The Kansas City Chiefs beat the Buffalo Bills 27-24 on Sunday, earning their first road playoff win in the Patrick Mahomes era. It’s also the first playoff game that the Chiefs have played since Mahomes entered the starting lineup, so there’s that.
The Chiefs were essentially able to do whatever they wanted on the offensive end all day. And, after the Bills ran them out of the building in the first half, Kansas City did what they’ve done all year: They made fantastic in-game adjustments and stemmed the tide, holding the Bills to just one score after intermission.
The Chiefs’ big players came up big in this one. Here’s how their players to watch fared this week.
RB Isiah Pacheco
Pacheco was missing from the first matchup between these two clubs, and his presence was tremendous this time around. After a relatively quiet first half where he carried it only five times, gaining 29 yards, he was a huge factor in the second half. Pacheco carried it 10 times for 68 yards and a score in the second half, icing the game with two carries for 11 yards after Tyler Bass missed his 44-yard field goal, an attempt that would have tied the game at 27.
He also had a 14-yard reception in the second half, as he wore down Buffalo’s defense with his violent running style. While the Bills defense should have been plenty rested given that they only played 50 snaps on the night, part of the reason they played so few snaps was because Kansas City kept torching them for big plays. Pacheco had 15 carries for a game-high 97 yards on the night.
WR Rashee Rice
After having a big game against the Bills in the first meeting this year, Rice had just a modest evening this time around. However, that modest evening was still remarkably efficient, as he caught all four of his targets for 47 yards. It was another wideout, Marquez Valdez-Scantling, who made the bigger plays, catching two 30-yard deep balls to give the Chiefs some explosive plays, but Rice continued to play the part of reliable second-fiddle to All-World tight end Travis Kelce.
The Chiefs found themselves a stud wideout early in the draft last year. Hopefully, general manager Brandon Beane took notes and does the same in this year’s draft for Josh Allen.
TE Travis Kelce
I have to admit, it was a little amusing to watch the Bills bust a coverage in the second quarter and leave Kelce with nobody anywhere near him for a 22-yard touchdown catch. Let’s forget about the fact that there was obviously a blown coverage and think about it for a second: If you’re confused, which player do you think you should follow on the Chiefs’ offense? I know that isn’t how any of this works, but as a defender, your one goal has to be to keep Kelce from beating you. What did the Bills do? Cover him with A.J. Klein for most of the first half and completely drop him in coverage at another point in the same half.
Kelce had three catches for 66 yards and that score in the first half alone, so the good news is that Buffalo tightened up on him in the second half. He finished with five catches for 75 yards, adding another touchdown grab on the first drive of the third quarter to give him two on the night.
DE George Karlaftis III
The big edge rusher had a nice night overall in the sense that he and the rest of that Kansas City line improved as the game progressed. While he didn’t have a sack, nobody did on either side, so that’s not a huge knock. Karlaftis had a big pass knockdown at the line of scrimmage to set up a fourth down, which turned out to be the idiotic fake punt call that set the Chiefs up for what should have been an easy game-winning touchdown drive. Karlaftis had four total tackles on the night, including one for a loss.
LB Nick Bolton
Man, this guy is good. It seems like he’s everywhere all at once, and he’s equally adept in coverage as he is in run support. The only time I noticed him in a bad way was when the Bills finally manipulated a matchup for wide receiver Stefon Diggs in their favor, isolating him on Bolton in the slot. And still, the big linebacker from Missouri is such a plus-athlete that it took a gorgeous jerk route from Diggs and a perfect throw from Allen to squeeze the ball into a space where Diggs could catch and run. Bolton had a game-high 13 tackles on the night, although all of them came beyond the line of scrimmage.
CB L’Jarius Sneed
Two matchups this year against Stefon Diggs, and twice it was Sneed who completely locked No. 14 down in coverage. The Bills had no chance to find Diggs for much of the night, and it’s not as if the Chiefs were throwing three guys at him. It was mostly Sneed just locking him up in coverage. This hasn’t been a good matchup for the Bills in the recent past, as Sneed has been able to render Diggs a non-factor. In this game, Diggs had just three grabs for 21 yards; in the matchup earlier this season, he caught four passes for 24 yards. That’s not WR1 stuff, and it’s a testament to how good Sneed is.
The Chiefs’ secondary is built for these kinds of games, as they can all play tight man as well as they play zone, and their corners have the size, speed, and athleticism to handle all sorts of different receivers. Again, I hope that Brandon Beane is taking notes, and perhaps he can convince his head coach, who loves his scheme-disciplined zone corners, to find some more speed and athleticism in the back end moving forward.