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Bills vs. Chiefs, Divisional Round analysis: A deep dive into the fourth quarter

Epic game, terrible ending

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Kansas City Chiefs v Buffalo Bills Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images

Sometimes the reality of a situation is far more difficult to face than expected. The truth of the matter is that the Buffalo Bills lost another heartbreaker in the playoffs, whiffing at a golden opportunity to get the Kansas City Chiefs playoff monkey off their back... on their home field, no less.

An early field goal inside the Chiefs' 10-yard line, dropped passes, and an inability to stop the Chiefs’ offense all were reasons Buffalo ended up losing to the Kansas City. The entire game matters regarding winning or losing any game, but in close contests it comes down to fourth-quarter and final-drive decisions.

Even though this will be painful to look at, it’s time to review how the fourth quarter unfolded for the Buffalo Bills.

Fourth-quarter recap

What if I told you that Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense had three possessions in the fourth quarter to tie or take the lead? Well, this is exactly what happened and they couldn’t convert on any of their chances. Buffalo’s three drives in the fourth quarter resulted in a turnover on downs (4 plays, 7 yards), a punt (3 plays, -2 yards), and a missed field goal (16 plays, 54 yards). The Chiefs were driving at the end of the third quarter and ended up scoring 40 seconds into the fourth quarter. After that, Kansas City fumbled, punted, and kneeled out the game in the remaining drives. Let’s break it down by drive.

Start of the fourth quarter

At the onset of the fourth quarter, the Chiefs were six plays into their drive, beginning the quarter with a 2nd & 6 at the Bills’ 12-yard line. It took them two plays and 40 seconds to score a touchdown after the quarter started.

The touchdown on this run was a well-designed play by Kansas City. There were lots of moving parts and they were able to execute a wind-back counter play for a relatively easy touchdown. Linebacker Tyrel Dodson over pursued and took himself out of the play. Defensive tackle Tim Settle penetrated too deep and created a crease for running back Isiah Pacheco to follow to the end zone.

Buffalo’s first drive of the fourth quarter

The Bills got the drive started with a nice eight-yard designed quarterback run. They then followed up with a three-yard loss on a running play to running back James Cook. On 3rd & 5 Josh Allen’s pass was batted down at the line. Buffalo then ran out the punt team on 4th & 5 — and got stuffed on a fake punt run play to safety Damar Hamlin.

Honestly, this punt fake didn’t turn out to be a big deal because the Bills got the ball back via turnover at the goal line two plays later. If the Chiefs ended up scoring a touchdown to go up 10 points instead, which they were inches away from doing, I suspect head coach Sean McDermott would be catching much more slack for this decision. I don’t mind going for it on 4th & 5 there, but a running play to a backup safety on the punt team isn’t ideal. There’s something to be said about the element of surprise, but five yards is a long way for running the football on offense, let alone a defensive player on the punt team. I’d have much rather seen the offense stay out there and give it a rip.

My biggest issue with this drive was the 2nd & 2 play. All night in 2nd & Short situations I was begging for them to mix it up and call a play-action pass. Instead, they continued to run the football... and lost three yards.

This is the 2nd & 2 play where Buffalo lost those three yards. Kansas City brought down the safety (player 8) late, but Allen and crew were able to point him out. It bothers me that they still chose to run this play while being outnumbered to the weak side. They didn’t have enough blockers for defenders, and the middle linebacker was able to sniff it out and have a free lane to the running back.

Kansas City Chiefs fumble the football

The Chiefs got the ball at Buffalo’s 32-yard line and on the first play, they had a 29-yard run.

Kansas City ran this look a few times during Sunday’s game and the Bills had trouble stopping it.

Thanks to an absolutely brilliant forced fumble by safety Jordan Poyer, Buffalo had another chance to take the lead.

Buffalo’s second drive of the fourth quarter

The Bills got the ball back at their 20-yard line after the touchback fumble. Their drive went for a total of -2 yards in three plays. They ran it on first down for -4 yards and that play pretty much set them back for the two that followed. On third down wide receiver Trent Sherfield wasn’t able to catch a deep ball to keep the drive alive. Just a terrible sequence of plays for Buffalo’s offense and the momentum swung back into Kansas City’s favor.

Chiefs’ punt

The Bills’ defense essentially forced a three-and-out twice on this drive. Following the first third down, the referees decided to throw a pass interference call incredibly late after the play was over. So late in fact, half of Buffalo’s defense was almost on the sideline at that point. Luckily, the Bills were able to force another three-and-out sequence and get off the field. However, that pass interference call caused another minute to run off the game clock. This lost minute could have been beneficial to Buffalo after they missed the field goal at the end of the game.

Buffalo Bills’ final drive of the game

This drive is where most people have chosen to focus their energy, and rightfully so. Buffalo’s offense had it set up perfectly, they just didn’t make it happen. If someone told me that the Bills had the ball at the Chiefs’ 26-yard line, at the two-minute warning, and down by 3, I would have signed up for it in a heartbeat. Buffalo got the ball at their own 20-yard line with 8:23 left in regulation. They were able to march down the field, run the clock down to the two-minute warning and be in field goal range. They had the chance to run the clock down to just seconds remaining with the ability to either take the lead via touchdown or tie the game with no time left. All they had to do was get another first down. This was the perfect scenario for the Bills, but things catastrophically fell apart on the final three plays.

First Down — one-yard run

At first glance, Buffalo’s blockers were outnumbered, which should mean check into something else. However, the Bills ran a read option and left one of the defenders unblocked — which is clever. They had it set up quite well actually except that Allen was either looking at the wrong defender to read, or the linemen blocked the wrong guy. Take a look at what was open for Allen if he pulled the ball and ran it. Honestly, I hated the run call on first down, but after seeing the All-22, I don’t mind the play call as much. I think they got the look they wanted, but the play wasn’t correctly executed. Still, I would have rather seen a designed run for Josh Allen here.

Second down — incompletion

I like this play, Allen had the look he wanted and he had wide receiver Khalil Shakir streaking open for a TD — he just missed the throw. Left tackle Dion Dawkins got walked back into Allen’s face and Allen wasn’t able to get enough mustard on the throw to put the ball where it needed to be. Some might say throw it to Stefon Diggs underneath, which would have been fine, but I don’t blame Allen for his decision.

Third Down — incompletion

This play is frustrating because Allen just ended up throwing it away. It feels like a wasted opportunity. Allen seemed to be dead-set on throwing the ball somewhere that would either result in a first down or a touchdown. He had options throughout the play that were open, but likely would have been tackled short of the first down. To me, that isn’t a big deal if it gets the Bills to 4th & Short — I’d have gone for it. Plus, you never know who can break a tackle and get the first down. Hindsight is 20/20 though. If Allen knew he’d end up throwing the ball away, he might have been happy to throw the ball underneath. At the very least it would have resulted in a shorter field goal attempt.

Fourth down — missed field goal

Yes, it would have been nice if Tyler Bass made the field goal. But even if he did I don’t believe it was a given the Bills would have won the game. Giving Mahomes the ball back with 1:40 left and two timeouts to go kick a field goal to win the game didn’t sound promising considering their defense hadn’t stopped them much all night. Going for it on 4th & 9 takes some guts, but I would have rather gone for it in this situation. It’s an easy thing for us to say playing Monday morning quarterback, but when all the chips are on the table during the game it’s a tougher decision.

In summary

This was the game we all expected, this is the game everyone wanted to see, this was supposed to be the crazy ending where the Bills pulled it out, but it just didn’t happen. That drive at the end of the game was set up for a storybook ending, but it vanished in four plays. This loss stings and it seems like these games never go Buffalo’s way, but it doesn’t mean the Bills are doomed forever. They’re still a good, even elite team, and they’ll be back in the saddle next season to take another rip at it. Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills are too good to be stumped in the divisional round every year. Their time will eventually come. Until then, Go Bills!