It almost seemed too good to be true: returning to Tampa Bay, the same city as “wide right” 30 years later, winning a title just 4 years into McDermott’s tenure and 3 years into Josh Allen’s career, the chance to win their first Super Bowl against the same quarterback that menaced them for 20 years. In the end, it proved too good to be true for Buffalo, as the Bills 2020 revenge tour came to an end against the world champion Kansas City Chiefs. The Bills lost by only fourteen points, 38-24, but the game was nowhere near that close. The Bills were beaten in nearly every phase of the game, something we have not seen this year except for two games – both against the Chiefs.
Offense – After the Bills offense stalled on their first drive, we did not see a sustained drive from the offense until the final drive of the 1st half. In a preview article, I mentioned that this offense had not been the same since the playoff started. We barely saw any of what made them so successful on their way to a record-breaking 13-3 regular season. Where were the unique WR formations that Daboll used to exploit defenses? Where was the pre-snap motion and creative usage of Isiah McKenzie? I understand that these playoff defenses are harder than what the Bills played for most of the year, but one of the best offenses in the league did not show up for three straight playoff games and it finally caught up with them. Devin Singletary dropped a wide open screen pass with the Bills moving down the field in the 2nd quarter. After the drop, McDermott benched the second year player for the majority of the game. While a drop in the 2nd quarter probably didn’t make or break the game, it came at a time where the Bills were driving to extend their lead. Who knows what could have happened if the Bills ended up scoring on that drive. The Bills were the number one third down defense this year, but only converted on 5 of their 14 attempts against KC. The red zone scoring was another bright spot of this up and coming offense in the regular season. You’d have thought that strength, combined with the Chiefs 32nd ranked red zone defense, would have been a clear advantage for the Bills in this game, but touchdowns on only 2 of their 5 red zone trips was key in their defeat. The offensive line struggled to give Allen a clean pocket all night, calling into question whether or not the Bills should make sweeping changes to a unit that failed to provide a push up front for most of the year.
Defense – As Tony Romo mentioned on the broadcast, Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce were able to pick apart the Bills zone defense with ease. When the Bills attempted to change their defensive coverage, it took Mahomes one play to exploit it with Tyreek Hill waiting on the other side. While the Bills didn’t give up 245 rushing yards to the Chiefs like their Week 6 matchup, the damage in this game was done through the air. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce combined for 22 receptions, 290 yards and 2 TD’s. The Bills simply had no answers for those two players today, and that is a big reason why the Bills season ended the way it did. It is puzzling how the Bills could go from shutting down Lamar Jackson to allowing 38 points the week after. Even if the Bills offense was on their best, they wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the Chiefs in this one. The Chiefs were the ones just toying with the Bills all night long, completely dictating this game and getting whatever they wanted on offense.
Special Teams – Since the Bills did not turn the ball over with this unit, this is one area where the Bills had an advantage. The punt return unit did a great job of forcing a fumble and recovering it at the 3-yard line, setting up the Bills’ only touchdown of the first half. Tyler Bass missed the extra point, which at the time felt like a bad omen for the Bills and a glimmer of hope for the Chiefs. Aside from the missed extra point, which could have played a part in some of the questionable coaching decisions that came later in the game, Bass did do his part, nailing four field goals from 51, 20, 27, and 51 yards out. The Chiefs also did a really good job of avoiding an Andre Roberts return in this game, which was a looked at as a major matchup advantage for the Bills coming in.
Coaching – To me, one of the biggest disappointments in this game was the coaching staffs’ choices at key moments of the game. Going into this season, the biggest knock on Sean McDermott was his game management decisions. It became clear very early this year that McDermott had improved in that area, but some of those issues appeared to creep up again at the worst time. Keep in mind, the Bills were one of the most aggressive teams this year, only punting three times from opponent territory all season long. When the dust settled, there were four decisions that will be talked about for a long time.
The first was McDermott’s decision to kick a field goal on their opening drive facing 3rd and 3 from the Chiefs 33 yard line. This came after McDermott decided to go for it once already on that drive, which was 4th and 1 from the KC 48 yard line. If you are willing to give the ball to the Chiefs at midfield, then I am not sure why you are okay settling for a field goal just three plays later. The second call came at the end of the half with the Bills trailing 21-9 and facing 4th and Goal from the 4 yard line. Again, McDermott chose to kick a field goal. The problem was, the deficit went from 12 points to 9 points, which is still a two possession game. McDermott had a nearly identical situation on the Bills’ first possession of the second half. After the Chiefs added a field goal of their own the extend the lead back to 12, the Bills decided to once again kick a field goal on 4th and 3 from the 8 yard line, which cut the lead to 9 once again, 24-15. The final questionable call, which Tony Romo made mention to on the broadcast, was McDermott’s decision to go for the 2-point conversion trailing by 17 after a touchdown late in the 4th quarter. If the Bills kick the extra point there, the deficit becomes 16 points, a two possession game. The Bills actually recovered the onside kick, which would have given them a legitimate shot down two scores with all three timeouts and 4 minutes left. But because of the failed 2-pt attempt, and with the Bills still down 17, recovering the kick did nothing to move the needle in this game.
Outside of the first few minutes of the game, which saw the Bills jump out to an early 9-0 lead, the Bills were completely outmatched and outcoached in the AFC Championship Game. The most disappointing part of this game was how the Bills lost, a complete dismantling of how the team got to AFC Championship game in the first place. But, that is what great teams like the Chiefs do to you, they make you question your own identity. The Bills will now have an offseason to work on their identity, so when they are in this situation again, they are the ones controlling the game and not folding to their opponent. All of that being said, I fully expect this team to be right back in the AFC Championship game next year. These are the lessons that need to be learned along the way, both for players and for coaches, and will go a long way in helping the Bills clear this hurdle in the near future.