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There was no doubt about it; Chiefs outclassed Bills in AFC title game

Sal Maiorana
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

For nearly two decades, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots set the standard in the AFC and if you wanted to make it to the Super Bowl, you almost always had to go through them.

Not that it ever mattered to the Buffalo Bills because thanks to a 17-year postseason drought, they were never in position to even take a swing at the Evil Empire.

The Patriots are old news now, there’s a new standard being set by the Kansas City Chiefs, and if the Bills hope to do anything special in, oh, maybe the next decade or so, it’s Patrick Mahomes who will be the Empire State Building-sized obstacle they’ll have to clear, and that’s not going to be easy.

Sunday night, the Chiefs shrugged off a terrible first quarter when they fell behind 9-0 and rolled past the Bills 38-24 to win their second straight AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium. 

They are off to the Super Bowl to face – I can’t even believe I’m saying it – Brady and his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Report card:Buffalo's coaching staff has worst performance of year against Chiefs

“They were just the better football team than us today and that’s unfortunate,” said center Mitch Morse, whose return to KC where he played his first four NFL seasons was obviously unfulfilling. “It’s definitely a different feeling in that locker room, but what can you do except move forward? There’s a lot of learning from this and we’ll move on from here.”

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) celebrates after catching a 1-yard touchdown pass during the second half of the AFC championship NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

This has been a magical year for the Bills in every way as they took their loyal fans on a riotously fun ride while winning 15 of 19 games. But they aren’t at the Chiefs level yet, and there’s nothing wrong with that; there may not be a team in the NFL that is.

So while the loss stings, there is perspective that should be gleaned from this rough night: There were weeks, months, years, heck, decades, when Bills fans could not have possibly dreamed that their team would be playing for the chance to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since January 1994 when franchise giants and Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed and Marv Levy resided in Orchard Park.

A new generation has finally risen and men named Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Jerry Hughes, Sean McDermott and so many others made it a reality in this bizarre season of 2020 and put the Bills back on the NFL’s map.

And chances are, this won’t be a one-off. It’s easy to see that the Bills, with the way general manager Brandon Beane has built the roster, are in this for the long haul. They aren’t going away and this was a huge step to have taken on the heels of the step they took in 2019 when they won 10 games.

“Every year we talk about getting to the Super Bowl, winning our conference, winning our division,” said Hughes. “As far as our goals, you know, we fell short, but the team being as young as we are, we made tremendous strides given the circumstances that everybody was dealing with this season. It was great to see the guys respond well throughout the year and just keep their heads down and take care of business. I think that's what we pride ourselves on, just try not to worry about the outside world, just keep our head down and go to work.

“We fell short tonight. The Chiefs played tremendous ball. We didn't bring our A game and so the result stands as they were. But this feeling, we're going to remember this feeling in the offseason. This is something that will carry us through.”

The Bills jumped to a 9-0 lead and all of western New York was energized, daring to think it was possible to take down this Kansas City juggernaut that has now won 31 of 37 games counting the playoffs in the last two seasons.

Allen put together a game-opening drive that ended with a 51-yard Tyler Bass field goal, and after his second possession ended with a Corey Bojorquez punt, that turned out to be a good thing when Chiefs’ return man Mecole Hardman fumbled and Taiwan Jones recovered at the 3.

On the next play, Allen flipped a TD pass to Dawson Knox and though Bass missed the conversion, the Bills had the Chiefs’ full attention which, as it turned out, wasn’t such a good thing.

In the second quarter they reeled off three consecutive touchdown drives of 80, 82 and 77 yards as Mahomes made a Buffalo defense that yielded just three points last week to Baltimore look amateurish. He toyed with them on the way to throwing a 3-yard TD pass to Hardman and handing off to Darrel Williams and Clyde Edwards-Helaire for TD rushes from the 6 and the 1.

The Bills did manage to rescue three points at the end of the half, but that was a letdown because McDermott opted for a Bass 20-yard field goal rather than go for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 2.

“At the end of the first half I wanted to make sure we got points,” said McDermott, recalling that the Chiefs had just scored 21 in a row.

If you thought that decision was disappointing, after the Chiefs pushed their lead to 24-12 by driving to a Harrison Butker field goal to start the third quarter, Allen marched the Bills to the Chiefs 8 where the drive stalled, and McDermott again settled for a 27-yard Bass field goal rather than gamble on fourth-and-3.

What was crazy is that the Chiefs came into the game with the worst red zone defense in the league allowing TDs 76.6% of the time, yet McDermott bypassed the opportunity to go for the touchdown twice. For the game, the Bills were just 2-for-5 in the red zone while the Chiefs were 5-for-6.

Moments later Mahomes threw a short pass to Hill who turned it into a 71-yard gain, and two snaps later, Mahomes flipped an underhand 1-yard TD pass to Kelce and the Chiefs were up 31-15.

Any chance the Bills had of making it a game evaporated early in the fourth quarter when an Allen pass went through the arms of John Brown and caromed to Rashad Fenton who returned the pick 30 yards, Allen’s first turnover of the postseason.

Allen did throw a late touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie, and after the Bills recovered on onside kick, Bass made a 51-yard field goal to get it within two possessions. But the Chiefs pounced on a second onside kick the proceeded to run out the clock.

“It stings to get this far and lose,” McDermott said. “Sometimes the farther you go the harder it is to lose. It’s a learning experience for us an organization and we just have to get back to work. This is a heck of a season when you get this far. Guys stayed together, they loved one another, played hard for each other. It’s been a heavy lift from day one (because of COVID-19). It’s a major step for our organization and I’m proud of the team and the organization and Bills Mafia.”

Sal Maiorana can be reached at maiorana@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana. 

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