The Buffalo Bills were thoroughly outplayed and outcoached on Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs, as the Bills fell short in their bid to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LV. While the score was 38-24, the spread felt far worse, and save for some garbage-time points, it would have appeared so on the scoreboard, as well.
Buffalo’s key players repeatedly fell short against a high-powered Chiefs team that won its second consecutive AFC Championship Game. Here’s how the Bills’ top players fared in the contest.
QB Josh Allen
In the initial article, I wrote that Allen had “proven so far this postseason that the moment isn’t too big for him” with steady play against the Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens. Alas, the lights shine a little brighter in a conference championship game, and Allen definitely looked rattled all night long. Maybe it was the pressure of the moment, or perhaps it was the relentless defensive pressure that made his offensive line look like a sieve. Maybe it was, as Tony Romo mentioned one or 50 times, the “sticky” coverage in the secondary. Allen looked unnerved, uncomfortable, out of sync, you name it—he didn’t look like the MVP candidate we’ve seen throughout the year, but instead he looked like an ace pitcher trying to gut out five innings when he didn’t have his best stuff. Overall, the numbers look better than the performance—Allen completed 58 percent of his passes for 287 yards, two touchdowns, his first career red zone interception (on a ball that hit John Brown in the hands), and he led the game in rushing with seven carries for 88 yards—but he was unable to do much of anything for a large chunk of the game. After hitting on six-of-eight passes to open the night, Allen finished the first half by completing just six of his next 15 passes. The Chiefs scored 21 points in a span of ten game minutes. Buffalo punted twice in that span and ran just eight offensive plays. That’s not going to cut it against Kansas City. Allen had some bright moments (the touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie was brilliant, and he made some great decisions in read-option plays between finding space to run and hitting receivers in the flat), but there weren’t enough on Sunday.
WR Stefon Diggs
Until garbage time, Diggs had two catches for 12 yards. He finished the game with six grabs for 77 yards, but two of those grabs for 49 yards came when the Chiefs led 38-15 with under eight minutes to play. I was confused by the play calling, as offensive coordinator Brian Daboll seemed to lose track of the scheme that freed Diggs in tough man coverage against the Baltimore Ravens, a team whose secondary receives much more praise than the Chiefs’ secondary. Where was the motion? Where were the rub routes? The Bills kept putting their wideouts in spots where they had to win in their routes. Time and again, they did not win. Diggs had a great year and is a great player, but the Chiefs were able to neutralize him on Sunday in the biggest moment of his early Bills career. He was the last player left on the field watching Kansas City celebrate. He’s a competitor. He’ll be back with a vengeance next year.
TE Dawson Knox
Well, the young tight end had arguably the best game of his career on Sunday night, securing a career-high six catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers would look pretty good for most tight ends...except for when the other team’s tight end is Travis Kelce. Knox was on the field more often than normal, as Gabriel Davis may have been active, but he was clearly compromised, so the Bills went away from their four-wide sets and instead went with more “11” looks. Knox is a promising young player who looked much better in the second half of the season.
DT Ed Oliver
Oliver played 37 defensive snaps, tops among all defensive tackles for the Bills. He had three tackles, one of which went for a loss. He didn’t create any pressure on quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but he wasn’t alone in that, as Mahomes had pretty much all night to throw to whomever he wanted. Oliver and the Buffalo defensive line did a much better job against the run this time around, but it didn’t matter much, as the Chiefs just did what they do best—throw it all over the yard—instead.
S Micah Hyde
When the Bills blitzed, Patrick Mahomes shredded them. When the Bills played zone, Patrick Mahomes shredded them. When the Bills played man, Patrick Mahomes shredded them. Buffalo stayed in a two-high safety look for much of the evening, leaving Hyde and fellow safety Jordan Poyer playing against the deep shots more often than not. This left the team in some bad looks, as the Chiefs could find mismatches easily for their top targets. When the Bills went with Tremaine Edmunds and/or Matt Milano on Travis Kelce, keeping Tre’Davious White on Tyreek Hill, Kelce feasted. When the Bills played White on Kelce, Taron Johnson was the unlucky soul left chasing Hill all over the field. Perhaps using Hyde to stick Kelce, thereby allowing White to man Hill, would have been a better play. Hell, even using an extra defensive back in lieu of a defensive lineman, like Dean Marlowe or Siran Neal, to cover Kelce, then doubling Hill, could have been better. Basically, anything other than what the Bills did—let the two best players on the other team straight-up smoke you all night long—would have been a better plan. Hyde finished the game with three tackles.