Fans of the Buffalo Bills are used to being kept in the dark about the inner workings of the team’s facility. We’re not supposed to know every part of the inner workings at One Bills Drive and that’s okay. When there are big stories, though, we expect to get at least a little sliver of information.
When the Bills lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round this year, there were some big questions. Buffalo scored with 13 seconds remaining in the game before a series of missteps allowed the Chiefs to tie the game and ultimately win in overtime. Tyler Bass boomed the ensuing kickoff through the end zone, the Bills defense played a super-soft zone with outside leverage, and Buffalo rushed four passers without disrupting any of the routes at the line and little chance of getting to Patrick Mahomes in time for it to matter. In short, a series of poor choices led the Bills to a bitter loss.
But we already knew all of that. After the game, head coach Sean McDermott blamed it on “execution”—usually a term used for a mistake by a player. Everything has been hushed at One Bills Drive. No reporters were allowed into the building for locker room cleanout. No player had spoken about the 13 seconds in an interview because few had done interviews. General manager Brandon Beane and McDermott didn’t want to get into it any further.
Smoke started appearing shortly thereafter. Coaches film showed the coverage team attempting to cover a return instead of sprinting down the field as they normally do on touchbacks called by the coaching staff. One even looked to the sideline with his arms out when the kick landed in the end zone. Special teams coordinator Heath Farwell left a Super Bowl contender to join the Jacksonville Jaguars without a promotion.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Behind the scenes, players are beginning to talk. After McDermott spoke with reporters in Indianapolis during the NFL’s Scouting Combine and didn’t add any more context, Tyler Dunne published a piece over at Go Long that deconstructed the situation.
Here are some bullet points:
- Heath Farwell told his special teams coverage unit to squib kick, running time off the clock
- Sean McDermott said to kick it deep, allowing a touchback and no time off the clock
- Instead of talking to Tyler Bass, Farwell went to talk to McDermott, then back to the kick team, and Bass was never told to squib
- Levi Wallace lined up outside leverage on both KC offensive snaps while Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer were 26 and 31 yards off the ball
- The Bills rushed four, only dropping seven in coverage, and no one jammed any of the receivers at the line of scrimmage
- The Bills were trying to stop a last-second touchdown, not a field goal
- Stefon Diggs and a defensive player were in an argument leaving the field that was quelled by Jerry Hughes
- After the game when McDermott only said “execution” publicly, it rubbed players the wrong way
- Players and people inside the building are questioning Sean McDermott’s management at the end of the game
- Because it was the end of the season, the team hasn’t gathered to discuss the end of regulation or watch film, leaving a massive void in accountability inside the roster and many players have no idea what happened in the last 13 seconds of regulation
Dunne had a lot of former players and coaches on the record, so it’s really worth your time and money to go read the entire thing. Ultimately, a lot of folks are laying the blame for the loss at McDermott’s feet.
Buffalo has a game management coach, they called timeouts before each of Kansas City’s final two plays for some sort of strategic advantage, and literally one thing different on the final three plays before the field goal to end regulation would have likely won the game for the Bills. It was a series of mental errors in rapid succession over the course of minutes of real time.
The one person who can discuss it publicly is either falling on the sword for someone else or shielding himself from criticism. Players interviewed seem to think one of those things is clearly happening and not the other. It’s not going to lead to a mutiny, but it certainly is cause for concern going forward.