerous intersection without a traffic light. It even looked like the Bills would lose this game on one of the most bizarre pieces of improvisation by Travis Kelce lateraling to Kadarius Toney for a TD, which would have been, objectively speaking, one of the coolest plays in NFL history. But a penalty on Toney brings the ball back. An incompletion, a tipped pass by Ed Oliver, and another incompletion on fourth down forced the Chiefs to acquiesce, and the Bills walked away with a season-saving victory.
Could a case be made that the refs helped the Bills at the end? Hard to say, given that today’s state of NFL officiating could be boiled down to “We’re just making things up as we go along.” At the end of the day, the Bills found a way to win against a very tough opponent, on the road, in a close game. That’s not something they’ve been able to do all season. This game was a true must-win for the Bills, and they found a way to do exactly that. As the late, great Al Davis said, “Just win baby.” If the Bills just keep winning, they’ve got a real chance to be crashing the party in January.
Inquire – Offensive Line and Pass Protection:
The Bills have been, according to multiple places, a very good pass protection team, and when they aren’t, Josh Allen can typically make up for it with his athleticism. They struggled mightily today picking blitzes against the Chiefs’ defense. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is known for creating disguises for his heavy blitz scheme, which makes things difficult to plan for and set protections. But it was clear that Spagnuolo’s experience was superior to offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s relative inexperience. Spagnuolo kept dialing up pressures, adjusted to what Brady was doing, and set the tone for the rest of the game. But the real problem was the lack of adjustments from Brady and the Bills on those plays. In the second half, the Bills’ offense continuously stalled out largely because the OL couldn’t hold up in protection. A few holding calls (which were not holds, but NFL referees can’t seem to quite grasp what a hold is) set a drive near midfield back to a fourth and 38.
Require – Special Teams:
It’s time to have a conversation about special teams coordinator Matthew Smiley. For a team that has spent as much money on special teams-specific players as the Bills have, they have not gotten the returns they should from those investments. Today was no exception. In the last few years since Smiley has taken over, the Bills’ special teams unit has taken steps back each year, and while there is something to be said for injuries forcing guys into playing on special teams, it’s not enough to ignore the problems. Because even beyond the coverage and return units being subpar, Sam Martin hasn’t been anything special this year and Tyler Bass’ game has taken a step back from what we are used to seeing. Assuming the Bills retain Sean McDermott (which seems likely), Smiley has to be someone who should be replaced.
Irk-End of Game management:
After being given a first down on an illegal contact, the Bills had a first-and-10, just outside of two minutes, well within FG range. Two quick incompletions later, the two-minute warning still hadn’t hit yet. Joe Brady has had a good few weeks of play calling in the interim after Ken Dorsey’s firing, but this was not his game. Being aggressive as a philosophy and a mentality is great, but it shouldn’t lead to stupid decisions in big moments. One run on first down takes the clock to the two-minute warning. Another run takes one of the Chiefs’ timeouts away, leaving them with one after failing a challenge earlier in the half. But throwing twice and both being incomplete leaves you scratching your head as to why there was a need for aggression in that situation. A touchdown would be great, there’s no doubt about that, but leaving the Chiefs with as little time remaining as possible has to be part of the equation here. The Bills get a win against a tough opponent, but they need to keep their composure and keep it rolling moving forward. They cannot let the win here cloud their overall judgment of how the game was won, and overlook those sorts of mistakes.
The Bills now sit at 7-6 with the Dallas Cowboys on the horizon. A loss to the Cowboys would not be devastating, but the Bills have to keep rolling and continue to build positive momentum toward the end of the season. The Cowboys are on a roll recently but have weaknesses that can be taken advantage of, and the Bills have to find a way, again, to just win. Keep winning, and you’re in.