The Bills deserved to win Sunday night’s AFC Divisional playoff game in Kansas City thanks to the exceptional play of quarterback Josh Allen. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t win as they also had to field a defense against Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs outlasted the Bills 42-36 in overtime. They did so by tearing up a Buffalo defense that led the NFL in the fewest points allowed (17 per game) and fewest yards allowed (274.6 per game) in the regular season.
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Mahomes threw for 378 yards against the No. 1 pass defense (165.9 yards per game). The Chiefs, with Mahomes also up front, rushed for 182 yards against the No. 10 rush defense (108.6 yards per game).
So what went wrong for the Bills under defensive-minded coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who through Sunday had a great season to play? In short, everything. The Chiefs only pitched twice and would have won the game much sooner and less dramatically had they not been cute on a few drives that led to field goal attempts, one of which was missed .
Allen, who has outplayed every QB in this year’s playoffs, including Mahomes, in his two games, did his best to save the day with terrific back-to-back TDs in the fourth quarter. But they didn’t matter much when the bills allowed chiefs to come up with easy answers.
The epic failure in allowing Mahomes to move the Chiefs into field goal range in the final 13 seconds of the fourth quarter will be remembered. It was, however, foreshadowed by fundamental issues that developed earlier in the game:
1. Non-adjustment of coverage and pressure
This was by far the worst problem. McDermott and Frazier weren’t expected to blitz Mahomes much. The problem is that the leaders anticipated this. The Bills were so preoccupied with Mahomes’ big arm passing game that their scheme was too predictable.
Mahomes adjusted mid-season to show more patience against zone defenses. He made himself comfortable not to force things on the pitch when they weren’t there. Chiefs became more willing to take what was given to them and engage more in racing, traditional or otherwise. Through NFL Next Generation Stats, Mahomes avoided the temptation all game to attempt a through ball, something that had never happened in his career.
Patrick Mahomes has faced two high safety shells on 92% of plays, the 2nd highest rate of his career. As a result, Mahomes didn’t attempt a through ball for the first full game of his career.
– Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 24, 2022
The Chiefs saw a two-high safety shell on 92% of their offensive snaps. Mahomes responded by going 29 of 38 for 344 of his passing yards and two of his three TD passes against that look. That’s a completion percentage of 76.3 on 9 yards per attempt and an efficiency rating of 120.9.
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Mahomes racked up big numbers with his two go-to guys, wide receiver Tyreek Hill (11 catches, 150 yards, late go-ahead TD) and tight end Travis Kelce (eight catches, 96 yards, winning TD). The Bills’ coaches should have realized the two-deep look wasn’t stopping anything and pivoted to mix it with well-timed blitzes. They didn’t just wait until it was too late; it never happened.
2. Bad tackle against the run and after the reception
The Chiefs didn’t need Mahomes to shoot when Hill, Kelce, Mecole Hardman, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerick McKinnon and Byron Pringle all slipped tackles after initial contact and exploded in the open field after getting the ball on runs and short passes. There was too much open space, and the diversity of players involved often surprised would-be out-of-position tackles in the second tier and secondary.
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Coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, the counterparts of McDermott and Frazier, were smart to design intermediate plays to maximize the speed and quickness of their point guards. versatile, has become a total weakness. With the safeties being played they were too far away to help clean up and there was too much space in between. Mahomes has made his way with the midfield from thread to thread. The Bills also couldn’t handle Mahomes’ scramble when passing plays failed.
3. Critical errors in critical situations
The Bills exacerbated their neglect by giving up big chunks after the catch by having constant gaps in coverage. They made it too easy for the Chiefs on third and fourth downs, allowing them to convert 9 of 14 opportunities combined (64.3%). The Chiefs also got two first downs by penalty.
Before Mahomes’ final practice in regulation, the Bills’ incompetence was on full display when Hill rushed to the end zone with zero resistance. It started when he opened up and continued with him shooting through five defenders on the sideline for a lightning-fast 64-yard score with 1:02 left in the game. It turned a 29-26 lead into a 33-29 deficit in the blink of an eye. The Bills were worn to the point, and Mahomes continues to have easy reads to his best players against tired pursuers.
4. “Prevent” did not prevent anything
The bills saved the worst for the last regulatory possession by the chiefs. When they should have moved the switch away from the two-deep gazes, they instead went the other way, going into an extreme stop with Hail Mary gazes. They were so concerned about Hill getting behind them again, they failed to acknowledge that Mahomes hadn’t taken shots over the top the entire game.
Mahomes’ only choice with 13 seconds left of his 25 and needing a field goal was to play for the field goal. The goal was to get inside the Bills’ 40 yards or gain 35 yards in two games. The Bills needed to squeeze more, give him no more than 20-yard cushions and game coverage. Above all else, the Bills didn’t take Hill or Kelce out the entire game.
The 19-yard strike to Hill and the 25-yard strike to Kelce looked like extended passes, with both receivers turning on throws while mindful of the clock. Mahomes was sacked twice and faced some pressure early in the game, but in the end against a worn unit his eyes widened knowing he would have time to pitch against a run four.
The Bills thought they had solved Mahomes in their Week 5 meeting, also in Kansas City. But the 38-20 finish in favor of Buffalo was fueled by the 4-0 take-out battle victory. Mahomes and Chiefs didn’t return the ball in the rematch, enjoying low-risk, high-reward plays. Fool Mahomes twice with something he saw the first time? It’s the arrogant, failed mess the Bills put on the field on Sunday.