Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett were two plays from being hailed as coaching geniuses Sunday.
Marrone and Hackett crafted an offensive game plan – directed by undrafted third-string quarterback Jeff Tuel – that produced 470 yards against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.
They dialed up a long-bomb touchdown to speedy Marquise Goodwin early in the game to make the Chiefs play more honest against the run.
The Buffalo Bills not only rolled up 241 rushing yards, they held the NFL’s No. 1-ranked pass rush without a sack.
The fact all that wasn’t enough to produce a victory left the Bills sick.
“It’s the most frustrating loss that I’ve had in the NFL, for sure,” said Bills tight end Scott Chandler after the 23-13 loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“It hurts me, it hurts the guys in that room; I hurt for them, I hurt for our fans,” said Marrone.
“We came up with a game plan and they executed it great until we got down tight,” lamented Hackett, the offensive coordinator.
Thanks to two defensive touchdowns, the Chiefs improved to 9-0 and the Bills dropped to 3-6.
The first came on a mental error. Tuel missed a wide-open Stevie Johnson in the middle of the end zone and threw an interception that Sean Smith returned 100 yards for a touchdown. The second came on a physical error. Bills receiver T.J. Graham lost a fumble that Tamba Hali scooped up and returned 11 yards for a score.
The fateful decision of the game: Hackett put the onus on Tuel to make a play on a third-and-goal situation at the Kansas City 1 early in the third quarter. Buffalo had marched 79 yards – all of them on the ground – and were on the verge of taking a 17-3 lead.
The Chiefs had stuffed Fred Jackson on two straight runs from the 1. Hackett tried to go big, with three tight ends on the first run. He tried to go small, spreading the field with three receivers on the second run.
“We did both, and both didn’t work,” Hackett said.
On third down, Hackett gave Tuel the option. Go with a running play or check to a quick pass if the Chiefs stacked the line of scrimmage and showed blitz. Johnson, Robert Woods and Graham, in that order, were lined up to the right side of the formation. It was man-to-man coverage on each.
Johnson put a fake on Smith and broke free in the middle of the end zone. But Tuel had decided to throw for Graham, cutting inside. Smith was trying to regain his balance after being faked to the outside and Tuel threw the ball right at him.
“Stevie ran a great route, actually,” Graham said. “He beat the guy so bad that the guy was still in the same spot from the beginning. I was running an underneath route, and he was still in that spot. That’s basically what happened.”
“So surprised,” Smith said. “It was like Christmas. You know, you go downstairs as a little kid and there’s a big box right there? That’s how I felt. If he threw it right to me, the main thing I just wanted to do was focus and catch the ball. Because I knew once I caught it that no one was catching me.”
“So we wanted to combine two things in one, and Jeff saw the all-out, which they were doing,” Hackett said. “He went to throw the ball to his first read, and the guy just stopped and just stood there.”
The game was tied, 13-13, early in the fourth when Graham caught a pass over the middle and Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper slapped it from his grasp from behind.
“I fumbled the ball,” Graham said. “He made a good defensive play. I had it tucked. It can happen to anybody but he made a defensive play and knocked the ball out.”
Tuel finished 18 of 39 for 229 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
The TD was a 59-yard bomb in the first quarter that few players besides Goodwin could have run under.
“I was in the post,” said Chiefs deep safety Kendrick Lewis. “He made a good throw and got the ball up to Goodwin. Those are some fast receivers, and he made a play.”
Tuel, however, missed on four other deep balls. He underthrew Graham once and overthrew him once. He underthrew Goodwin on two deep balls in the fourth quarter.
He also saw receivers drop four balls, two by Chandler, one by Woods and one by Marcus Easley.
Overall, however, the Bills’ offense could not have functioned much better – aside from the turnovers.
C.J. Spiller rushed 12 times for 116 yards. Guard Kraig Urbik steamrolled a path for him on a 61-yard scamper. Fred Jackson gained 77 yards on 16 carries.
“We knew we wanted to run some zone schemes against them and give us an opportunity to go anywhere with the ball,” Jackson said. “It’s one of the schemes where you like to give running backs an option, pecking, finding a hole and hitting it. We were able to do that today.”
“There were times we knew they were going to fast flow over the top, so we had to get on the linebackers quick,” Urbik said. “I think the couple times C.J. popped out, we got on them quick and guys did a good job of cutting off the back side.”
The Chiefs gave up 138 rushing yards over their season average.
“You look at the stats, and I think all you can do as a coach is call the plays,” Chandler said. “Obviously they put us in good position on a lot of plays. At the end of the day we’ve got to execute in crucial situations.”
“You just kind of shake your head and think about what we can do better next time,” center Eric Wood said.