The Kansas City Chiefs started Sunday’s game off slowly, falling behind the Buffalo Bills 10-0 in the first quarter, but rallied behind a surprisingly potent offense to beat the Bills 30-22 at a rainy and cold Arrowhead Stadium. The win, coupled with the Pittsburgh Steelers 39-30 loss to Seattle later in the day, moves KC into the top wild card playoff spot with five more games to play.
Alex Smith threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns, Jeremy Maclin caught nine passes for 160 yards and a score, Spencer Ware ran for 114 yards and another score, and the Chiefs offense for once stepped up for a less-than-stellar first half performance by the defense. And while fans and reporters wanted to know the Chiefs opinions about gaining a playoff tie-breaking win over the Bills, the Chiefs were having none of it.
“We’re not really worried about all that,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We just got over .500, think about that. All that stuff, if you keep knocking out the fundamentals and techniques, you don’t worry about that other stuff.”
The final score certainly wasn’t indicative of the Chiefs first quarter non-performance that seemingly pushed the team to the edge of the cliff of a crushing blowout loss. The Bills took the opening kickoff and showed right away that they were going to attack the Chiefs red-hot defense. On the second play, running back LeSean McCoy took a handoff 12 yards around left end. On the next play, quarterback Tyrod Taylor used a perfect play-action fake and hit Sammy Watkins deep downfield for 48 yards, putting the ball at the Chiefs 15-yard line.
The Chiefs defense was able to hold Buffalo out of the end zone and the Bills settled for a 27-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter. The Chiefs picked up a first down on their first offensive play of the game, but unfortunately that would be their last one until less than 10 minutes remained in the second quarter. In the interim, Taylor and Watkins put on a personal sports newscast highlight show, burning the Chiefs secondary repeatedly.
Watkins caught a 28-yard touchdown pass over Sean Smith and Eric Berry with 1:04 left in the first quarter to put Buffalo up 10-0 and the normally raucous Arrowhead crowd sat in stunned silence in the rain, wondering when the team they had been watching win four games in a row would show up?
The answer would come with 10 minutes left in the second quarter when a seemingly innocent play, a run up the middle by Ware, would suddenly spark the offense into life. Kansas City had only mustered 29 yards of offense at that point (as opposed to the 202 yards Buffalo had already racked up) and had a first-and-10 at their own 20-yard line. Ware took the handoff from Smith and blasted through the hole for 16 yards. He ended the run by bowling over Buffalo safety Bacarri Rambo like a rag doll before getting tackled. Suddenly, the Chiefs of the past month reappeared on the soggy Arrowhead turf and the game was on.
The Chiefs next three plays were a 12-yard run by Ware, an 8-yard run by receiver Albert Wilson, and then a 4-yard run by Ware again. Then Maclin began his own Watkins impersonation by making a 37-yard sliding catch of a Smith pass and on the next play, Ware busted into the end zone from three yards out and the Chiefs team that had been outplayed in every way by Buffalo was only down 10-7 and the energy returned to Arrowhead.
Watkins scored another touchdown in the second quarter but Carpenter missed the extra point. On the next series, Maclin hauled in a 41-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith, the quarterback who supposedly refuses to throw downfield. With Buffalo leading 16-14, Smith led the Chiefs in a two minute drill just before halftime but Cairo Santos’ 54-yard field goal attempt hit the crossbar and was no good.
When the Chiefs took the second half kickoff down the field and Smith hit tight end Travis Kelce for a15-yard touchdown pass, the Chiefs had their first lead of the game and one that they would not give up in the second half. More importantly, the defense in general – and Sean Smith in particular – figured out the mystery of Sammy Watkins and shut him down for the second half without a catch. Watkins had six catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the first 30 minutes, but only had one target in the second.
But despite the win, not everything was sunshine and roses for KC. Injuries on both sides of the ball took their toll on the team. And a number of key Chiefs — including outside linebacker Justin Houston (knee), left tackle Eric Fisher (head and neck) and center Mitch Morse (concussion) — left the game with injuries. In fact, the Chiefs were literally out of offensive linemen that could have come into the game, prompting some post-game smiles from Reid about his linemen. When a reporter asked if Reid, a former offensive lineman himself, would have been ready to suit up and play if needed, Reid smiled and said, “No. I think we would have had to forfeit at that point!”
The Chiefs improved to 6-5, while Buffalo dropped to 5-6. If the season ended this week, KC would be traveling to Indianapolis for a first-round game and the surprising Houston Texans, who also won Sunday, would be the second wild card team and would play Denver.
However, the Chiefs know that with five games left there is plenty more work to do — especially with a road test against AFC West rival Oakland, 5-6, looming next Sunday.
“That was a big win,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “This team is very tough, tough minded. Even when we were down 10-0, guys … we know what is at stake. It was an AFC win, and everything is for the marbles right now, so we need to win.”