1. The big payoff. Kansas City last year became the first team since 1960 to go an entire season without a touchdown catch by a wide receiver. The Chiefs’ obvious reaction: Spend big in free agency.
Kansas City made Jeremy Maclin the ninth-highest paid receiver in the NFL by signing him to a contract worth $11 million a year. Overpaid? Sure. But when you’re desperate and have a colossal hole in the roster, you break the bank. (See the Bills and Mario Williams.)
The upside for the Chiefs was coach Andy Reid knew exactly what he was getting, because he drafted Maclin in the first round in 2008. Maclin averaged 66 catches, 908 yards and seven TDs a season for the Eagles.
Reid made the investment look great against the Bills, as Maclin caught nine passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
The biggest was a 41-yard TD from Alex Smith that gave the Chiefs a 16-14 lead. Maclin faked inside and burst outside down the sideline to beat Ronald Darby. The Bills had a single safety in the middle of the field, and Smith did a good job looking left to freeze Bacarri Rambo before throwing right.
The K.C. receivers have combined for seven TD catches this year.
2. Ground ball. Just two plays after Darby left the field briefly with an injury in the second quarter, the Chiefs picked on his replacement. Mario Butler was beaten deep down the right sideline by Maclin for a 37-yard gain.
But was it a catch? The pass was underthrown, Maclin slowed up and the ball grazed the ground. The Bills did not challenge. The rule says the receiver must secure control of the ball before the ball touches the ground. From this perspective, it did not look like he had total control before the ball touched turf. The play set up the Chiefs’ first TD.
3. Spencer who? The Bills’ defense got chewed up for 114 rushing yards by Spencer Ware, who in 2½ pro seasons before Sunday had rushed for 130 yards. Ware’s killer run was a 35-yarder up the middle with 10 minutes left. The Bills had pinned the Chiefs back to their own 11. They needed a stop to preserve good field position. The big run led to the Chiefs’ final field goal.
The Chiefs double-teamed Marcell Dareus at the point of attack. Tight end Demetrius Harris blocked middle linebacker A.J. Tarpley. Corey Graham flew in and missed a tackle 12 yards downfield. Rambo took a bad angle.
4. Back shoulder. Sean Smith is a good cornerback, and Miami was foolish to let him go in free agency in 2013. But it’s hard for anybody to stop a well-executed back-shoulder throw to an elite receiver. Sammy Watkins gave Smith the slightest shove in the back before reacting to the underthrow from Tyrod Taylor for a 21-yard TD catch. It put the Bills up, 16-7.
5. Taylor’s best throw. The Bills’ first TD was a good pass route by Watkins and a great pass by Taylor, who dropped the ball “down a chimney” over Watkins’ shoulder 28 yards down the left sideline. It put the Bills ahead, 10-0.
6. Smith’s best throw. Smith threw a perfect strike to Maclin for 33 yards to the Buffalo 19 early in the third quarter. Maclin pushed off just a bit on Stephon Gilmore.
7. TE TD. The Chiefs had only targeted leading receiver Travis Kelce three times in the first half. They got the matchup they wanted on a 15-yard TD pass to their big tight 4:39 into the third quarter.
Kansas City lined up with a run formation with three tight ends to the right. Smith hit Kelce on a post pattern to put the Chiefs ahead, 21-16. Kelce got inside Darby, who had a tough coverage assignment. Both Bills safeties, Rambo and Graham, broke underneath to cover tight end Demetrius Harris.
8. Hali sack. Seantrel Henderson was beaten to the outside by Tamba Hali for a sack that forced a Taylor fumble at the Buffalo 34. The turnover led to a 49-yard field goal that gave the Chiefs a 24-16 lead.
9. Flood right. LeSean McCoy pulled the Bills within 24-22 on a 10-yard TD catch. The Bills sent two tight ends into the end zone to the right and McCoy into the right flat. Linebacker Josh Mauga couldn’t get over in time to defend the throw.
10. Unchallenged. Where was Rex Ryan’s challenge flag on the pass ruled incomplete for Chris Hogan with 2:39 to play?