| Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
ORCHARD PARK – One of the storylines heading into Monday night’s showdown with the powerful Kansas City Chiefs was how the Buffalo Bills would react to their first dose of adversity.
They had cruised to a 4-0 start, and the only moment of real trouble in that first quarter of the season came in the second half against the Rams in Week 3 when they blew a 25-point lead before rallying to pull it out in the final seconds.
But then last week’s 42-16 blowout loss to the Titans raised a red flag, and a nation of football fans on Monday night were anxious to see the response.
Obviously, they — or at least the Bills fans among them — were grossly displeased as the Bills got trampled 26-17 by Kansas City in a game where Patrick Mahomes was essentially a game manager.
As Josh Allen said, no one is panicking inside the Bills locker room, but they need to start finding some solutions to their many ails or we could be looking at the ghosts of 2008 (a 4-0 and 5-1 start that was wasted) and 2011 (a 3-0 start that crashed and burned).
“We just keep trucking, man,” said safety Jordan Poyer. “We understand that it’s a long season. Right now we’re 4-2 — obviously, two losses in a row is not something that you want to do, but this is NFL football. I think the team has the right mindset and wants to just keep getting better.”
It must start on defense because Poyer and his teammates are a dysfunctional mess, something the longest-tenured Bill, defensive end Jerry Hughes, recognizes.
“We’re not playing the defense that we have been in the past,” said Hughes. “We’ve got to figure out a way to bridge that gap and play the way we’re capable of. We certainly have the guys on the defensive side to get it done. I have to get us all back to hunting and playing Buffalo Bills defense.”
Here’s how I graded the Bills’ performance:
PASS OFFENSE: D
Allen’s MVP candidacy — which was somewhat premature to begin with after just four weeks — is officially put on hold. He started shaky with three straight incompletions and it never really got much better as he finished 14 of 27 for just 122 yards and two TDs. He did have an interception, but it came at the very end and was inconsequential. His average gain per attempt was a paltry 4.5 yards and some of his deep ball accuracy issues returned as he couldn’t hit anything. Stefon Diggs made a great TD reception, but otherwise did very little with six catches for 46 yards. Of course, that was much better than John Brown who was a complete no-show and was blanked. One of the biggest problems was the play of the offensive line as Allen was confronted with his heaviest pressure of the season. On most of his dropbacks he was moved off his spot and on several he was forced to scramble. There just wasn’t any rhythm to the passing game, though it certainly didn’t help that the Bills barely touched the ball in the second half. Incredibly, they had possession for less than seven minutes.
RUN OFFENSE: C-
As off-kilter as the pass game was, this was nothing new for the running game which once again was unable to produce any chunk plays. As the games go on, Devin Singletary is not looking like a franchise back. He lacks big-play ability and right now, he’s been barely capable of the small plays. He rushed 10 times for just 32 yards, and some of that tackle-breaking we saw in his rookie season has been non-existent. Again, he didn’t get much help from an offensive line that simply is not getting enough push at the point of attack. Zack Moss returned after missing three games but he barely made a dent as he carried five times for just 10 yards. Allen was more involved in the running game and led the way with 42 yards, some on designed calls which were working in the first half. Nothing worked in the second half, but again, the offense never had the ball.
PASS DEFENSE: C-
To hold Patrick Mahomes to 225 yards might seem like a victory, but here’s the thing. He didn’t have much interest in attacking through the air because the run game was killing the Bills. When he did throw, he completed 21 of 26 and did not turn the ball over. Had he wanted to sling it around a little more, there did not seem to be much chance that the Bills would have stopped him. The Bills are just not functioning on defense in any area. Once again, the pass rush was mostly non-existent as Mahomes was sacked only once and was rarely pressured. And when the Bills did get after him, Mahomes did what he always seems to do — he got outside the edge and made big plays with his legs as he contributed 36 yards to the Chiefs rushing attack. What was incredible is the Chiefs didn’t even utilize WR Tyreek Hill as he had just one catch and a total of 25 yards from scrimmage. TE Travis Kelce was a tough matchup and as a result, he scored two TDs, both on plays where the Bills made terrible coverage mistakes.
RUN DEFENSE: F
Rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire has already had some impressive performances in his first six games as a pro, but this was his breakout as he piled up 161 yards on 26 carries, an average of 6.2 yards per rush. The Bills were helpless all night to stop him and anyone else the Chiefs gave the ball to. Up front, the Bills were getting blown off the ball by a Kansas City offensive line that was down one starter going in, and then lost another in the first quarter. It didn’t matter. Holes were huge, the Bills made things worse by missing tackles, and the result was more than 37 minutes of possession time for the Chiefs. Tremaine Edmunds had 12 tackles, but don’t be fooled. As usual, none were for lost yardage, and almost every one occurred at least four yards downfield, usually further. This is officially crisis mode for the Buffalo defense. Yes, they just played two very good offenses, but guess what? If you’re going to be considered an AFC championship contender, you have to perform in games like this, and the Bills fell woefully short.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Andre Roberts had a beautiful 24-yard punt return early in the game which greatly improved a drive start, and then set the Bills up for a march that ended with Tyler Bass’ 48-yard field goal. But Roberts’ only other touch was a 29-yard kickoff return. Bass missed terribly on a 52-yard attempt at the end of the half that could have tied the score at 13. On a wet night, only two of his four kickoffs went for touchbacks, but the coverage team did a nice job limiting dangerous Chiefs return man Mecole Hardman. He had only 35 yards on four total returns. Corey Bojorquez had an outstanding game with a 53.3 net average and all four of his punts pinning the Chiefs inside the 20.
This was a better team effort than what the Bills put forth in Tennessee, but it was lacking nonetheless in a game against one of the best teams in the league. For the Bills to be taken seriously, they have to start winning games like this rather than losing both by a combined 35 points. On offense, Brian Daboll got Allen back involved in the run game and that was good to see, but he has to figure out how to get the conventional run game moving because it’s been stagnant all year. On defense, well, Leslie Frazier’s feet are to the fire. His group has been terrible and it seems like whenever a stop needs to be made, they’re not capable of it. The 4-0 start was nice, and it was needed given how tough the Bills’ schedule is, but things are on the brink of slipping away if the Bills don’t get things turned around. Having the Jets up next on the schedule could not come at a better time.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.