The Buffalo Bills' 2020 season came to a disappointing, unfulfilling, and flat-out depressing end Sunday night after falling to the Kansas City Chiefs, 38-24 in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium.
The loss ends what was, arguably, the best and most entertaining season of Bills football since the franchise’s last trip to the Super Bowl in the 1993 season.
Despite jumping out to a 9-0 lead, the Kansas City offense was too much for the Bills. The Chiefs scored 21 unanswered points in the second quarter to take the lead, one they would never look back from, and out-scored Buffalo 38-15 over the final three quarters. Buffalo had to play a nearly perfect game, in all three phases, to beat Kansas City, and that just wasn’t the case Sunday night.
Falling just one game short of the Super Bowl is a tough pill for any group to swallow, but for these Bills, after such a great season in a city that’s been so hungry for a competitive, championship-caliber team, this game may take a while to get over.
This season-ending loss isn’t the same as the one in Houston last year. It wasn’t a game the Bills gave away. The better team won. The Bills were great this season; no doubt one of the best teams in the NFL, they proved that. However, they’re just not on the same level as the Chiefs.
Here are three quick observations from the Bills loss to Kansas City:
1.) The Chiefs' stars performed like stars
In the week leading up to the AFC Championship Game, the big storyline was the status of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He left the AFC Divisional Round game against the Cleveland Browns early with a concussion, but was cleared from protocol on Friday. However, Mahomes also had been reportedly dealing with a foot/turf toe injury, which made many speculate about how productive he could be against the Bills.
Well, the former NFL and reigning Super Bowl MVP looked just fine on Sunday night, completing 29-of-38 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns.
It wasn’t just Mahomes, though; in fact, it was his top pass-catching targets, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, who really hurt the Bills.
Kelce was, seemingly, uncovered all night, finishing with a game-high 13 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns, with nine of those grabs coming in the first half. Hill, who also managed to find open space time-and-time again throughout the game, caught nine passes for a game-high 172 yards.
The duo combined for 290 of Mahomes’ 325 passing yards and caught 22 of his 29 completions. Players as good as those two will likely always "get theirs" in any game, but the Bills had no answers for either of them all night.
2.) Coaching decisions will be questioned
All season long, head coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll had an aggressive approach to calling plays on offense, showing confidence in Josh Allen and the group.
They stuck with that strategy in the early portion of Sunday night’s game. Buffalo went for it on a 4th-and-1 near midfield on the opening drive. However, the tone changed later on.
Just before halftime, down 21-9, the Bills elected to kick a field goal on 4th-and-goal at Kansas City’s two-yard line, as opposed to going for the touchdown. The score was cut to single digits before halftime, and with Kansas City receiving the ball to start the third quarter, one could understand why Buffalo would want to take the points there. However, in a game where you need to keep up with a team like the Chiefs on the scoreboard, field goals from the two-yard line usually doesn’t cut it.
In the third quarter, the Bills did the exact same thing. They drove down the field, got inside Kansas City’s 10-yard line, but, again, settled for a chip-shot field goal and remained down by two scores.
I’ll be one of the first people to admit I’m not a football coach. I’ve never been a football coach. I typically try to not argue with coaches’ decisions, because I’ve never been in their shoes. However, it’s hard to not be, at least, puzzled by these choices, simply because it’s different from how the Bills approached these situations all year.
Maybe it was part of the game plan from the start. Maybe it was something McDermott and company decided on in the moment. No matter how it played out, though, fans will be talking about those calls for months to come.
3.) The run is over, and yes, it stings
Because the Bills have never had success like this in my, or many fans' lifetimes, this season is a huge positive.
However, I know how quickly things can change in the NFL. We all saw how this season played out though, right? This team absolutely proved itself to be a true championship contender, and should be a competitive team in this league for years to come.
The foundation is strong. A campaign that included a 13-win regular season, a division title, a number of franchise records broken, and two playoff victories isn’t one to be sneezed at.
Don't get me wrong, I’m not trying to push people to search for silver linings or think about the positives. The Bills were one win from the Super Bowl and lost. Anyone has a right to be upset, or feel however they want to feel.
People in Buffalo know as well as anyone you never know when something like this will happen again. So, either enjoy it for what it was, or, feel free to agonize over it. Grieving, of course, is a process.
Again, the Bills really have something here. It’s hard to build a consistent winner, but the Pegulas, along with Brandon Beane and McDermott, have done that. Three playoff appearances in four years now is a good track record, and there’s no reason to not keep the faith with this regime.
The playoff loss in Houston last year motivated Allen to have an MVP-caliber season in 2020, and it pushed the Bills to grow and improve as a team (and acquire Stefon Diggs).
"Bills Mafia" will now have to wait and see how this season-ending loss motivates the team as it heads into 2021.