By Chuck Pollock, pictured is quaterback Josh Allen
If you’re one of those myopic folks blaming Tyler Bass for the Bills’ failure to advance to the AFC Championship Game Sunday night at Highmark Stadium, how about getting yourself some near-sighted glasses?
Yes, he was “wide right” — one of the franchise’s most hated phrases — on a 44-yard field goal that would have tied the game in the final two minutes. As a result, Buffalo endured a painful 27-24 defeat by Kansas City, the third time the Bills have lost to the Chiefs in the division round over the past four years.
But first let’s take the goat horns off Bass and talk about the real reason coach Sean McDermott is 4-6 in the playoffs, 0-3 versus the Chiefs, since he became Buffalo’s boss.
Granted, the past two games, last night and a week ago in a home victory over Pittsburgh, he missed three of five field goal attempts. But, in the five straight games Buffalo won to earn its playoff berth, Bass was six-for-six on field goals and made all 19 extra points.
IF YOU’RE looking for dunce cap candidates, let’s start with McDermott.
He deserves enormous credit for coaxing that regular-season-ending win streak from his team. But, all year long he’s been criticized for a failure to be aggressive with certain play calls.
So last night, of all times, the seventh-year head coach decided to go all Riverboat Ron Rivera on us.
With just under 13 minutes to play, the Bills faced 4th-and-5 at their own 30-yard line trailing 27-24. Out came punter Sam Martin but, alas, McDermott had called for a fake. The snap went to up-man Damar Hamlin, a safety, not exactly the power-running player needed for the job. Predictably, the Chiefs weren’t fooled and stopped him after a two-yard gain.
Buffalo lucked out after giving KC such optimum field position when wide receiver Mecole Hardman fumbled inside the Bills’ 1-yard line after being hit by safety Jordan Poyer with the ball bouncing out of the end zone for a touchback.
But the possession wasted some clock time for the Bills.
Fact is, the fake-punt call was absurd. That’s not the play which should be run at that point on the field, with that player, in a three-point playoff game with plenty of time left.
McDermott’s reasoning was that Buffalo couldn’t stop the Chiefs’ offense and he was trying to keep possession of the ball by being “aggressive.” But he’s the defensive coordinator, isn’t it his job to figure out how to stymie Patrick Mahomes & Company?
IN FAIRNESS, McDermott also blamed his defense.
The Bills were playing with a banged up secondary and damaged linebacking corps, yet those two platoons performed admirably, though Mahomes took advantage of the reserve linebackers.
However, the fully healthy defensive line was as invisible as the Cheshire Cat. Ends Greg Rousseau and Shaq Lawson and tackles Ed Oliver, DaQuan Jones and Linval Joseph each had one tackle.
Kansas City’s offensive line won the battle of the trenches as the Chiefs averaged six yards per carry and lead back Isiah Pacheco went for 97 yards on 15 carries.
Of course, Buffalo’s offense wasn’t blame-free.
Quarterback Josh Allen endured three brutal drops. Alleged No. 1 receiver Stefon Diggs dropped a deep throw that would have been a touchdown to give the Bills the lead — more on him in a moment — while running back James Cook also dropped a TD in close and wideout Trent Sherfield ended a drive because he couldn’t snag a catchable ball.
As for Diggs, he seems to be declining rapidly Against the Chiefs he was targeted eight times with three catches for a puny 21 yards. In the last 10 games he’s had four catches- or-fewer six times and hasn’t produced a 100-yard game since mid-October. And, oh by the way, he’s declined to speak with the media after the last two games.
Meanwhile, for the second straight year, the Bills lost a divisional playoff game at home.
And the talk of a “Super Bowl window” has proven redundantly wishful thinking for the past three seasons.
This is a good team which has some fatal flaws and heads into the 2024 season with holes to fill and a major salary cap problem.
NOTES FROM the Bills’ 27-24 loss to Kansas City in Sunday night’s divisional playoff game at Highmark Stadium:
— The game’s lone turnover came when KC wide receiver Mecole Hardman fumbled short of the goal line when hit by Bills’ safety Jordan Poyer with the ball rolling out of the end zone for a touchback.
— Allen’s five- and two-yard second-quarter touchdown runs gave him an NFL-high 18 rushing scores for a QB this season and with his scoring pass to wide receiver Khalil Shakir, he accounted for 51 total TDs including playoffs this year.
— Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who hadn’t scored in the previous seven games, had touchdown catches of 22 and three yards giving him and quarterback Patrick Mahomes an NFL-record 16 QB-tight end playoff TD connections. The coverage on the 22-yarder was so bad there wasn’t a Bills defender who made it into the TV shot.
— Linebacker Tyrel Dodson, playing hurt, topped the Bills with eight tackles and seven solos, Poyer also had eight stops while edge rusher Von Miller had two tackles and a solo, his biggest contribution in a game this season and better than virtually all of his defensive line peers.
For the Chiefs, linebacker Nick Bolton had a game-high 13 tackles while safety Justin Reed had 11 and a game-high eight solos, the same as rookie defensive back Chammari Conner.
— Inactive for the Bills were four starters, three on defense: cornerback Christian Benford (knee), middle linebacker Terrel Bernard (ankle) and linebacker Baylon Spector (back) and wide receiver Gabe Davis (knee). The others were safety Taylor Rapp (calf), offensive tackle Alec Anderson and defensive tackle Poona Ford.
Benford was replaced by Dane Jackson, Bernard by veteran A.J. Klein, reactivated off the practice squad, Dodson for Spector, who had replaced him earlier this year after an injury, and Shakir for Davis,
The Chiefs’ inactive starters were nose tackle Derrick Nnadi (tricep) and wide receiver Kadarius Toney (hip/ankle).
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.)
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