It came a lot later in the year than anyone would’ve expected after the 2019 season, but the Buffalo Bills were eliminated from contention with a 38-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. A remarkable season, one of the best in franchise history, came to a close after 15 wins, including the team’s first two playoff wins in 25 years. The Bills were a game away from the Super Bowl, but to make it there, they needed to eliminate the reigning Super Bowl MVP and his dynamic supporting cast. They weren’t up to the task.
In almost all phases of the game, the Bills were outplayed by the Chiefs. The game actually started with Buffalo momentum—the Bills strung together some offensive success on an opening field goal drive, the Chiefs punted after a dropped pass on third down, and Mecole Hardman’s muffed punt return set up an easy touchdown (though Tyler Bass’s extra point attempt bounced off the uprights).
But Buffalo’s 9-0 lead evaporated in a crushing sequence that started with six minutes left in the first quarter. The Chiefs scored a touchdown after a 14-play, 80-yard drive. Buffalo punted after five plays. Supported by a 50-yard Hardman run, the Chiefs scored another touchdown after only five plays. Buffalo went three-and-out. The Chiefs strung together another touchdown drive, extending their lead to 21-9.
The the Bills gave their best response—a 12-play, four-minute drive that took them all the way to the four-yard line. The Bills couldn’t punch it in, and faced a fourth down, a few yards out from the end zone, with only a few seconds left in the half.
To recap the situation: The Bills trailed by 12 points—a two-score deficit. They could kick a field goal, which would give the team a moral victory (breaking the Chiefs’ scoring streak), but it would change the deficit to nine points—still a two-score deficit. Or they could try for a touchdown, which would cut the deficit to five.
Head coach Sean McDermott kicked the field goal.
This didn’t seal Buffalo’s fate—but it was emblematic of a “close, but no cigar” strategy that permeated their game against the Chiefs tonight.
At the end of it all, Buffalo just had no answer for that incredible offense. Their best chance could’ve been keeping up in a scoring shootout, but they weren’t up to the task. Kansas City blanketed Buffalo’s receivers most of the night, brought pressure on Josh Allen, and the Bills couldn’t manufacture an answer. Following Buffalo’s field goal, The Chiefs started the second half with a field goal and two touchdowns, and the Bills responded with a field goal and an interception.
When the Chiefs scored another touchdown after Allen’s interception, the score hit 38-15, a 23-point deficit, and garbage time started. The Bills and Chiefs played out the string, and there was plenty of pushing, shoving, and “extracurricular” physical activity as the eliminated Bills took out their anger on a team who bullied them all night long. It was an ugly ending to an ugly game.
Let’s put that aside and focus on the positives from this game—and there are a few. Even as the game went out of hand, the Bills kept fighting back—they scored a touchdown and recovered an onside kick that (technically) kept them in contention late in the fourth quarter. Josh Allen recovered from a lousy first half to have over 370 total yards of offense. Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley finally found some openings against the Chiefs’ defense late in the game. The Bills have an excellent young special teams core between Reid Ferguson, Tyler Bass, and Corey Bojorquez.
It was a wonderful experience to witness the Bills overcoming adversity week after week in the 2020 season. Going into this game, I was happy no matter the outcome. But this loss leaves a hollow, twisting feeling nonetheless.
We can take time to process the loss. I know, at least, that it’ll make the Super Bowl so much more stressful, knowing I have to watch Tom Brady go against the team that took down the Bills. The offseason discussion will start in earnest. I have a good feeling about 2021, at any rate. For now, I’ll salute this team for a memorable year.
Gabriel Davis had been questionable to appear in this game because of an ankle injury, but the Bills did activate him tonight. He played sparingly, and didn’t manage any catches.
Cole Beasley hurt his leg, a “muscle” issue, with around six minutes left in the game. He hopped off the field and returned a few minutes later, gutting out the remainder.
- The Bills made two questionable field goal calls, both taking 12-point deficits to 9-point deficits. Both kicks came near the goal line, and both didn’t buy the Bills any breathing room. We’ll be wondering “what if” the Bills scored 14 instead of 6 in those moments.
- It stood out in part because the Green Bay Packers lost their NFC Championship on a similar field goal call only hours earlier.
- It also stood out because Sean McDermott has been so progressive on “go for it” calls this season.
- The Chiefs punted once in this game—on their very first series.
- The Bills only created one turnover—Hardman’s muffed punt return.
- Josh Allen’s propensity for holding onto the ball past the point of no return was a major problem tonight. He took four sacks for 53 yards lost (that’s 13 yards per sack) and also took an intentional grounding penalty.
- Running backs? What are those? Devin Singletary and T.J. Yeldon combined for 32 rushing yards on nine carries.
- NFL teams were 0-for-43 in recovering an onside kick since week eight this season. But with some team effort, Tremaine Edmunds was able to snag one in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.
- This was the first successful one in the playoffs since the 2014 NFC Championship game.
- Allen threw the first interception in his playoff career tonight—he’d thrown 155 passes without an interception in the playoffs, up until that point.
- It was also the Bills’ first giveaway of the playoffs this year. They’d taken advantage of turnovers and big plays to win the first two rounds, but the magic didn’t last through to the Super Bowl.
- The ugliest play of the night came when Allen took an 18-yard sack, tossed the ball at a Chiefs player in frustration, and started a mini-brawl late in the fourth quarter. Four offsetting personal foul penalties were called, ultimately, before the Bills settled for a field goal on 4th-and-28.