The Road To Glory: Part VI

Buffalo Bills 24, Kansas City Chiefs 20

Photo courtesy of USA Today

On the heels of last season’s Game Of The Year — a thrilling 42-36 overtime win by the Chiefs over the Bills in the AFC Divisional Round — this year’s Week 6 matchup between Kansas City and Buffalo was the center of the NFL universe. Although the 24-20 final score didn’t replicate the fireworks of their last meeting, Sunday afternoon’s tilt was filled with the type of tension generally reserved for a postseason affair.

Football is not a game of moral victories, but suffice it to say that whoever ultimately lost was going to rationalize it in a way to make themselves feel okay about it. After all, the Chiefs were playing without their top two boundary cornerbacks (Trent McDuffie and Rashad Fenton) and best off-ball linebacker (Willie Gay Jr.), and the Bills were not only banged up in their own secondary but hardly played their best offensive game.

The main thing I take solace in vis-a-vis an obviously undesirable outcome is that the Chiefs didn’t play anywhere close to their best game, either. Patrick Mahomes threw an uncharacteristic interception in the red zone on Kansas City’s first offensive series, and bookended it with another pick as roughly a minute remained on the 4th quarter clock. If you had told me beforehand that Mahomes would have the ball down 24-20 with a minute left and two timeouts, I would take that every time.

The flow of the game certainly benefited the Chiefs more than the Bills. As something of a barometer to how good Kansas City is (particularly considering the handicaps they dealt with on defense), I thought this matchup had clear blowout potential. Buffalo came off a stress-free 41-3 win against the Steelers last Sunday, while the Chiefs played a gritty 30-29 game on Monday Night Football with the Raiders.

So, yeah. Short week. Two rookie corners. Two Mahomes interceptions. Best team in the NFL on the other side. What more is there to say about how the Chiefs performed? The expectation was a loss, and they lost. They could have won; maybe they should have won. But they didn’t embarrass themselves, and they left a lot out there. I don’t see any other way to look at it other than being optimistic.

And it isn’t like losing to the Bills during the regular season is something that’s new. Last year these two teams met in Kansas City during Week 5, and the Bills routed them to the tune of a 38-20 final score. It drove me to begin a weekly series of reviewing Chiefs football games, which I dubbed Notes From A Crumbling NFL Empire. And it began like this:

I think this, right now, is the most sobering football Sunday I’ve experienced since Patrick Mahomes arrived as starter of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018. Tonight’s 38-20 home loss to the Buffalo Bills isn’t the most lopsided defeat KC has absorbed in that time (that would be the 31-9 loss to the Bucs in last year’s Super Bowl), nor is it the most devastating outcome (that would be the 37-31 overtime loss at the hands of the Patriots in the 2018 AFC Championship).

But in a meaningful way, it might be the hardest one for me to accept.

Pardon the dramatics, but by this point you know the contract you’ve signed up for if you read this blog. The Chiefs were 2-3 after last year’s loss to the Bills, and they wound up losing just two games the rest of the year. The current Kansas City team is 4-2 with a matchup against the 3-3 49ers coming up before a much-needed BYE during Week 8. If I had to guess, I would say the Chiefs lose more than twice as we barrel towards the end of the regular season. Yet I feel much better about where this team is headed compared to last season.

I have to keep perspective about what this team is actually building. Buffalo is a good mirror for where the Chiefs have been the last few years; they are a finished product. They are the best team in the NFL by a fairly substantial margin — perhaps as many as three points — but they are so good and so polished that they can’t get much better than they already are.

Kansas City, meanwhile, is far from their peak. The offensive line still has kinks to be worked out. Their defense is giving meaningful snaps to all manner of inexperienced players. And their collection of wide receivers, from Juju Smith-Schuster to Marquez Valdes-Scantling to rookie Skyy Moore have all of six games worth of reps in a new offense. They are going to keep growing together.

And that’s what this season is about. The end-all was never a Week 6 regular season clash with the Bills. It’s about putting themselves in a better position to knock Buffalo off when all the chips are down in the playoffs. Whereas I was depressed about losing last year, this time around I am looking at the upside.

This has been a strange start to the NFL season, with multiple average teams appearing much better than they probably are in reality (I’m looking at you, New York teams) and a handful of good teams (Bucs and Packers to be specific) appearing much worse. As a consumer of the NFL I expect the universe to restore to order sooner rather than later, and in the end I still project the same teams and same quarterbacks to be there.

To that end, being 4-2 is not the worst thing in the world. Losing a tough game against the Bills is not ideal, but it’s not the worst thing in the world, either. Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid have had to do it different this year, and come January I expect them to be right where they have been over these last five seasons.

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