Sports

Same Story, Different Year: Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills

Yet again, Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills were sent home in the postseason by Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. It seems like a given at this point; after all, KC has sent Buffalo packing three out of the last four seasons. This year was supposed to be different; Allen finally had a postseason game against the Chiefs at home. What went wrong? Why can’t Allen get over the hump? How does the Mahomes-Allen rivalry compare to the QB duels of the past?

If you told me before the game started that Allen wouldn’t have a single turnover, I would’ve bet a hefty sum on the Bills to win this game. Mahomes is the consensus-best quarterback in the league — and for good reason — but when Allen is clicking and limits the turnovers, there’s a conversation to be had. Pair zero turnovers with the fact that the game was in Buffalo, surely the Bills were supposed to win, right?

After the first three quarters, I sure thought so. Allen and company marched down the field in all but one drive and their defense had a few key stops as the Chiefs neared the end zone to force them to kick two field goals. Buffalo continued to run the ball down KC’s throat and there seemed to be no answer. 

In their final possession before the fourth quarter, the Bills had a possession that lasted 8:25 in which they marched down and scored a TD. Of the fifteen plays of that drive, nine of them were runs, and the series-capping play was the most impressive of the game. On 3rd & goal from the 13-yard line, Allen was pressured and scrambled left, throwing an absolute dart across his body to receiver Khalil Shakir in the corner of the end zone to send Bills Mafia into a frenzy and put them up 24-20. 

The Chiefs finished a drive started in the third quarter and ended it with an Isaiah Pacheco touchdown to make it 27-24. The KC defense then promptly stopped Buffalo, forcing 4th & 5 from Buffalo’s 30-yard line. In the most head-scratching move of the game, the Bills ran a fake punt to Damar Hamlin that was stopped three yards short of the marker. But Buffalo was bailed out when Mecole Hardman later fumbled the ball through the end zone, forcing a touchback and putting the ball back in Allen’s hands. 

In the final two drives for Buffalo, Kansas City’s defense came up big and Allen’s weapons came up short. Trent Sherfield and Stefon Diggs both dropped 50-plus yard bombs in the final two drives that could have resulted in touchdown-scoring drives. Instead, they were forced to punt after the first drive before kicker Tyler Bass missed the game-tying field goal wide right in Buffalo’s final possession. 

I’m a Seahawks fan, but I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for Bills Mafia; I think everyone does to be quite frank. One can only wonder what Allen could do if he was in the NFC because, at this point, Patrick Mahomes is inevitable. Allen played a terrific game and couldn’t have done much better. Sure, he missed some throws here and there, but he also wasn’t helped out much by those aforementioned drops. 

What is the path to playoff success for Allen? Buffalo’s defense was crippled with injuries all season. Most notably, star cornerback Tre’Davious White tore his achilles in Week 4 against the Dolphins and All-Pro linebacker Matt Milano suffered a fractured right leg the following week, each injury sidelining them for the rest of the season. That certainly didn’t help. But that’s not the only factor here. Allen needs a reliable guy to go to in the biggest situations, a Travis Kelce type. I know what you’re thinking, he has Stefon Diggs, probably a top 10 wide receiver in the league. But Diggs has a history of underwhelming play in the biggest games of the season. In the past four season-ending games for the Bills, Diggs’ stats are as follows: 

2020 AFC Championship vs. Chiefs: 11 targets, 6 receptions, 77 yards

2021 AFC Divisional Round vs. Chiefs: 6 targets, 3 receptions, 7 yards

2022 AFC Divisional Round vs. Bengals: 10 targets, 4 receptions, 35 yards

2023 AFC Divisional Round vs. Chiefs: 8 targets, 3 receptions, 21 yards

Four of the biggest games of his life and he hasn’t hauled in a single touchdown nor eclipsed 100 yards receiving. Given the discrepancy between targets and receptions, it can be assumed that there were a few missed throws by Allen in there, but there were also a few drops. Might I add, in those four games, Diggs wasn’t the leading receiver of the game for Buffalo once. He may be blanketed in double coverage at times, but the best receivers find ways to get open, improvise routes and find holes in the defense. They also don’t let crucial throws go right through their hands in most cases. 

Besides that, Allen needs to hope for some big stops on defense and probably needs to play almost perfectly to climb the mountain and take down Mahomes. Because until I see it, I don’t expect the Chiefs’ success to fall off a cliff anytime soon.

One of my favorite podcasters, Bill Simmons, made the point that Mahomes has that invaluable quality that Brady had at his peak: He always keeps it close, and if the game comes down to one drive, you’re expecting a TD from Mahomes and the Chiefs. Your room for error is incredibly slim when Mahomes is on the other sideline. 

The Mahomes-Allen rivalry is a bit symbolic of another Bills quarterback rivalry, Jim Kelly versus Dan Marino. Ironically, Kelly was on the other side of history, as he went 3-0 against Marino in the postseason. He went 14-7 overall against him, which is much more lopsided than the Mahomes-Allen rivalry, but the point still stands. It also is a bit similar to the Manning-Brady rivalry, where Brady owned Manning for the first few years of his career before Manning ultimately bested Brady in the playoffs, winning the series 3-2 (but losing it overall, 11-6). Maybe Allen can follow Manning’s arc and start to flip the script. Here’s to hoping it actually happens.

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