Bills report card: Buffalo's coaching staff has worst performance of year against Chiefs
There is no such thing as moral victories in professional sports, and if that wasn’t something you were aware of, Buffalo Bills safety Micah Hyde spoke some clarifying words on that topic Sunday night.
“You can always talk about the season that we had, winning the division, making it to the AFC Championship Game; I think that was good for a lot of people, but everybody in this locker room wanted more,” Hyde said following Buffalo’s 38-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. “Unfortunately, we got beat tonight. No other way to put it.”
That they did in a game where both sides of the ball had difficulties against what is, without question, the best team in the NFL, one that will get another chance to prove that in two weeks when the Chiefs meet Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl 55.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted to tonight,” said coach Sean McDermott. “Give credit where credit is due, they played a really good game. This is a learning experience for us, we had a great season, but we came up short tonight.”
As a defensive player, it was obviously a galling night for Hyde and his brethren as Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce shredded a Buffalo defense that was coming off its best performance of the season in the victory over Baltimore, when it allowed just three points.
“They're a great football team for a reason, they're defending champs for a reason,” said Hyde after the Bills allowed the Chiefs to score 38 points, rack up 29 first downs and gain 439 yards. “They've got weapons all over the field.”
And offensively, Josh Allen wasn’t able to match that production as he had a tough time getting much to work because the Chiefs’ defense did such a good job both in the pass rush and in coverage.
“We didn't execute and I didn't execute how I should have,” said Allen. “When you're going against the reigning Super Bowl champs and the No. 1 seed at Arrowhead and you don't have your A game, you're not going to win the game. That's what it was.”
He speaks the truth, and that’s exactly how it played out.
Here’s how I graded the Bills’ performance:
PASS OFFENSE: C-
One thing I did not expect to happen was the Chiefs’ front four putting so much pressure on Allen. Another thing I didn’t expect was the Chiefs’ secondary completely taking Stefon Diggs out of the game, at least while it was still a game, but both happened and it made for a maddening night for the passing attack. The offensive line was manhandled by Chris Jones, Frank Clark and the rest of the KC front four as Allen was under constant duress. He also compounded his problems with a few questionable decisions, though his one interception wasn’t his fault as it went right through the hands of John Brown, who had another poor game. He finished 28 of 48 for 287 yards. Diggs had just 12 yards receiving midway through the third quarter before he finally started finding openings and finished with a hollow six catches for 77 yards, while Cole Beasley led the way with seven catches for 88 yards. The Chiefs did a great job of mixing man and zone and the Bills WRs couldn’t win enough battles.
RUN OFFENSE: D
As usual, unless it was Allen scrambling, which he did plenty of out of necessity as he gained 88 yards, the Bills couldn’t run the ball. It has been a season-long malady and it’s pretty clear they need an upgrade from Devin Singletary. Maybe it’s Zack Moss, but he wasn’t exactly a dynamo either before he got hurt. The big surprise was T.J. Yeldon getting so much playing time, and the crazy thing is that he did exactly the kind of things we thought he was brought to Buffalo to do — be a threat in the pass game. Instead, he has hardly been on the field for two years. He got his chance when Singletary dropped a pass in the second quarter that would have been a sure first down. From that moment on, Singletary’s snap count diminished greatly while Yeldon rushed for 15 yards and caught four passes for 41. I thought it would be important for the Bills to at least try to run, and they did, but they have to find a way in 2021 to run more effectively.
PASS DEFENSE: F
It was a brutal night for Leslie Frazier as he was outcoached by Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who, by the way, appears to be his main competition for the Houston Texans head coaching job. The Bills played way too soft in coverage, again, scared to death that the Chiefs would beat them for big plays over the top. And they were also too passive in their pass rush, not blitzing Mahomes enough when it was clear the four-man rushes weren’t working. It was the same way they played in the first game. Well, there were plenty of big plays, but most of them came on short or intermediate throws to wide open targets who then bit off huge chunks after the catch, specifically WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce who pulverized the Buffalo defenders. Hill set a Chiefs playoff record with 172 yards receiving, 71 coming on one play. Kelce caught 13 passes for 118 yards and two TDs, giving him four TDs this year against the Bills. Mahomes was his usual brilliant self as he threw for 325 with no turnovers, precise in his reads and passes, able to escape pressure on the rare times he faced it, and he showed no ill effects from the turf toe was suffering from.
RUN DEFENSE: B-
The Chiefs didn’t run for 245 yards as they did back in October, but that was because they didn’t really care all that much about running it. Mecole Hardman ripped off a 50-yard run on a reverse, and that was good for almost half of the final rushing total. The Bills did a great job controlling Clyde Edwards-Helaire (7 yards) and Darrel Williams (52), and Mahomes, perhaps yielding to his sore toe, only ran out of the pocket twice for eight yards as the Chiefs finished with 114. However, down close to the goal line, the Chiefs did run it well as both Williams and Edwards-Helaire scored touchdowns straight up the middle.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Tyler Bass had a nice night, though Bills fans wish he hadn’t been as productive. McDermott made two baffling decisions when he opted to settle for short field goals rather than go for touchdowns, once at the end of the first half, then again in the third quarter. Bass finished with four field goals, so good for him, but that wasn’t the way to play the Chiefs. Andre Roberts had zero impact — he never was able to return a punt or kick as KC’s Harrison Butker produced seven touchbacks. In coverage, the Bills were solid enough as three of Bass’ kickoffs were returned a total of 68 yards. Bass also converted an onside kick, which was recovered by Tremaine Edmunds. And early in the game, when Mecole Hardman fumbled a punt, Taiwan Jones recovered at the 3 to set up the Bills’ first touchdown.
This has been a great season for the Bills’ coaching staff, so it was disappointing that they saved their worst performance for the biggest game of the year. As I referenced earlier, McDermott’s decisions to settle for field goals felt awful in the moment and they only grew worse when the Chiefs kept adding to their lead. I’m not sure what he was trying to accomplish, especially having seen how futile his defense had been in trying to stop Mahomes. Frazier just never dialed up pressure and he allowed Mahomes to play pitch and catch, and just as frustrating was the constant cushions he was allowing the Chiefs receivers. As for Brian Daboll, he was as creative as he could be trying to find things that worked, but the bottom line in this game is the Chiefs defense was better than his offense, and it started with their ability to shut down Allen’s prime targets. You have to play perfect on offense to keep pace with the Chiefs, and the Bills fell far short.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.