There was a play Sunday night in the rain in Kansas City that encapsulated the 2021 version of Josh Allen perfectly. If you stayed up till midnight, you saw it. Bills up 31-20 at the Chiefs’ 24-yard line, driving for insurance, seven minutes left in the game. Allen took off running up the middle, his receivers covered on the outside. It looked like the 237-pound Allen could bull his way through the sparse coverage in the middle of the field and make it all the way for a touchdown. But he didn’t.
At the 12-yard line, pursuit really not close, Allen pulled up and slid on the wet turf. First down. The insurance score came two plays later.
Immediately I thought of Allen’s words to me in training camp when I asked why this year would be different, why there wouldn’t be reruns of the 14-point and 8-point losses to Kansas City last year.
Just try not to be a hero.
There’s your example from Buffalo’s conference-changing 38-20 win over Kansas City: Maybe Allen’s the bull in the china shop last year, and maybe he makes it into the end zone and spikes the ball hard and screams at the sky. Nothing wrong with that. But he didn’t need to do it, and he didn’t do it, and he still was the man of the match. And finally, inexorably, he outplayed the man who will be his rival for years in the AFC, Patrick Mahomes.
This felt bigger than one game. The Chiefs looked thin on offense and absolutely threadbare on defense. This looked like a changing of the guard in the AFC more than just a Week 5 game. It looked that way from the booth too. “When we get to the end of the season,” Cris Collinsworth said on NBC, “we’re gonna look back on this night and say, ‘This is the night a lot of things changed in the AFC.”
The AFC’s has two explosive front-runners this morning—the Bills and Chargers, both 4-1. The NFC isn’t as easy. On a given Sunday five teams can stake a logical claim to NFC superiority—the 5-0 Cardinals; then Dallas, Green Bay, Tampa Bay and the Rams, all 4-1.
On this given Sunday, it was a rollicking day for many of them. You’ll never see what you saw in Cincinnati again—five missed field goals in eight minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime. And in L.A., two missed extra points nearly cost the Chargers a 47-42 win over Cleveland. Has there been a Sunday with 12 missed PATs recently, by the way? The NFL has one unbeaten left, 5-0 Arizona. Safety Budda Baker thinks he knows why, and he’ll tell you. We’ll start in the drenched Midwest, with a changing of the guard.
The worst thing you can do after a game like Buffalo-Kansas City is think too much.
But I’m going to think a little bit about what we saw and where these two power teams stand.
Now alone in last place in the strong AFC West—I would have said “powerhouse AFC West” except I saw Denver and Las Vegas play Sunday—and 2.5 games behind the Chargers, I see trouble. KC’s two games out, but I count the tiebreaker as a half-game, and the Chargers own the Week 3 head-to-head win at Arrowhead. Interesting to watch the frustration of the Andy Reid offense, with the Bills’ two-deep scheme taking Tyreek Hill out of the deep-passing game. When Hill catches seven for 63, with a long of 17, as he did Sunday night, it’s a win for the defense, particularly with no other deep threat to scare the D.
And that Kansas City defense. Frighteningly bad. I go back to draft day 2020 and think of the Clyde Edwards-Helaire pick. He’s been a B player. Imagine if that pick had been at a defensive need spot—at safety, maybe, where Antoine Winfield Jr., went 13 picks after Edwards-Helaire, or at corner, where Trevon Diggs went 19 picks after the runner. The Edwards-Helaire pick sounded great at the time, but needs were glaring elsewhere, and those needs really showed up all over the field Sunday night—and in the team’s 2-3 start.
Look at the standings this morning. Kansas City’s allowing 32.6 points per game, most in the league. Never thought I’d see this in the Mahomes Era, but the offense can’t outscore the defense (154 points for, 163 against) right now.
Reid was asked about this game, his team’s play, and the reaction of the locker room. “They’re embarrassed by it. We all are,” he said. Andy Reid has not had to say that many times in his coaching career.
Entering the season, the Bills needed some answers on the defensive front. Over the first two rounds of the last two drafts, Buffalo GM Brandon Beane drafted three pass-rushers, including the largely unproven Gregory Rousseau, who had one impressive season as an edge rusher in his life. On Sunday night, Beane watched from the press box as Rousseau made the play that sealed the game. With 18 minutes left and Mahomes at the Buffalo 8-yard line, trying to carve into a 31-13 Bills lead, Mahomes threw for Mecole Hardman near the right sideline. Rousseau, rushing from the left side, stuck his hand in the air to block the pass. He tipped it to himself for the interception. Huge play, the kind of play the Bills’ defensive front hasn’t made enough of—especially when KC put up 64 on them in eight quarters last year.
The Bills also have discovered a tight end defenses have to worry about. Beane drafted Dawson Knox in the 2019 third round. Big and athletic, Knox already has five touchdowns this year, the latest a 53-yard TD from Allen, stretching the lead to 24-10 late in the first half.
This is an offense with more firepower than last year, and a defense growing stronger with players like Rousseau providing a needed pass rush. On this night, all of that helped Allen. One of the things he’s tried to do this year is to play more calmly. Playing crazy had its drawbacks for Allen in year one and two. “Back in the day,” he told me in camp, “I tried to play pissed off on the field and I found myself not playing very well, tensed up . . . Now, [I’ll do] small things like listening to calming music pregame, to not be so hyped and anxious for the game.”
On Allen’s pregame playlist, he told NBC, there was no Metallica, no metal. There was some Frank Sinatra (“Fly Me to the Moon”) and Paul Anka (“Put Your Head on my Shoulder”). Whatever works.
After the game, coach Sean McDermott told his team: “Don’t act surprised. We’re better than we even showed today.” If so, this could finally be the year western New York forgets all those nineties Super Bowl disappointments. Josh Allen will have a lot to do with that.
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column