AFC East Reporter
Orchard Park, NY — There were two long seconds of silence when Bills safety Micah Hyde fielded a question about Buffalo’s inability to get a win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the postseason. Hyde shook his head.
“Play better,” he said, finally.
If only it were that simple.
Because the next question is: How?
That’ll be what the Bills riddle over for the offseason.
“Losing sucks,” said Bills quarterback Josh Allen. “I don’t know what else to say.”
The Bills lost 27-24 to the Chiefs on Sunday at Highmark Stadium in the divisional round. Buffalo’s kicker Tyler Bass missed — wide right — in the final minutes of the game with a chance to level the score. Chiefs running back Isaiah Pacheco killed the rest of the clock. And Kansas City was off to the AFC Championship Game. Again.
But for all the Bills’ desolation and desperation, the Chiefs remained steady. Kansas City’s locker room wasn’t exactly jubilant. Yes, there was music. There were smiles and hugs. But for Kansas City, it was just their sixth consecutive conference title game. It was business as usual.
“I will say we did have quite a bit of celebration, but it wouldn’t be to the extent of you know, cigars or anything crazy,” running back Clyde Helaire-Edwards said in the locker room. “Lot of hugs. A lot of daps. A lot of f— yeahs and hell yeahs. We toss a couple of those around and then we kinda know what’s next. … It’s on to Baltimore.”
It was going to be a game of firsts for one of the quarterbacks. For Mahomes, it was his first chance to get a road postseason win. For Allen, it was his first chance to beat Mahomes in the postseason. Mahomes got his road win. And Allen is now 0-3 against Mahomes.
What does that say about these two quarterbacks?
“What would you think about that?” Chiefs wide receiver Rashee Rice said. “[Patrick is] better than Josh.”
Well, yes, that’s probably true. On the field, Allen has been as special of a playmaker as Mahomes has been. But Mahomes’ hardware speaks for itself. He has a pair of Super Bowl wins. But the argument has even more nuance to it than that. Chiefs safety Justin Reid also pushed back on the idea that Mahomes and Kansas City had big-brother dominance over Allen and Buffalo.
“He’s one hell of an athlete,” Reid said of Allen. “He causes a lot of problems in his game, because he’s one hell of a player, and you have to give credit where it’s due. That’s a very talented team and that other locker room. We had our work cut out for us and we’re just fortunate to be able to come out on top on this.”
Look no further than Allen’s passing touchdown.
He rolled left, flipped his hips to make a throw and ripped a pass to Khalil Shakir in the front corner of the end zone. It was as high difficulty as throws get. And it followed a delay of game penalty, a mental mistake. That sequence is classically Josh Allen, with the QB’s transcendent physical tools overcoming the occasional shortcomings that crop up in other parts of his game.
What Mahomes has that Allen doesn’t is this intangible control of the game. It’s like watching Neo in “The Matrix,” with Mahomes manipulating the game to come to him. Haters will say the officiating helps. Haters will say that his defense will win the game. Haters will say Mahomes hasn’t even had a great year. And there will be kernels of truth in those arguments. But Mahomes feels a bit like the second coming of Tom Brady. Mahomes has never missed an AFC title game in his career as a starter.
Allen has been to just one.
The gulf between their games isn’t as wide as all these statistics seem. But we also saw Allen and his supporting cast struggle against a Kansas City defense while Mahomes got the points at the crucial moments. In particular, Allen didn’t seem to trust his eyes or his pass-catchers on downfield passes. Allen said he made a few errant checks at the line of scrimmage. He said he faced a lot of soft zones. But it was more complicated than that on the back end.
Chiefs cornerback Trent McDuffie discussed the disguises his defense used to keep Allen from seeing the plays clearly.
“Not giving these great quarterbacks easy reads,” McDuffie said. “We did a lot of things where we were showing him one thing on defense pre-snap and then post-snap we were running into a whole different coverage. For a quarterback, that can be hard to throw deep.”
Allen made up for it with his legs. He had 12 carries for 72 yards and a pair of touchdowns to go with his 186 passing yards and single passing touchdown.
You can’t say Allen isn’t making progress as a quarterback. He didn’t turn the ball over, though he did come close on a fumble which one of his teammates recovered. Turnovers have been Allen’s biggest issue during his career. But they didn’t kill him on Sunday. It was the combination of drops (one from Stefon Diggs and two from Trent Sherfield), poor defensive play and a missed kick.
Allen was the first to admit that he wished he hadn’t put Bass in that position where he needed to make the kick. And it’s hard to argue. Allen needed to take control of the game and score a touchdown on that drive and take the lead. Even if Bass had hit the field goal, Mahomes would have had two minutes to take a lead. Those are the situations where he thrives.
And Allen? Well, we’ve yet to see him string together enough postseason wins for a Super Bowl appearance.
“It’s just like every offseason so far. Just gotta continue to work. Quiet the noise,” Allen said postgame. “I love this team. I love how resilient we were. You could sit there and say it’s a failed season. … I’m just proud to say that I’ve played with the guys in that locker room.”
Mahomes didn’t have issues seeing the field. Maybe he had some mechanical issues at the beginning of the game, which led him to miss some easy throws and make unforced errors. But by the end of the game, Mahomes was finding his receivers at an impressive clip. He seemed to use his eyes to create a busted coverage for Travis Kelce’s first touchdown, a wide-open 22-yarder. While the easy reaction was: HOW DO YOU FORGET ABOUT KELCE? The truth is that is what he does best: slip undetected through the holes in zone defenses. With a little help from Mahomes’ deceptive eyes, Kelce just did what Kelce always does.
The same was true of Mahomes. He did what he always does. That’s win playoff games. That’s beat the Bills. That’s carve a path to the Super Bowl.
That’s Mahomes’ legacy now.
“It’s the expectation that we have for ourselves,” Justin Reid said.
It’s the expectation we have for Mahomes.
Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @henrycmckenna.
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