© Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
For the third time in their history, the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills would face off for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Strangely, there have been 27 years between each previous matchup. The Chiefs won in 1967, and the Bills won in 1994.
Meeting again in 2021, fans got to witness two of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen squaring off to determine who will represent the AFC in Super Bowl LV. Nobody expected Buffalo to be a participant in the AFC Championship before the season began, but here they were.
Buffalo entered the game knowing they would need another running back to step up, with Zack Moss unable to play due to a season-ending ankle injury. Despite their injury troubles, on the opening drive, Buffalo peppered the Kansas City defense with an array of run-pass options (RPOs) that the Chiefs had trouble keeping up with.
Eventually, Buffalo was faced with a 4th-and-3 at the KC 33. Sean McDermott sent out the kicking unit to attempt a 51-yard field goal of which Tyler Bass would nail with ease. The conversion earned Bass a place in the history books as the longest made kick at Arrowhead Stadium in playoff history.
Once Kansas City got a chance, fans saw some uncharacteristically sloppy play from the 2020 Super Bowl champions to fuel Buffalo’s momentum.
The Bills got the ball back, but a well-timed blitz drove Josh Allen back for a 15-yard sack, putting them in a tough spot to set up the inevitable punt to Pro Bowl returner Mecole Hardman. The electric return-man muffed the punt, somehow ricocheting the ball back to allow Taiwan Jones to come out of nowhere and land on the football. Buffalo retained possession at the 3-yard line.
The heads-up fumble recovery on special teams put the Bills in a prime position to score. On the very next play, Allen found Dawson Knox on another RPO along the left side of the end zone for the game’s first touchdown to make it 9-0 Buffalo. Unfortunately, Bass then doinked the extra point attempt off the right upright to miss the freebie.
That little glimpse of imperfection started a shift that Kansas City thrived off of. On their next drive, the Chiefs attempted one rush, losing two yards on their 14-play drive. Patrick Mahomes spread the ball around to his embarrassment of riches, capping it off with Hardman’s short score. The first of his many attempts to redeem himself after his catastrophic early mistake.
Hardman’s next chance came on the first play of their next drive, out-running nearly every Bills defender to gain 50 yards. Four snaps later and the Chiefs would make the score 14-9.
The Chiefs were not done, scoring one more time before the end of the half. After the Bills scored nine points early, KC scored 21 unanswered points.
Outside of their first drive, Buffalo’s offense largely struggled to move the ball in the first half, punting the ball three times. Finally, before the 2nd quarter ended, Buffalo was able to get back into the scoring column, thanks in part to a 20-yard connection to T.J. Yeldon. A 20-yard field goal by Bass made it a 21-12 game heading into the 3rd quarter.
Long Road Home
A common theme of the night were the unblocked rushers getting through, forcing Josh Allen into unscheduled plays. He was seemingly under pressure, on the run, or getting smacked on nearly every snap. The protection scheme definitely let them down throughout the night.
This game displayed one of the few times all season where Stefon Diggs was largely a non-factor. Without much time to set up big plays down-field, Diggs’ opportunities were limited, which greatly handcuffed the offensive approach.
As has been the story for the past few seasons, the Chiefs’ speed proved to be too much to keep up with. Few players in the NFL can run with Mecole Hardman or Tyreek Hill for much longer than a few steps. After punting early in the first quarter, the Chiefs did not have to boot it away again for the rest of the game.
Aside from a kneel down before the end of the 2nd quarter, Kansas City scored on six-straight drives. Buffalo never quit on the game, even recovering an onside kick with the score at 38-21. It was the first successful onside recovery in the playoffs since 2014.
Looking back, there were plenty of decisions to question if you’re a Buffalo fan. Don’t get me wrong, they played with a lot of heart, but the explosiveness of the Buffalo offense that fans came to expect completely disappeared.
Given the game’s stakes, you can understand why maybe Buffalo didn’t want to be too aggressive early on. But this is the Chiefs, you know they’re scoring 30+. In the AFC Championship matchup, facing the Super Bowl champs, sometimes you have to risk it for the biscuit.
Buffalo had three 4th-and-short situations in which they decided to kick instead of going for it.
- 4th-and-3 at KC 33
- 4th-and-Goal at KC 2
- 4th-and-3 at KC 8
It is always easier to look back in hindsight after a loss, but it’s not hard to wonder how different the game could have been if the Bills tried for six instead of three on a few of those occasions.
With all the incredible throws he can make, as amazing as Josh Allen is, the Chiefs’ weapons help Mahomes seem that much greater. There is no one on the Bills who has the speed of either Hill or Hardman. Add in one of the best tight ends of all-time in Travis Kelce, to go with a Hall-of-Fame head coach in Andy Reid, and you have a Super Bowl team.
Buffalo Bills: Entering an Offseason with Optimism
Buffalo showed they could be the best offensive team in the NFL for a better part of the year, and the scary part is they are just getting started. A full offseason will provide them with plenty of opportunities to bring in players focused on competing for a Super Bowl.
If you are a player with the hopes of making the playoffs, why wouldn’t you want to sign with Buffalo to personally witness Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and Tremaine Edmunds as they ascend into greatness? Not to mention the enigmatic energy of the Bills Mafia.
The Bills aren’t in line to have a ton of cap space, but they don’t have any major contributors set to hit the free-agent market either. Given a few months to reset, general manager Brandon Beane will have plenty of time to form a game plan to overcome this AFC Championship loss.
As long as Allen is in town, the Bills figures to be a perennial pick to make the playoffs. It’s going to be a long offseason in Buffalo, but this result is still a lot better than losing in the Wild Card like last season. It may seem like a strange time to celebrate, but I think we should all be proud of the entire Buffalo Bills organization’s efforts in what has been a unique year.
Bills Mafia, we will be back next season, hopefully with a chance to show the rest of the NFL that we are the most passionate fanbase in the league, selling out Bills Stadium with every chance we get.
BillsFans.com - Andrew Buller-Russ