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Opinion: this is the most heartbreaking Bills playoff loss of my lifetime

There’s a case to be made for it

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

This one. It’s not recency bias. It’s not just because it’s fresh. This one is the most heartbreaking loss of my time as a fan of the Buffalo Bills.

“Wide Right” was for bigger stakes, for sure. It was one play.

“Home Run Throwback” was brutal. It was one play.

I don’t really remember Ronnie Harmon’s drop in the 1989 divisional round. Still, it was one play.

This game had a buildup of energy and emotion, with Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense willing the team to victory over and over again, and being let down by the top passing defense in the league and coaching. It wasn’t one play, it was compounding mistakes. You can’t argue that the Kansas City Chiefs got lucky the same way the New York Giants, Tennessee Titans, and Cleveland Browns did in those other games.

A 17-play, 75-yard drive ended with a 27-yard touchdown pass on 4th & 13. We were dead, and now there was life and a lead with 1:54 left. Too much time for Patrick Mahomes, perhaps. They didn’t even use half of it. After the kickoff, the Kansas City Chiefs went 75 yards in five plays using just 52 seconds. That vaunted secondary was nowhere to be seen, as Tyreek Hill turned the corner on both All-Pro safeties.

Once again, Allen showed great command, using 49 seconds to go the length of the field to put Buffalo on top for the second time in two minutes with a touchdown pass. Just 13 seconds remained on the clock. Buffalo would never get the ball back again.

That’s when the coaches broke our hearts, kicking off deep. The Chiefs would get the ball at their own 25 with the same 13 seconds on the clock. A high, short kick may have given them the same field to work with, but taken time off the clock. They could have fair caught the kick, leaving the 13 seconds on the clock but pinning them back inside their own 20. A squib kick would have removed the option of a fair catch after it hit the ground once, and taking time off the clock. Either way, all were better options than trotting out Bass to boom it.

That’s when the defense and coaches stomped on what was left of the hearts they just collectively broke. Deep zone coverage by the safeties, a four-man rush when you knew Mahomes was only going to have one second to throw the pass, and poor coverage by the cornerbacks let the Chiefs go 44 yards in ten seconds. Tighter coverage or dropping two more guys into the passing lanes would have disrupted those quick passes and had more guys available for quicker tackles. Defensive linemen get your hands up. Heck, grab the receivers if you have to; a penalty is better in this situation. KC didn’t need a touchdown, they needed a field goal, and they got it to send the game to overtime.

Before OT, Josh lost the coin toss. In every away game this season he had won the toss. He lost it twice in the span of a few hours Sunday. The opening toss was the only L he should have taken on the day.

The defense didn’t even get in KC’s way in the extra timeframe; eight plays were run and they gained yards on every one of them. No incomplete passes, no tackles for a loss. A touchdown to Travis Kelce and a win by the Chiefs. They made it look easy against a gassed defense. No timeouts from the coaching staff to collect the defense. No chance.

Any one of those decisions or plays would have been heartbreaking on their own. Collectively, they are the most heartbreaking loss for me as a Bills fan, and there is plenty of blame to go around.

Amplifying the pain is what happens next. Bills’ offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is a top candidate for head coaching jobs with other franchises. It’s no guarantee his successor will be on par. Allen’s cap hit jumps from $10.2 million to $16.4 million in 2022 and $40 million in 2023 so keeping the band together is going to be tougher with the salary cap. Several key Bills are free agents and/or on the wrong side of 30. This was the best team they’re going to have for a long time with a mix of great young players and veterans, and they blew the multiple chances when they had the game won.