» Grading the Bills
B Guard Richie Incognito called this game “a tale of two halves.” He ain’t kidding. For one half, this was child’s play for the Bills’ offense. Sticking to their go-to sweep plays out of the shotgun, Buffalo socked the NFL’s eighth-ranked rushing defense in the mouth. But while LeSean McCoy finished with a respectable 70 yards on 19 carries, he never broke free into the open field — his longest run was only 12 yards. Kansas City rallied to the ball in time to prevent the big run. Tyrod Taylor (46 yards) leaked free at times but hasn’t quite been the same threat since injuring his knee.
B Taylor threw “freely” in the first half, as Sammy Watkins noted. The first-year starter showed no trepidation, no fear in giving his No. 1 wideout a shot deep, letting it rip up the sideline multiple times as Rex Ryan wanted him to. And for the fourth time this season, he posted a passer rating above 100. Yet one fumble led to three Chiefs points and another fourth-quarter rally fell short. Again, the offense stalled in the second half when the opponent adjusted.
D+Injuries are starting to mount again for Buffalo. This time, in the heart of its defense. The collective losses of Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, Alex Carrington and Nigel Bradham stung badly as the Chiefs rolled to 158 yards on 27 attempts (5.9 avg.). With the Chiefs down to their third-string running back, Buffalo should’ve been able to stuff the run, get the Chiefs and third-and-long situations and send the heat. Spencer Ware, however, pounded away for four quarters. Do the Bills have the horses to finish?
D Two dropped interceptions, one of which could’ve been a pick-six. Two touchdowns allowed. Zero quarterback hits. One crushing roughing the passer penalty on Jerry Hughes. A 112.4 passer rating from Alex Smith, his second best passer rating of the season. However you slice it, this was one of the Bills’ most depressing dud performances on defense this season. Rex Ryan trusted his front four to get heat and kept multiple players back in coverage — both endeavors failed.
C A missed extra point by Dan Carpenter put Buffalo in a difficult position. When the Bills scored in the third quarter to make it 24-22, they failed on the two-point attempt, the Chiefs kept kicking field goals and, as it turned out, going for the EP themselves would’ve been the best bet. Marcus Thigpen averaged 23.4 yards per kick return in his return, reliable if not electric. And Colton Schmidt was not able to pooch his punt in the end zone before the Chiefs’ first touchdown.
D- Granted, officials on the field should get the calls right. This was another bumbling Sunday for the zebras. But Rex Ryan’s problems with challenges went from comical to mind-boggling. He should’ve challenged the 37-yarder to Jeremy Maclin that hit the ground, should not have challenged the incompletion to Robert Woods and should’ve challenged the completion to Chris Hogan on Buffalo’s final drive. Worse, Ryan admitted afterward that he wasn’t even aware of Maclin’s catch. Ryan’s sloppy game management backfired.
» Grading the Chiefs
A- No Jamaal Charles. No Charcandrick West. No problem. The Chiefs turned to Spencer Ware to spark their running game. Two bruising Ware runs revved their sputtering offense into top gear — the 229-pounder finished a 16-yard run by blasting through Bacarri Rambo and then a 12-yarder by drilling Ronald Darby. Into the fourth quarter, with Kansas City needing to melt clock, he busted free for 35 yards and it appeared Darby wanted no part of him in the hole. That play allowed Andy Reid to melt the clock from 10:01 to 3:25 by the time Buffalo touched the ball again.
A- Remember when the San Francisco 49ers stuck with Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith? Seems like light years, not three seasons, ago. While Kaepernick was benched and then later placed on injured reserve, Smith is playing like a Pro Bowler in Andy Reid’s offense. He doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, nor 4.5 speed but his ability to detect the weakness in a defense is at an all-time high. Smith hasn’t thrown an interception in eight games and has 2,681 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.
B Kansas City was able to gang-tackle McCoy and also benefited by Karlos Williams leaving the game with a shoulder injury. The two backs’ contrasting styles — McCoy’s quicks, Williams’ power — has posed problems for defenses past. All Sunday, the Chiefs only had to contend with McCoy’s rare speed and cutback sixth sense. Linebackers Derrick Johnson and Josh Mauga (16 combined solo tackles) were usually on the scene first.
D+Two years ago, cornerback Sean Smith broke the hearts of Bills fans with a 100-yard interception returned for a touchdown. The defeat effectively finished any postseason aspirations in Western New York. On Sunday, he should’ve worn a bull’s eye on his jersey. Buffalo attacked Smith with Sammy Watkins throughout the first half. It’s surprising the Chiefs don’t track the Watkins-like talents with shutdown rookie Marcus Peters. They did adjust at halftime and it also helped that the Bills stopped tested them deep.
B+Kicker Cairo Santos drilled field goals from 49, 38 and 37 yards out in the second half to extend Kansas City’s lead, just missing a 54-yarder in the slop at the end of the first half. That one doinked off the crossbar. And while Knile Davis has all but vanished from Kansas City’s offense, the back jolted the Chiefs’ touchdown drive at the start of the second half with a 36-yard return. Buffalo’s average starting field position was its own 26-yard line — the Chiefs almost never shoot themselves in the foot.
A- Whereas injuries on offense crippled the Bills early this season — Ryan pointing those injuries out often to the media — they sure haven’t slowed down Kansas City at all. The Chiefs are down to their third running back. And, on Sunday, they saw offensive linemen drop like flies. Ben Grubbs was already out… then Jeff Allen… then Eric Fisher. At one point, the Chiefs had no back-up linemen. Zero. And yet, head coach Andy Reid found ways to adapt.