The Buffalo Bills were 13 seconds away from returning to Highmark Stadium to host the AFC championship.
Instead, a crazy confluence of circumstance and some questionable decisions led to the demise of the Bills at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
While Buffalo were not officially defeated at the end of regulation, it definitely felt as if the end was near, as the Bills improbably allowed Kansas City an opportunity to tie the game in regulation. There’s a ton to unpack with these final moments of the game.
Let’s examine the concluding moments of regulation, how events unfolded, and the possible thoughts of the Bills’ coaching staff:
Buffalo’s defense held strong midway through the fourth quarter, as they kept the Chiefs to a field goal attempt after Kansas City started their possession at Buffalo’s 16-yard-line. Receiver Tyreek Hill returned a punt 46 yards, which setup the Chiefs in prime territory. Buffalo yielded the field goal, keeping the Bills in striking distance.
Buffalo took control of the ball with 8:55 remaining. The offense embarked on a stellar 17-play drive, spanning just over seven minutes. Wide receiver Gabriel Davis smoked the Chiefs secondary and scored a touchdown on a fourth-down attempt. On the two-point conversion, wideout Stefon Diggs made an appearance and reeled in a pass at the back of the end zone. Buffalo was up 29-26 with 1:57 left.
Then, all hell broke loose. Kansas City scored on a fiCve-play, 75-yard drive lasting only 52 seconds. Tyreek Hill broke loose for a 64-yard touchdown reception, a play that we will revisit later. Buffalo, responded with a six-play, 75-yard drive culminating with Davis’ fourth touchdown reception.
GABRIEL DAVIS. NFL HISTORY 🤯
His FOURTH receiving TD of the game 😱
— FanDuel Sportsbook (@FDSportsbook) January 24, 2022
How this impacted the final 13 seconds
Kansas City had all of their time outs, so all plays were available during this time. The Chiefs needed to move the ball at least 35 yards to give kicker Harrison Butker a realistic shot at the game-tying field goal.
Buffalo allowed 44 yards in two plays. What happened to the Bills No. 1-ranked defense?
First off, the Bills once again witness the speed of Kansas City firsthand. While the kickoff for a touchback could be a questionable decision, Buffalo coach Sean McDermott saw too much going wrong possibly putting the ball in Hill’s hands on a kickoff, even with the possibility of a squib kick. Ironically, Hill would get the ball on the next play and move the ball into a favorable position for Kansas City.
As a former defensive coordinator, McDermott would rather put the game in the hands of his defense. After all, Buffalo was lauded for their regular season spot in the standings, allowing the fewest points in the league. Maybe there was a bit of hubris even with the defense’s struggles in the fourth quarter.
However, McDermott and Frazier had to recalibrate their thinking a little bit. The Chiefs were unstoppable over the course of their last possessions. The Bills defense needed a strategy to quell the explosive Kansas City attack.
The Bills stuck to their plan and rushed four defenders. However, Buffalo decided to play their back seven much deeper.
Buffalo’s biggest priority was to not give up a chunk play. The Bills believed that their defense could race to the ball quickly enough and stop long gains. They knew that Mahomes would have to get the ball out of his hands quickly, and Buffalo was banking on the fact that they could hold Chiefs receivers to shorter gains.
Furthermore, this could be why Buffalo didn’t double Kelce on the last offensive play of regulation. Hardman and Hill could outrun the Bills defense; Kelce could not. However, the detail that Buffalo overlooked was Kelce could still get enough yardage in an efficient manner.
The Bills believed that their defensive line could force Mahomes to throw the ball quickly enough without surrendering massive yards. Buffalo sent right defensive end Efe Obada on a mission to get upfield at Mahomes. The detail of chipping Kelce and knocking the tight end off his route was not considered in lieu of the decision to put more pressure on Mahomes.
Pass rusher Jerry Hughes was a fraction of a second late getting to Mahomes. By the time Hughes got to the backfield, the ball was just reaching Kelce’s hands.
The alignment to shade both linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Milano to the trips side of the field was important as well, as it left more space for Kelce to work on Wallace. The seem was easy pickings for Mahomes and Kelce. In the end, it put Kansas City well into field goal range.
In the end
A series of chaotic, improbable sequences led to Buffalo’s final moments of the 2021 postseason. Once again, Buffalo is on the outside looking in as the playoffs continue.
It’s a cliché that football is a game of inches. In this matchup, arguably one of the greatest games in NFL history, it came down to a matter of seconds.