The Buffalo Bills (6-5) held off the Kansas City Chiefs (6-5) for a pivotal 16-10 victory Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium. While Bills fans had to be pleased with the outcome, it was a nerve-wracking end to the game. Despite the Buffalo defense dominating the Chiefs all game long, the Bills allowed Kansas City to have a chance at taking the lead late thanks to the ultra-conservative play-calling of offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.
Buffalo, which raced out to leads of 10-0 and 13-3 at halftime, had some success through the air in the first half, as Tyrod Taylor completed 15 of 24 passes for 121 yards with an 11-yard touchdown pass to rookie Zay Jones.
The defense allowed Kansas City only one first-half first down, and Buffalo seemed poised to extend its lead after halftime. Yet the Bills, under Dennison’s play calling, became extremely conservative, calling only five pass plays compared to 13 running plays (with two kneel downs at the end of the game).
If the run game was working, perhaps that split would make sense, but the Chiefs did a good job of bottling up both LeSean McCoy and Tarvaris Cadet in the second half, holding McCoy and Cadet to 17 yards on 10 carries.
Tyrod Taylor did have some success on the ground, breaking off a nine-yard run, but was held to just two yards on his other two second-half carries. Taylor scampered for nine yards on first down, setting up a 2nd-and-one, but McCoy was stuffed on a run up the middle, then Taylor was sacked for an 11-yard loss.
Following Kansas City’s touchdown drive to open the second half, Buffalo struck for a 49-yard Stephen Hauschka field goal to take a 16-10 lead with 6:52 to play in the third quarter.
From then on, the play-calling became especially conservative, calling 16 total plays that gained 37 yards.
On Buffalo’s lone sustained drive of the fourth quarter, Taylor connected with Nick O’Leary for a 15-yard gain down to the Kansas City 42-yard line. A field goal would make it a two-possession game. But instead of trotting out fullback Patrick DiMarco and trying to utilize the power run game to convert a crucial 3rd-and-1 play, Dennison got cute, calling an outside isolated play for McCoy off left tackle. The toss was immediately snuffed out for a five-yard loss, taking the Bills out of field goal range.
“Where we flipped it to LeSean, the execution wasn’t quite sharp,” Dennison told the media Monday. “(We) snapped it a little soon and just didn’t get it done so we’ve got to go back and make sure we get those down. Those are manageable. Those are things that we should be doing right.”
On Buffalo’s final offensive possession (not counting the two kneel downs after Tre’Davious White’s interception), the Bills had the ball close to midfield, but lost two yards on three runs that went nowhere.
What was Dennison trying to accomplish on that drive?
“We wanted to get a first down, but they had three timeouts. In the field position we had, we knew with the job that Danny [Crossman] and the special teams were doing pinning them, that would be advantageous for us,” Dennison said. “The biggest thing was using the timeouts, but obviously we were trying to get a first down. We didn’t execute to make the yardage. Perfect world, they use their timeouts and we get a first down and we get to victory before that.”
The Chiefs were never able to break through for the go-ahead touchdown and Buffalo held on for the win. While it’s nice to trust the defense to get stops at the end of games, the offense could have done more to put away Kansas City. That falls on Dennison.