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Image Credit: © Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports


All right.  Full disclosure.


I left Arrowhead at halftime.  I had a good excuse.  Well, I had an excuse.  Okay, there is no excuse. 


The upper concourse was absolutely packed with people at halftime, just standing around and waiting out the weather delay.  The concession stands were selling no beer.  It was raining.  The lightning seemed to keep coming and coming, and the weather radar looked bad.  We decided to go.


As we began to push our way through the crowd, I stopped beside a big Bills fan who seemed to be enjoying himself.   Why not?  The Bills had dominated the first half, and you could feel the dejection in the KC air.  I tapped him on the shoulder and asked, “Will I be forgiven if I leave at halftime?”  He looked me in the eye and sympathetically said something like, “I don’t have that authority, but I don’t think you will ever be completely forgiven.”  We both laughed, and I went on my way.


It took ten minutes to get to the gate.  We stopped.  Once I went out the gate there was no coming back.   I thought about it and then decided to continue.  Walking through the parking lots, we heard the cheers from the crowd as they learned they could return to the stadium.  We heard the second half kickoff on the radio in the car.  We heard Hyde’s interception, and we heard Rousseau’s interception.  I was in the hotel lobby restaurant for the final plays of the Chiefs’ TD drive and for the rest of the game as I worked on a drink and a sandwich.


I missed the second half downpour.  I missed the end-of-game traffic jam.  But I also missed celebrating with Bills fans at the end of the game.  All in all, it wasn’t a horrible way to have seen/heard the game, but I never leave before the end.  Well, last season, I left a  meaningless game 16 in horrible rain, but that was like leaving a preseason game.  


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© Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports


Now that I have that off my chest, what a game!  I mean, really, what a game!!!  In his post-game interview, Josh Allen was very calm and professional, it’s only one win, four wins doesn’t get you to the playoffs, etc., etc.   The Bills’ celebrations on the sideline as Allen took knees said something different.  The mantra is “don’t get too high, don’t get too low, blah, blah,” but those celebrations showed that the Bills looked at this game like the fans did – maybe not redemption for the loss in the Championship Game, but at least a test.  Did the Bills have the secret potion to counter Mahomes’s magic?   Could they stop Hill and Kelce?  Could they slay the dragon? 


Hell, yes!  Maybe the dragon’s getting a little long in the tooth, and maybe the dragon will rise to fight again, but for now, this dragon took a fatal sword thrust to the heart and is lying dead on GEHA Field at Arrowhead.  There are new dragons on the horizon – there always are in the NFL, but if the Bills face the Chiefs in the playoffs this season, it’s going to be in Orchard Park, and that’s where the Bills want them.


Watching the early games on Sunday, I realized that one thing that makes the Bills defense so great is that the Bills do not, they absolutely do not, let anyone get deep on them.   All afternoon long, one team after another got beat deep, and I kept wondering what was wrong with them.  Finally I realized it – there’s nothing wrong with them; it’s just that the Bills are special.  Somehow, the Bills always have a defender running with the deep threat.  Except for the first play of the game when Kelce got deep and Mahomes missed him.  I began to worry that Andy Reid had found, once again, the cracks in the defense that would allow him to strike deep, but that was it – one play.  After that, the long strikes to Hill or any of those other speedsters KC puts on the field simply weren’t there. 


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© Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports


The Bills were fearless.  Sometimes Tre White followed Hill, but sometimes the defensive responsibility fell to someone else, mostly Taron Johnson.  KC seemed to think that they could put Hill in the slot and take advantage of the matchup, but that strategy failed almost completely.  Johnson’s been playing well all year, but it seemed as though he said to the Bills, “if you give me the money, I’ll show you what I REALLY can do.”  With his new contract in hand, Johnson was ready for whatever Hill could bring at him. 


The defense is amazing.  There’s always another tackler arriving, someone’s always going after the ball.  They’re tough.  Poyer probably will get fined for that hit on Kelce, but Poyer wanted to send a message.  It probably was a bad idea, because Kelce will remember, but Poyer WANTS him to remember. 


The difference this season no doubt is the defensive line.  The Bills don’t come at opponents with superstar talent on the defensive line.  They don’t have a Kahlil Mack demanding double teams, or a Chris Jones.  They just attack with good football players, and the complementary effect of working together is that someone is always making a play.  Last season, all they had was Hughes, Addison, and Oliver, and the total of the three wasn’t enough to threaten the offense consistently.  This season, the Bills have added Rousseau and Star and an improved Zimmer and Basham and Efe, and it seems that any four of them together threaten the QB on almost every drop back.   And they stop the run, too. 


Even when the opposing QB has time to look downfield, he has a problem – the back seven.  All night long, Mahomes was looking, scrambling, looking, looking, and more often then not, he threw a contested ball or threw it away. 


Did the Bills miss Matt Milano?   Yes, because every game that Milano is on the field, he makes an eye-popping play or two.  No, because AJ Klein made all the ordinary plays that the Bills defense requires.   He seemed never to be out of position, and roaming behind that defensive line, he and Edmunds made tackles all night. 


One last thing about the defense:  Rousseau.  Football at its very core is about territory: can you attack their territory and can you defend yours?   The best coaches say, for example, that the offense needs to attack vertically and horizontally, because if you can threaten to attack all over the field, you spread the defense and everything gets easier. 


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© Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports


On defense, the better you can defend territory, the easier defense gets.  It’s the point about Edmunds that so many people seem to miss.  Edmunds is valuable because the combination of his size, including his wingspan, his quickness and his speed allows him to cover a much larger part of the center of the field than the average middle linebacker.  Throwing over him and dropping the ball into the middle zones is difficult if not impossible.  He makes it hard to find crossers, because of his unique physical skills, and that helps the entire defense, because the offense has less territory to attack. 


Rousseau looks like another Edmunds, and he is.  He stays on his feet, and he can run.  The result is that he is excellent shutting down the run game to his side of the field, and he’s almost equally valuable trailing plays to the other side.   But the point about defenders taking away parts of the field with their size was best demonstrated on his interception.  Mahomes learned, and other quarterbacks are learning, that throws to the right flat are not the gimme outlet passes they’re used to making.  Rousseau is so tall and has such great reach and athletic ability that he makes it difficult to get balls around or over him and still connect with the receiver.  


So, there the defense sits after game 5, on the top of the league in yards per game and points per game.  Spectacular!


How about the offense?  How does 8th in yards per game and first in points per game sound?   Wow!


The Chiefs haven’t gotten the message about not letting receivers deep.   Sanders, Diggs, Knox all burned them.  Josh still hasn’t played his best football, and that’s exactly what keeps defensive coordinators up at night.   Wait until the offense really gets humming. 


A few things about the offense.  First, the Bills seemed prepared for the noise.  There had been questions about whether Josh’s success last season stemmed from the fact that he could make adjustments in quiet stadiums on the road.  It seemed that when he faced a full house in KC last January, he struggled.  Well, the crowd was loud on Monday night, as loud as in Orchard Park, but it was no problem for the Bills.  They ran on a silent count, and Josh seemed to make the adjustments at the line that he wanted.  That’s a credit to Brian Daboll.


Actually, the entire offensive performance was a credit to Brian Daboll.  He schemed up the right running plays for Josh, so that Josh’s legs were a true threat.  He got receivers deep, and he got them open in the middle, too.  Best of all, he had a great scheme for the running backs.   Moss and Singletary were constant threats.  Particularly late in the game, the running backs were much more patient, getting wide and simply waiting for the blockers to open a seam before attacking.  It’s the style that made Le’Veon Bell a star in Pittsburgh – just be patient and you’ll find a place to go. 


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© Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports


The Bills are being rewarded for the their patience with Dawson Knox. 


Finally, if you want to be a dragon slayer, you’ve got to confront the claws, the teeth, and the flaming breath fearlessly and fight back.   That’s exactly what the Bills offense did in the second half.  They opened the half going three and out, four and out, three and out.  Micah Hyde gave them some breathing room with his pick six, but the Chiefs roared back, with Mahomes taking them on a classic, quick TD drive to make it 31-20.  The game was on the line.  Fourteen minutes left.  The Bills needed to run clock and keep the ball away from Mahomes.  They needed a field goal to go up 14, which wouldn’t be bad.  What they really needed was a long drive for a touchdown, leaving the Chiefs down three scores without enough time to do it.


Josh and the offense were ready to slay the dragon.  What looked like a bogus offensive holding call put the Bills in an immediate hole, but they were bailed out with a roughing the passer call against Clark that probably was the right call – lifting the quarter back off the ground and landing on top of him without Clark breaking his fall.  But they were still deep in their own territory, and there still was a lot of time on the clock.  A first down pass to Sanders got the Bills a fresh set of downs from their own 34.  Moss ran for one, and Beasley made a good run after a short completion for five.  Now it was third and four, still with nine and half minutes on the clock, plenty of time for Mahomes to get two scores.  The Bills needed a first down.


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© Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports


And then it happened.  For fans of any other team, it would have been a miracle, but for Bills fans it was just Josh being Josh.  Bills fans had seen it before.  Hard as it is to believe, they’d seen EXACTLY the same thing before.  Josh scrambled and, confronted by a tackler who would drop him short of the first down, he simply jumped over him!  When he did it his rookie season, he said he knew he wasn’t supposed to do it, but the team needed the first down.  Same thing against the Chiefs – his team needed the first down, so he just jumped over the guy. 


Nine minutes were left on the clock, maybe still enough time for Mahomes, but Allen’s play ignited the offense.  Allen to Moss for 16 yards, Allen to Davis for another 16, Allen keeps it for 12, Moss runs for 4, and Allen to Sanders for 8 and the TD.  Six minutes left, but the dragon’s corpse was lying on the field.  The celebration began as Allen took three sweet kneel downs and fittingly tossed the ball Micah Hyde, the ever-present safety. 


Last season, the Bills were spanked on the road two weeks in a row by the Titans and then the Chiefs.  Coincidentally, the Titans will be waiting for the Bills in Nashville next Monday night.   Just another dragon.


Go Bills!


Billsfans.com - Shaw66



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