The evening started off fairly well for the Bills, managing to bully their way to a 17-14 halftime lead in front of never-say-die Bills Mafia. The Chiefs, however, had different plans in the second half, literally. After submitting to a near-unstoppable Bills run game through 30 football minutes, Kansas City adapted to better contain Buffalo’s stable of backs... including Allen.
Needing to adapt as well, that meant interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady had to execute a plan to counter KC’s adjustment. Short of a few missteps here and there, said plan unfolded. The problem, however, is that the Bills’ passing game once again failed to execute, with far too many drops by wide receivers not named Khalil Shakir. The second-year man had himself another night, catching seven of nine targets for 44 yards and one very impressive touchdown in early in the second half. He’d have had a lot more if quarterback Josh Allen could have stepped into his throw as time dwindled.
The Bills were as one-dimensional as it got for most of the night, to a fault.
There are real concerns with Buffalo’s wide receiver group. Deonte Harty and Trent Sherfield were brought in as key free-agent signings last spring, yet their contributions in the passing game didn’t live up to billing. Many teams struggle to meaningfully incorporate receivers slotted third and beyond within the depth chart, but that’s often due to a lack of opportunity and consistent production ahead of them.
Down the stretch of the 2023 NFL season, Shakir stepped up while Stefon Diggs seemed to disappear. But it wasn’t for a lack of opportunity. Against the Chiefs, Diggs was the team’s most-targeted wideout — Allen sought him out eight times, yet Diggs only managed to snare three passes for a harmless 21 yards. There was, of course, that moonshot of a throw from Allen, launched somewhere between his own 10- 15-yard-line that met Diggs around the Chiefs’ 25-yard line. Diggs, as had been the theme too often this season, failed to catch it. A certain touchdown that Allen placed perfectly to him, dropped.
Another frozen rope to Trent Sherfield melted when the prone and airborne receiver failed to secure the ball. Drops. Drops, and more drops. Missed connections, lack of involvement, opportunity. Pick your poison, but no matter where you land the common theme is a failure to execute. Incredibly, Dalton Kincaid once again found himself an early chess piece who wound up ignored or otherwise until game’s end. He, too, proved to be a reliable target for Allen, catching every pass thrown his way — making five catches for 45 yards.
Incredibly, despite an inability to continue dominating the line of scrimmage on offense and unable to sustain enough meaningful second-half drives that led to points, the Bills kept themselves in the game all evening.
This, after what certainly will live on as one of the worst special teams decisions in Buffalo Bills history. With the fourth quarter underway and after gaining just five yards, the Bills were forced into a punt situation. Suddenly, Buffalo discovered that the Chiefs only had 10 players on the field. An aggressive Bills punt unit made the choice to fake the punt, running safety Damar Hamlin instead. In his postgame presser, head coach Sean McDermott stated that he wanted to play aggressive football. So instead of just lining up with Josh Allen carrying the football a yard, the move was a chance special teams encounter of 11-on-10.
All wasn’t lost, of course. Kansas City reciprocated with their own bit of boneheaded deception, trusting wide receiver Mecole Hardman to get them six from a yard out. Safety Jordan Poyer came up huge, punching the ball out for it to roll out the back of the end zone — and back to Buffalo’s offense... which promptly did nothing aside from lose two yards before actually punting the football.
With the chips down and plenty of reason for concern, the Bills made a stop on defense to get the ball back once more. What ensued carried the vibe of team finding the will to win. Buffalo’s offense worked through its struggles, while continuing to move the chains and chew up clock. Tick, tick, tick. Surely the move was to end the game on offense, never allowing Mahomes to step foot on the field until double zeros and handshakes. A drive that began with 8:23 left in regulation consumed all but the final 1:43 of regulation. After failing to connect one more time with Shakir for what would have give the Bills a four-point lead, it came down to special teams and kicker Tyler Bass making a 44-yard field goal in the stadium’s most notorious part of the field. Wide right. KC’s ball.
To put the finishing touch on the story of a challenging season that started and ended with so much promise, once again with their backs up against the wall, Buffalo’s defense simply folded. The Chiefs ran the ball down their throats twice to enter victory formation.
Game over. Season ended.
As with any football game, there’s plenty to question as we so often do in these spaces. The biggest among them may be that decision to attempt a field goal, with kicker Tyler Bass clearly in the midst of struggle. Even if he made that kick, resetting the score at 27 apiece would have allowed Mahomes and company more than 90 seconds to get in position to claim the winning points. We all know what KC’s quarterback is capable of in a game’s biggest moment. Buffalo’s choice to kick a field goal had to come with no time left in regulation, to force overtime as a last resort.
What was behind the decision to dress an ailing punter in Sam Martin after signing a healthy Matt Haack early in the week? Yes, Martin is team’s preferred punter — their only one the entire season. A leg injury of any kind to a kicking specialist can only benefit your opponent. That it did. When called to duty, Martin’s punts weren’t great. Was he affected by the injury, the wind, pressure?
McDermott’s move to play a majority man-look defense. Cornerback Rasul Douglas was among the team’s best moves when he joined them at the trade deadline. He’s a zone-savvy defender, and the Chiefs got the better of him in man looks. Man was the move McDermott preferred apparently to counter the work of tight end Travis Kelce. It failed, though so did zone looks as evidenced by Kelce’s easy score where no Bills defenders even trailed him.
After investing so much in the defensive line, it failed to live up to billing against the team One Bills Drive told us it was built to stop. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver was a stud all season, yet almost invisible against these Chiefs. Edge rusher Von Miller finally made a tackle. The entire unit, all nine of those who head coach Andy Reid praised in his postgame speech, failed to win the line of scrimmage too often.
The defense couldn’t get off the field, most of the time failing to even face a third down. Does this mean yet another offseason of overhauling the defense, especially along the line?
Perhaps it all boils down to health. To luck. Both of those things failed to side with the Buffalo Bills for their biggest game of the year. Buffalo won the time-of-possession battle 37:03 to 22:57, had more total first downs (27 to 21), ran more offensive plays (78 to 47), and had a small edge in yards (368 to 361). They also disn’t turn the ball over (thanks to heady play by Dalton Kincaid), gave up zero sacks, and surrendered less than 30 penalty yards.
This offseason could bring sweeping changes, given the team’s salary-cap situation. with general manager Brandon Beane facing a situation somewhere in the neighborhood of $43 million over the projected allowed cap for 2024. Buckle up, things are likely to be interesting this offseason.