This was a game that the Buffalo Bills really had to win. Not in a game when every play is worthy of a highlight reel. Not with the bench players clocking in with no real impact in the last frame. It had to go down this way, with Patrick Mahomes trying to work his trademark brand of magic, Josh Allen trying to make big plays, and Von Miller wreaking havoc.
The Bills won on the road against the Chiefs, 24-20, on Sunday. The means by which they triumphed spoke much more than the win itself. The first three victories for Buffalo this season were all by at least a 30-point margin. To achieve their long-term aims, it is better that they didn’t beat the Chiefs easily like the odds suggested they would.
We can confidently say that the Bills are the best team in the NFL. They’ll need to win games like this against clubs like this if they want to be able to make that claim at the season’s end.
“I’m proud of our team and how we battled tonight,” Allen said. “We obviously didn’t start off how we wanted to, but guys just kept their heads down, didn’t panic or blink, trusted the game plan, trusted situational football and got a W. That was our only goal coming in here. If it’s by one or 100, it’s another win and that’s what we’re trying to do each and every week.”
To get off to the bad start Allen mentioned, Buffalo lost the ball on the first drive of the game after receiving an option pitch and subsequently fumbling it. At the Kansas City 11-yard line, Chiefs linebacker Darius Harris recovered the ball, ending the Bills’ first chance to make an immediate impact in a hostile environment.
It’s possible that play foreshadowed worse times ahead for the Bills. Instead, it gave fans more reason to believe in the team’s eventual success in its quest to win the Super Bowl. Of course, when the Bills have completely destroyed their opponents, they have been incredible to watch.
On the other hand, they have a less-than-stellar record in close games over the past few seasons. Buffalo had lost seven consecutive one-score games dating back to the start of last season (including the playoffs) until its 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4. The Bills’ most memorable loss during that losing streak was a heartbreaking 42-36 overtime loss to the Chiefs in last year’s Divisional Round in Kansas City.
Since this victory improved the Bills’ record to 5-1, ensured that they would remain in first place in the AFC East, and gave them the upper hand in the tiebreaker should the AFC Championship Game be played in Buffalo in late January, the answer is yes. The optics of this win, though, suggest that it might say much more about Buffalo.
The Bills appeared to have the playoff game in hand until the Chiefs unexpectedly tied the contest on a field goal after gaining possession of the football with only 13 seconds left in regulation, making that setback in Kansas City all the more traumatic. Although this victory didn’t completely erase that setback, it did show that Buffalo is better prepared to deal with pressure circumstances against this opponent in the latter stages of games.
The most satisfying part of Sunday’s game for Buffalo had to be seeing its prized offseason addition, Miller, pressure Mahomes to the point where Mahomes threw the game-clinching interception to Bills cornerback Taron Johnson with under a minute remaining.
“I know what happened today,” Miller, who finished with two sacks, said. “As for the rest, it’s all history now. I didn’t experience the happiness that I believe comes from ignorance (desire for redemption after the playoff loss). I missed out on going through the game with these folks. On the other hand, I was present today and saw firsthand how hard these men train all week and throughout the offseason in order to succeed in this setting.”
Miller was signed by the Bills because they saw him as a potential pivotal ingredient in their championship push. The Bills needed to figure out how to put pressure on Mahomes in crucial moments after he fooled them in the playoffs for two straight years (the Chiefs also defeated Buffalo in the AFC Championship Game in the 2020 season).
The offensive performance of the Bills on Sunday was a testament to their quarterback’s continuous growth. Allen delivered numerous thrilling moments, but it was his play in the game’s most critical moments that earned him MVP honours.
Late in the first half, down 7-3, Buffalo was able to cut their lead to single digits thanks to Allen’s quick thinking and decisive play calling on a 7-play, 96-yard drive that took only 1:13.
After his 34-yard touchdown pass to Gabe Davis put Buffalo up, Patrick Mahomes drove Kansas City into field goal range for Harrison Butker’s record-setting 62-yard from goal as time expired in the first half. When Allen took over with 5:31 remaining in the game, the Bills were down 20-17. With 1:04 left on the clock, he led a 12-play, 76-yard drive that finished with his touchdown pass to tight end Dawson Knox from 14 yards out.
Allen was not yet capable of routinely making those plays a few years ago. Last year, he made them in clutch situations, but Buffalo’s defence couldn’t stop Patrick Mahomes. The Bills handled Sunday’s loss exceptionally well because they didn’t let emotion cloud their judgement. They are well aware that similar plays will likely be required in the playoffs, probably perhaps again against the Chiefs.
After throwing for 329 yards and three touchdowns, Allen remarked, “We’re just trying to be playoff-calibre. “In the NFL, every game has championship implications. It makes no difference whether you’re playing a 4-1 or 1-4 team. When you’re on the field, any team can win on any given day of the week. There’s a reason we’re paid to play football. Everyone is OK. As a result, we must look ahead to the coming week.”
Since the Bills are on a bye until hosting Green Bay on October 30, Allen acknowledged he was unaware of who they would face next. He said that he was looking forward to a break, during which he planned to undertake some relaxing activities like golfing and fishing.
The Bills have gotten off to the kind of quick start every team dreams of having, so they can afford to take it easy for a while. They are fully aware that the deeper their current run of success goes, the more it will matter come playoff time.
When Buffalo beat Kansas City in October, Allen didn’t need to add that victory over the Chiefs was especially satisfying. The final score was 38-20, making it another blowout victory for the Bills, following their 35-point victory over the Steelers the week before.
Fans who witnessed those victories were left with an optimistic view of the Bills’ potential. After Buffalo’s season was cancelled in January 2017 by Kansas City, there wasn’t quite the same amount of chatter.
Since Miller joined the Bills, the team has taken on a new demeanour. They’ve made some major moves that back up their claims of being “all in” for a championship run. This group, though, should know better than anybody else that winning a title isn’t simple. You need to work for them and prove yourself worthy, and it helps to have experience doing so.
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