Twenty years ago, the Kansas City Chiefs came to Buffalo, looking to upset the Bills in the AFC championship game. Things didn’t go so well. Joe Montana, fading at 37, got knocked out of the game in the third quarter. The Bills rolled, 30-13, and moved on to their fourth straight Super Bowl.
The Chiefs haven’t won a postseason game since. They have lost six straight since that fateful day at Rich Stadium, four of them at home. They’ve gone even longer between playoff wins than the Bills, whose last postseason win came at the end of the 1995 season.
During the Bills’ long march of dysfunction, it has been some consolation to know the Chiefs were even worse. From 2008-12, the Bills knocked off the Chiefs four times, more than they beat any other team over that five-year stretch. You would have thought K.C. was in their own division.
Over the last eight regular seasons, in fact, the Bills and Chiefs have identical 48-80 records. They’ve been cousins in misery, fond, faltering old rivals who can reminisce about their AFL days half a century ago.
So what in the name of Ed Podolak is going on here? The Chiefs roll into Ralph Wilson Stadium today with an 8-0 record. They’re the only remaining unbeaten team in the NFL, the talk of the league.
The Chiefs, unbeaten? Wasn’t it just two years ago that the Bills went to Missouri and shredded them, 41-7, in the season opener? Didn’t this same Chiefs team get run out of Buffalo, 35-17, last year in Week Two?
A year ago, they finished 2-14. The Chiefs were winless in their 12 conference games. Lo and behold, they’re the first team since the 1970 merger to win its first seven contests after finishing with the worst record in the league in the previous season.
It seems too good to be true. Evidently, the oddsmakers think so. They originally installed the Chiefs as a three-point favorite, despite the fact that the Bills’ best options at quarterback were a guy who was on the practice squad a month ago (Thad Lewis) and an undrafted rookie (Jeff Tuel).
OK, so they haven’t beaten any team that currently has a winning record. Are the Chiefs supposed to apologize for that? Is it their fault the Texans are a mess, or that the NFC East is a jumble of mediocrity?
Go back and inspect the record of the 1972 Dolphins. Their opponents had an aggregate record of 52 games under .500. The living members of the ’72 Miami team still toast every year when the last unbeaten loses. Maybe they’ll be lifting their glasses later today after the Bills upset K.C.
But I wouldn’t bet on it. I don’t care about the Chiefs’ schedule. You have to respect a team that leads the NFL in sacks and fewest points allowed. People fawn over a Bills D that has given up 213 points this season (granted, it’s not all their doing). The Chiefs have allowed 98.
Andy Reid, who took over as the Chiefs’ head coach this season after a mostly successful 14-year run with the Eagles, was happy to downplay his team’s stunning start. Hasn’t he ever stopped to ask himself, how did these guys go 0-12 in the AFC last season?
“I haven’t thought about any of that,” Reid said via conference call last Wednesday. “I mean, your mind never goes there. You just kind of keep pushing ahead.”
The Chiefs’ revival wasn’t entirely unexpected. Over the last 10 years, a shade over half of the NFL playoff spots (61 of 120) were taken by teams that missed the playoffs the year before. Reid was asked for the qualities that make those revivals possible.
“I don’t know that,” Reid said with a laugh. “I know in our case we’ve got to get ready for Buffalo. I know the teams that I’ve been on that made the playoffs did what we’re doing, and that’s focusing in on the job at hand.
“Listen, I can’t predict the future. I’m just not good at that. I stopped trying a long time ago. You guys have been asking awesome questions, though, let me tell you.”
Reid was fired after the Eagles went 4-12 last season. He took over a 2-14 squad. Clearly, he’s determined to keep the Chiefs grounded. It’s hard to imagine them being the victim of a “trap game” today – though they have a bye next week, then Peyton Manning and the Broncos twice in three weeks.
Most experts feel Denver will overtake the Chiefs and win the AFC West. There are skeptics who expect the Chiefs to fall apart and struggle to make the playoffs. I liken them to the 2000 Ravens, as a team that could ride a great defense all the way to the Super Bowl.
Bills fans should be envious of the Chiefs. Then can also see them as an inspiration, as proof of how quickly things can turn around when you have the right people on hand. Like Buffalo, K.C. brought in a new general manager (John Dorsey), coach (Reid) and quarterback (Alex Smith).
The Chiefs had some vital pieces in place, including eight of their own first-round draft picks. Three linebackers (Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson) were on last year’s AFC Pro Bowl roster. So were safety Eric Berry, punter Dustin Colquitt and tailback Jamaal Charles – an MVP candidate who is on pace for 2,000 scrimmage yards.
The Bills have laid the foundation with a couple of solid drafts, adding the likes of Marcell Dareus, Stephon Gilmore, Cordy Glenn, Kiki Alonso and Robert Woods to the fold. Much depends on rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, but Smith has shown with the Niners and Chiefs that you don’t necessarily need an elite passer to be a contender in the NFL.
Given another strong draft or two, the Bills could eventually make a surprise run like K.C.’s and be the talk of football. I’m sure Bills fans wouldn’t mind having the only unbeaten team in the NFL at midseason, even with critics saying “Yeah, but who have they played?”