It was billed as the Game of the Year.
After last year’s thrilling AFC Divisional Round playoff game, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills squared off Sunday in Kansas City in a clash of two of the best teams in the AFC. Even with all of the expectations going into the game, the contest indeed lived up to the hype.
It just took a while to warm up.
While the meeting was was expected to be an offensive shoot-out, got off to the start we all expected.
With each team turning the football over in the red zone.
On Buffalo’s opening drive, Josh Allen and Devin Singletary failed to execute on a pitch play, with the toss hitting the running back in the facemask and careening to the turf. Kansas City recovered the loose ball, taking over on their own 9-yard line.
The Kansas City offense then put together a long drive of their own, but that stalled out when Patrick Mahomes forced a throw into the end zone, which ended up in the hands of rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam:
But slowly, the offenses woke up, and each team’s first-half touchdown spoke to the one of the larger themes of this NFL season: The tension between defenses and offenses in the two-high world we are living.
On the Chiefs’ first-half touchdown, which gave them a 7-3 lead, the Bills tried to keep things in front of them with a pair of deep safeties. While they were able to pressure Mahomes with just four pass rushers, the quarterback was able to extend the play with his legs, deep into the down, before finding an option downfield:
As you can see courtesy of the “dots” from Next Gen Stats, the Bills drop into two-deep coverage, and try a stunt up front. While the pass rushers indeed pressure Mahomes, he is able to stay upright in the pocket, before finding JuJu Smith-Schuster. The receiver then takes over, breaking through a trio of would-be tacklers and then racing to the end zone:
Patrick Mahomes held the ball for 6.74 seconds before finding JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 42-yard TD.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 16, 2022
While Mahomes was able to deliver against two-high for Kansas City’s first-half touchdown, Allen took advantage of single-high coverage. As discussed weeks ago, offenses are going to need to be patient against two-high, but strike against single-high coverage looks as soon as they can.
That is exactly what the Bills were doing earlier in the season, and it is exactly what they did with 22 seconds left in the half:
Again, thanks to the “dots” we can see how the Chiefs spun their safeties into single-high, and as soon as Allen identified the coverage, he snapped his eyes to the right to pick up Gabe Davis, and the two connected for the touchdown to give Buffalo the lead with 16 seconds left in the half:
It was enough time for Mahomes. It took 13 seconds in the AFC Divisional Round last January, and it was 12 seconds on this quick drive as the quarterback got the Chiefs into range for Harrison Butker, who converted from 62 yards out — a new Chiefs record — to sent the teams to the locker room with the score knotted at ten:
The third quarter would offer more scoring. After Butker missed a field goal attempt on the opening possession of the third quarter, the teams traded touchdowns. Allen connected with Stefon Diggs from 17 yards out to give the Bills a 17-10 lead, but the Chiefs quickly matched that, with Mahomes linking up with Mecole Hardman from just three yards out to tie the game at 17.
Buffalo faced a decision on their next possession, staring at a 4th and 3 near midfield. Sean McDermott left his offense on the field, and an Allen pass for Diggs fell incomplete, giving the Chiefs excellent field position. Mahomes and company would settle for a field goal on the ensuing possession, staking Kansas City to a 20-17 lead.
Then came a bit of controversy. With the Bills facing a 3rd and 10 on their next possession, and the crowd at GEHA Field in full voice, Allen dropped into the pocket to throw. Chris Jones broke through off the right edge, and while the quarterback tried to escape, he tumbled to the turf.
Allen burst to his feel screaming for a flag, arguing that Jones tripped him which should have been a penalty. His concerns were initially waved off by the official, but when Allen saw the replay on the scoreboard, he again pled his case.
Once more on deaf ears. But he certainly had an argument:
Kansas City took over on their own 22-yard line, with under eight minutes remaining. This was perhaps the moment the Bills and their fans had been contemplating since January. Could they get a stop against Mahomes in a moment like this?
They got the stop, and the player they added to close out drives like this one, the player they were perhaps missing last January, was the one to step up:
Von Miller, added in the offseason to bolster the Bills’ pass rush, beats the tackle and gets to Mahomes before he could target Travis Kelce downfield, and gets the sack. Instead of a big play for the Kansas City offense, the Bills defense was coming off the field with the kind of stop that eluded them last winter.
Now it was time for their offense to make a play.
It did not get off to an easy start. The Bills faced a 4th and inches in their own territory early in the drive, and again McDermott left his offense on the field. Allen converted on the sneak — with an assist from Davis on the push after coming in motion — to pick up their initial first down on the drive:
Buffalo then faced a 3rd and 2 with the clock running towards the two-minute warning. Allen stood tall in the face of a blitz from Kansas City, hitting Diggs on a quick speed out along the left side of the field, coming out of a stack-slot alignment, to move the chains. That completion gave Buffalo a first down with 2:14 remaining, and the ball on the Chiefs’ 46-yard line.
Then on a 2nd and 10 right before the two minute warning, Allen and Diggs connected again on a deep curl route against zone coverage, getting the Bills down to the Chiefs’ 28-yard line.
Coming out of the time out, Ken Dorsey dialed up exactly what you would expect from one of these offenses.
Quarterback power sweep:
Allen’s run, and hurdle, gave the Bills a first down at the Chiefs’ 12-yard line. Now, the clock was a concern for Dorsey and the Bills. How much time do you want to leave for Mahomes?
They left a minute for him, as Allen connected with Dawson Knox on an out route in the left side of the end zone for the touchdown:
In January it was 13 seconds.
Today, it was 64 seconds. 64 seconds for the Bills to bury the memories of last winter. 64 seconds to put those stories to bed for the rest of the season. 64 seconds to perhaps inch closer to ensuring that any potential rematch would be in upstate New York, and not back at GEHA Field.
64 seconds. 64 seconds to forget about 13.
13 seconds later? The Bills defense had done it:
Taron Johnson jumped a route to perfection, stepping in front of a throw from Mahomes intended for rookie Skyy Moore, and he secured the interception. Giving the Bills possession with 51 seconds left. And a huge part of the play? Miller coming off the edge and splitting a double-team, forcing Mahomes off the spot.
The player they added in the offseason for this moment, creates the pressure for the Bills on the biggest snap of the game.
Buffalo was able to work the clock on their ensuing possession, forcing the Chiefs to burn their timeouts. But after Allen took a knee on third down, the Chiefs were unable to stop the clock, and Buffalo secured the victory.
And shrugged off the shackles of those 13 seconds from last January, having learned their lessons from last winter along the way.
Are the Bills the team to beat in the AFC? Right now, it sure looks like it.