KANSAS CITY – Give it up to Sean McDermott. Vilified and dismissed as playoff impostors by the national media, McDermott and his coaches got their heads together in a crisis and had their team impeccably prepared for a critical road game.
One week after a historic meltdown in LA, the underdog Bills bounced back for a 16-10 upset of the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, snapping a three-game losing streak and reasserting themselves as a serious playoff contender in a watered-down AFC.
McDermott got the better of his mentor, Andy Reid, whose Chiefs continued their midseason freefall after getting off to a 5-0 start this season. The Bills' defense, which had allowed an average of 45 points and 212 rushing yards in a three-game losing streak, throttled KC's offense, holding the Chiefs to one first down in the first half and 236 yards of total offense.
But the happy result reflects even more negatively on McDermott's decision to yank Tyrod Taylor for rookie Nathan Peterman with his team 5 -4, a move that will follow him around, like an unpaid college loan, for years to come.
It's a stretch to suggest that Taylor could have made the difference in a 30-point loss to the Chargers. But Sunday's win reinforces the notion that Taylor gives them their best chance to win, regardless of his shortcomings as a passer.
Taylor played one of his typically safe, solid games. He completed 19 of 29 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions. Taylor needed to attempt only five passes after halftime as the Bills nursed the lead. He kept plays alive with his legs, rushing six times for 30 yards.
So if Taylor wanted to prove McDermott was wrong to pull him before the LA game, as he said at the time, he did so in arguably the biggest road win of his career. Considering the circumstances, it was even bigger than the win at Atlanta earlier this season.
There was speculation that McDermott had lost his locker room after the Peterman experiment. But there was no indication of that during the week and on Sunday, the coach's players had his back in as astonishing a one-week turnaround as you're likely to see in an unpredictable sport.
The Bills, who had been dominated in their three losses in the trenches, won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Taylor had plenty of time to throw. Smith was under siege all day. The Bills mixed up their coverages and Chiefs' wide receivers were virtually no factor.
Instead of a fourth-straight loss, the Bills are 6-5 (4-3 in conference) and back alone in the final wild-card spot pending the Ravens game on Monday night. They also broke a three-game losing streak to KC and beat Alex Smith for the first time in five tries.
It wasn't easy. Is it ever? The Bills played it safe with the lead and the Chiefs had one final chance to win in the final minutes. KC drove from its own 14 to the Bills' 36, but on third down Smith threw an interception directly to Tre'Davious White, and that was your ballgame.
After three dreadful performances, they're alive again. As McDermott said over and over again last Wednesday, they're in the hunt. After this stunner, it would be hard to argue.
One bit of advice for the rookie coach: Stick with Taylor as your quarterback unless and until the Bills are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.