Buffalo Bills ready for challenges of division title, trap game in the Rockies

Thrust into another national spotlight, the Buffalo Bills have a lot to think about as a Saturday thriller looms.

Cold weather, a special Saturday timeslot, and a chance to win a division championship 25 years in the making…if you were trying to make a trap for the Buffalo Bills and their fans, you’ll find no better seduction than what’s waiting for them in Denver this weekend.

This weekend could be one long remembered in Western New York. Collegiately, the University of Buffalo Bulls are seeking their second conference and an (abbreviated) undefeated season when they take on Ball State in Friday night’s Mid-American Conference title game in Detroit (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Less than 24 hours later, the professional Bills will battle the Broncos out west (4:30 p.m. ET, NFL Network). All the Bills (10-3) need to capture the elusive AFC East crown is a win over a Denver squad (5-8) in need of multiple miracles to even think about the playoffs.

The next step of the Bills’ 2020 season comes less than a week after they earned what may be their biggest win of the 21st century. In the first visit of NBC’s Sunday Night Football banner to Orchard Park since 2007, Buffalo topped one of the few teams ahead of them in the AFC playoff chase. Their 26-15 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers has placed the team firmly in the national spotlight. Colin Cowherd, for example, declared that the Bills were the best team in the NFL on his weekday show on FS1, even surpassing the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs (who previously defeated Buffalo in Orchard Park).

Needless to say, dealing with new expectations has been something of a challenge as the Bills go through their prep for the Broncos.

“The only thing we’ve earned at this point is all that noise and we’ve got to block that out, honestly,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said after the Pittsburgh victory, per Jourdon LaBarber of BuffaloBills.com. “We’re dealing with young men and young women, who, you know, some of them are new to this. You’re talking about the best of the best, so every week you’ve got to go back and reset, start all over again. But that’s where the process comes in. You’ve got to love that…You’ve got to love the preparation. You’ve got to love putting in the time and the work to get yourself to where we were with the outcome last night. That’s why it makes it so special when you can win those games because you know the hard work that went into it.”

McDermott’s players have apparently heeded his warning of complacency after such a big win. Shortly after the final seconds ticked away against Pittsburgh, players brandished a flag that bore the message “THE JOB’S NOT FINISHED”. Buffalo nearly had all the help necessary to complete one part of the job, clinching the team’s third playoff berth in four years after a 17-season drought, last weekend. They took care of their business against Pittsburgh and several other contenders dropped their own matchups, but the Baltimore Ravens didn’t feel like cooperating. Their 47-42 win in Cleveland in a Monday night thriller was the one requirement that went unfulfilled.

But Buffalo has been patient, and now the divisional clinch is far more straightforward: win.

Clinching a division title would not only bring some long-awaited good vibes to the Bills’ facility and hope and joy to an area/state in desperate need of it this holiday season, but it would also accomplish one of Buffalo’s most notable goals: it would allow Orchard Park to host a playoff game. Bills Stadium has not staged a postseason contest since 1996, a wild-card round loss to Jacksonville.

“Guys understand what’s at stake and want to be a part of something special,” defender Jordan Poyer said in a report from WIVB. “It’s not gonna be easy, they’re not just gonna come in and hand us over a win so we’ve gotta continue to prepare and continue to get ready to play our best football on Saturday.”

Standing in their way are the Broncos, as the Bills make their second visit to Mile High in as many years. Denver is anything but mathematically eliminated, but their record doesn’t indicate how much of a pest they’ve been against contending teams this season. The Bills, in fact, may be appreciative for one of their more recent efforts, dealing the Miami Dolphins a 20-13 loss last month, partially allowing Buffalo an opportunity to clinch before Christmas. Denver also took the aforementioned Chiefs to the brink in a 22-16 defeat on the road earlier in December and topped the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte last weekend. Franchise quarterback Drew Lock provided some good hope for the future with a career-best four touchdown passes.

Despite their recent success, silencing those who have asked “but who have they beaten?” with their win over the Steelers, the Bills know they’re in no position to take the Broncos lightly.

“I don’t really care what the record is. It’s the same thing each and every week, we don’t care what the record is, we know this is a good football team,” cornerback Micah Hyde said in a report from team writer Dante Lasting. “They got weapons outside, obviously, with the two rookie receivers (Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler) and (Noah Fant). He’s an Iowa guy, and those Iowa guys are studs. They’ve got a running game with two really good running backs, so they’re just another talented offense and it starts with (Lock). He’s able to make any throw on the field (but) we understand if we get pressure in his face and get pressure on him, at times he turns the ball over.”

To Hyde’s point, the sophomore Lock has thrown 13 interceptions this season. Only Carson Wentz of Philadelphia has thrown more (15).

As Buffalo sets their sights on becoming the first team other than the New England Patriots to win the AFC East since 2008, quarterback Josh Allen believes that they can take a lesson from the Foxboro monopoly: that of taking care of business. New England often built their dynasty through handling their affairs in games they were expected to win. Those situations would often come against overmatched divisional competition.

“This division’s been dominated by a team in Foxborough for a long time, and they’ve had a lot of sustained success, and that’s kind of the mold. That’s what people want to be and how they do it and how they’ve done it is what people want to do,” Allen said per WIVB. “We understand what’s a stake every time we step on the field from here on out and we know we have a chance but our goal is to play Saturday and put our best forward and try to win a game.”

While the Bills are aiming for heights they haven’t reached in over a decade, Allen wants both his team and the football-loving public know that they have no intentions of stopping at a mere division title, even if they wrap up the four-team affair by the end of Saturday’s visit to the Rockies.

“It’s not just an end-all, be-all we won the AFC East let’s celebrate. That was our goal, that’s been our goal and that’s the easiest way to get to the playoffs by winning your division. It’s no small task, we set our goal to have a home playoff game and that just secures that one right to do so. It’s not the end all be all, it’s a step in the right direction and we gotta continue to keep working hard.”

Should they fall to Denver, Buffalo can also clinch the division if the Dolphins fall to the Patriots on Sunday.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: The best moments in the throwback uniforms

The Buffalo Bills’ beloved throwback uniforms returned on Sunday against Los Angeles. ESM looks back on their finest hours.

With championship dreams approaching this winter, the Buffalo Bills and their fans are ready to party like it’s 1965…the last year the team won an official league championship.

It turns out, the Bills are happy to dress for the occasion as well.

For their Week 12 home tilt against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Bills opted to break out their classic throwback uniforms, an aesthetic more or less defined by the simplified buffalo logo on their helmets. This blast from the past is meant to replicate the team’s look worn from 1962 through 1973, when the “streaking” buffalo was introduced. The Bills’ modern full-time uniforms strongly resemble their throwbacks, but Buffalo completed the look on Sunday with the adjusted helmets.

The gambit paid off. Josh Allen scored through both the air and ground, while Cole Beasley trickery led to a touchdown toss to Gabriel Davis. Buffalo (8-3) took the game by a 27-17 final, allowing them to keep a one-game lead over Miami for the AFC East division lead.

In honor of the Bills’ trip down memory lane, ESM looks to do the same, looking back on when relics from the past previously led to good times in the present…

9/11/05: Carr Wreck

The Bills broke out the throwbacks for the first during the 2005 season opener against the Houston Texans. In a performance that would make Tom Sestak, Mike Stratton, Booker Edgerson, and Georga Saimes proud, the Buffalo defense dominated the day, allowing only 120 yards and earning five sacks and turnovers each. Troy Vincent intercepted Texas quarterback David Carr twice, while Aaron Schobel had two sacks. Chris Kelsay and Takeo Spikes each forced a fumble in the effort as well. On the scoreboard, Rian Lindell booted five field goals to slowly break the Texans’ will, while the lone Buffalo touchdown of the afternoon came on J.P. Losman’s one-yard pass to a then-second-year blocker Jason Peters. The Bills earned a 22-7 victory to kick off the second year of the Mike Mularkey era.

Buffalo wore the throwbacks on the road a week later in Tampa Bay, but the good vibes didn’t come with them in a 19-3 defeat en route to a 5-11 seaso and Mularkey’s eventual resignation.

12/9/07: Royal Entrance

In the midst of a playoff push, the Bills put away notions of a trap game against the 0-12 Miami Dolphins away in the early going. A pair of Robert Royal touchdown receptions from Trent Edwards kickstarted a 24-point first quarter for the Bills, who also enjoyed a separate pair of scoring grabs from Lee Evans. The rookie Edwards completed only 11 passes on the afternoon, but his four touchdown passes were a career-high. Elsewhere, Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch each reached triple digits in rushing yards (uniting for 222 on the ground) while Donte Whitner and Terrence McGee each earned interceptions in the 38-17 win.

Alas for the Bills, that would be their final win of the 2007 season, losing their final three games to drop out of the postseason race.

9/21/08: Edge of 17

The Bills got off to a 4-0 start in 2008, an opening kept alive through a gutsy effort in the throwback against the artists formerly known as the Oakland Raiders. Buffalo’s defense was mostly taking care of business, limiting Oakland to 10 first downs, but turnovers and short drives forced the Bills to face a 23-14 deficit past the halfway mark of the final frame. Through big-gain collaborations with Evans and Josh Reed, Edwards narrowed the gap with a 14-yard scoring pass to Roscoe Parrish, capping off a drive that took just over two minutes. The defense then forced a three-and-out, leading to two more big gains from Parrish and Evans. Lynch would tick off the final yards, situating Lindell from 38 yards out to boot the game winning field goal in a 24-23 triumph.

11/29/09: Defeat Occurs in Real Time

Buffalo introduced the contemporary white version of their throwback during their 50th anniversary season in 2009, coinciding with the American Football League’s 50th anniversary. Matchups with former AFL brethren were marked with special throwback schemes, though the Bills lost these matchups to New England and Tennessee. They broke out the blue version for a visit from the Dolphins, reeling after the firing of head coach Dick Jauron. Happy times briefly returned to The Ralph, however, as the Bills once again used a 24-point quarter to their advantage. Miami led 14-7 entering the final 15 minutes, but Jackson opened the closer with a three-run scoring run to tie it. Most of the tally came over the final 3:35 of game time. Lindell’s 56-yard boot, a career-long, gave Buffalo the lead for good before Drayton Florence’s interception got them the ball back. Terrell Owens cashed in on the very next play with a 51-yard scoring grab from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Another turnover, this one being a Whitner interception, allowed Jackson to add some final insurance, a seven-yard run by Jackson that gave interim head coach Perry Fewell the first of three victories.

9/15/13: He’s the Manuel

Bills fans may well be somewhat spoiled with Josh Allen in town, as some may have already forgotten the failed franchise quarterbacks that preceded his arrivals. Florida State’s EJ Manuel was one of those final attempts. For a brief moment, clad in the white throwback, it truly felt like Manuel was going to be the man to lead the franchise into the future.

Engaged in a back-and-forth thriller with the Carolina Panthers, the Bills trailed 23-17 with 98 seconds remaining. Manuel’s arm accounted for every single yard of the ensuing 80-yard drive that led to victory, capping things off with a two-yard touchdown pass to Steve Johnson…ironcially caught with two seconds remaining in the fourth quarter…that sent Western New York into hysterics over a 24-23 victory. Alas for Manuel, longevity was not to be. He suffered an LCL injury less than three weeks later during a Thursday night game and was never the same upon his return.

9/14/14: Carpe 3’em

The Bills got off to a strong start in 2014, topping the Bears in overtime before opening their Orchard Park slate with a visit from the Dolphins. It turned out to literally be a special victory, as Dan Carpenter booted five field goals and C.J. Spiller brought a kick back 102 yards. On defense, Leodis McKelvin also had an interception, while Jerry Hughes, Kyle Williams, Stefan Charles, and Mario Williams each had a sack in the 29-10 final.

9/13/15: Lucky 27

2015 was the introduction of the Bills’ trippy “Color Rush” uniforms, but the throwbacks kept their early season slot. The aesthetic allowed Buffalo to start the Rex Ryan era off on the right note, scoring the first 24 points in what became a 27-14 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Tyrod Taylor likewise enjoyed a strong debut in Western New York, tallying 195 yards through the air and 41 on the ground. His first Buffalo touchdown was a 51-yard toss to Percy Harvin on the final play of the first quarter. Karlos Williams and Anthony Dixon scored on the ground, complementing a defensive performance that saw interceptions from Ronald Darby and Aaron Williams.

12/31/17: Miami Nice

The Bills’ first playoff appearance in nearly two decades is unusual in that everyone seems to remember the finishing touch: Andy Dalton’s comeback against Baltimore that fulfilled the postseason caveat. But Dalton’s shining moment wouldn’t have meant anything if the Bills didn’t take care of business during their Week 17 visit to Miami. Each team ended the year in a time machine, with the Dolphins likewise clad in their 1970s-inspired throwbacks.

Buffalo responded in perfect fashion, building a 19-0 lead through a strong game from every side of the ball. Taylor kicked off scoring with a 26-yard touchdown toss to Nick O’Leary before allowing Steven Hauschka to take over with three field goals in the onslaught. In the interim, six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kyle Williams lined up as a fullback and scored on a one-yard push to help put Miami away. Buffalo took the game 22-16 before returning to the locker room to watch Dalton work his magic.

11/25/18: Revenge is Best Served Old

Ten months after the Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars played to a 10-3 victory for the latter in the AFC wild card playoffs, each team’s return trip was more or less canceled, the two sides saddled with losing records in late November. But Buffalo did earn a quantum of revenge in the rematch, topping the Jaguars in a 24-21 tilt in their vintage threads. It was one of the earliest displays of power from Josh Allen, as the rookie quarterback scored through both the air (Robert Foster being the lucky recipient from 75 yards out) and ground for the first time in front of a Western New York crowd. Isaiah McKenzie had the lone non-Allen touchdown, while Poyer and Matt Milano had interceptions.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

The Buffalo Bills’ ultimate test comes on Sunday against New England

The somewhat reeling Buffalo Bills have a golden opportunity to pass the ultimate test against the New England Patriots.

Wide right. No goal. New England Patriots.

The preceding phrases have struck fear into the heart of Western New York sports fans for years on end. In the case of the first two, the smallest of consolation could be granted through time, as they were single-game incidents that continue to build distance from the next generation of supporters. The latter case, however, is a twice-yearly ordeal, a painful, yet necessary endeavor on par with jury duty or inventory at a retail job.

The Buffalo Bills’ rivalry with New England was even but uneventful in the 20th century (New England led 41-38-1 in a series that dated back to 1960), but the tide turned with the rise of Tom Brady in 2001. Since Brady faced the Bills for the first time, a 21-11 New England triumph at the late Foxboro Stadium (in what became Rob Johnson’s final start as a Bill), the Patriots own a ridiculously one-sided 34-4 advantage in the series.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not enough that the Patriots have straight-up owned this yearly pair, but the way they’ve done it could be constituted as outright bullying. Former Bills (Antowain Smith and Stephon Gilmore among them) have played central roles in the team’s demise. The method of defeat has featured increased creativity. In 2006, a Ty Warren sack of J.P. Losman became a difference-making safety in a 19-17 loss on opening weekend. A 2009 Monday night tilt saw the Bills lose a 24-13 lead over the final three minutes of game time.

There have been several potential “turning point” of the rivalry. A 31-0 Buffalo shellacking in the 2003 season opener threatened to end the New England dynasty before it truly got rolling. One of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s earliest miracles was the erasure of a 21-point deficit in 2011. But, for the most part, even the Buffalo victories were nothing to celebrate. A win in the 2014 season finale came with most New England backups on the field, the starters resting for yet another playoff run. The Bills did the unthinkable with a 16-0 shutout two seasons later, but it included the massive asterisk of having Brady sit out due to his Deflategate-induced suspension.

At long last, the winds of change have finally descended upon the AFC East. The Bills situated themselves perfectly to succeed when New England finally fell, and their efforts have paid off with a 5-2 record that has them destined toward prime playoff positioning in the conference. This season has been the reaping of meticulous planning by the Bills in their attempt to usurp New England’s throne, a quest partially assisted by Brady’s sojourn to Tampa Bay.

Buffalo has accomplished much over the past three seasons. The team has developed a defense to be reckoned with, found a franchise quarterback, and become a destination for big-name talent from elsewhere…salvation after building a playoff drought that nearly became old enough to legally purchase a six-pack of Flying Bison.

Much has been accomplished over the past three seasons, but there are many lofty goals that have proved elusive. A playoff win is one, but they can’t be gained until winter. First thing’s first…beat the Patriots on Sunday afternoon in Orchard Park (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

The turbulent transition of power of the AFC East cannot be completed otherwise.

The ultimate changing of the guard could’ve come last season, when a meeting in the penultimate week of the campaign decided the modern division’s fate. Such a battle had made its way to 21st-century national television…a 56-10 New England win in Buffalo was notably flexed to Sunday night during the former’s undefeated regular season run in 2007…but this game in an unusual timeslot carried enormous importance. Chosen to partake in a Saturday night spot at Gillette Stadium, the winner would have prime position in the chase for the AFC East. The title was routine for New England but could’ve made a return trip to Buffalo for the first time since 1995.

Buffalo had previously played the Patriots well in the first portion of the yearly pair, a 16-10 defeat at what was then New Era Field. It was a game they had to end without the aforementioned star under center, Josh Allen, who was sidelined with an injury. The opportunity to strike was perfect: the Bills had previously succeeded in their first taste of true prime time action, topping the Pittsburgh Steelers in a flexed Sunday night game six days prior. With the Bills at 10-4, their first accumulation of double-digit wins since 1999, and New England reeling from losses to Houston and Kansas City (not to mention dealing with another camera-induced controversy from their win in Cincinnati a week prior), the time to strike seemed perfect.

Inklings of a team of destiny appeared to be on display throughout the evening. The Bills were playing Patriot games to throw New England into a state of chaos. An unusual receiver scored a touchdown, with Dion Dawkins playing the role of Mike Vrabel. The Buffalo offensive charge was led by coordinator Brian Daboll, a former New England tight end coach who oversaw some of Rob Gronkowski’s finest hours. Daboll’s unit oversaw a 53-yard scoring hookup between Allen and John Brown, one that gave Buffalo a 17-13 lead for a good portion of the second half.

Alas for the Bills, further Patriot-induced heartbreak awaited in the game’s latter stages. New England scored the final 11 points of the game, the majority of which were earned on Rex Burkhead’s one-yard score with just over five minutes to go. With the exception of a 30-yard hookup between Brady and Julian Edelman, a major of the drive comprised of short, but methodically effective, rushes spearheaded by Burkhead and Sony Michel. The opposing defense forced Buffalo into a pair of three-and-outs while the deficit was erased, and stopped Allen’s would-be heroics through relentless pressure and a fourth-down spot just 15 yards away from the tying tally. Celebrations of the Patriots’ 11th consecutive division title soon commenced, relegating Buffalo to wild-card purgatory through a 24-17 victory.

Even in defeat, players and analysts saw the Bills’ respectable performance against the team that routinely tormented them as a potential sign of things to come. But Buffalo’s leaders, like Allen and cornerback Jordan Poyer, weren’t interested in making excuses or relishing symbolic wins.

“We knew we had to finish the game,” Poyer said of the honorable defeat, per Nate Mendelson of BuffaloBills.com. “He’s the greatest quarterback to ever play the game and we knew they were going to come back and try and strike. Like I said, they just made more plays than we did today. I’m proud of our guys today, but in the end, there are no moral victories.”

“It’s one of those games you learn from. “If you don’t learn from it, it’s a complete loss,” Allen added, according to Nicole Yang of Boston.com. “It (stinks). Obviously, they’re an AFC East division rival, and that’s their consecutive whatever it is year winning the division. We got to find a way to get over that hump.”

New York Giants could look into Devin Mccourty this offseason.
Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Brady is gone, but the opportunity lingers for the Bills, whose prosperity lies at a crossroads. They got off to a red-hot start at 4-0, but endured consecutive losses to contenders from Tennessee and Kansas City…each in newly customary primetime slots. The Bills got back into the win column last weekend against the New York Jets, but had to rely on six Tyler Bass field goals after failing to reach the end zone. With the winless Jets and the Miami Dolphins more or less focusing on the future with the transition to Tua Tagovailoa, the AFC East appears to be the Bills’ to lose.

It’s great that the Bills sit at 5-2, situating themselves handsomely in terms of the premature AFC playoff picture. They’re taking care of business and ensuring that they don’t have to be scoreboard-watching in December. Yet, as long as items remain unchecked on Buffalo’s to-do list of returning to respectability, questions and doubts will likely follow them. Failing to visit the end zone against the lowly Jets (even if the defense allowed only four green yards in the second half) is only going to raise more quandaries over whether they truly deserve to be counted amongst the NFL’s elite.

“We have to find ways to finish in the end zone,” Allen said, in a report from WBEN-AM. “It has to be better on my part. A couple of penalties pushed us back and put us in a bad position. Shout-out to T-Bass for making those field goals and getting us the win.” In the same statements, running back Devin Singletary mentioned the need to “get back to the drawing board” and described Sunday’s win as “rough”.

There’d be no better way to get back on track than exorcising the New England demon.

The mere thought seems impossible, but the matchup with the Patriots presents rare ground…a trip game. New England enters with a 2-4 record, reeling from the worst kind of uncharted territory in the Bill Belichick era. The Patriots have lost three consecutive games (their first such ledger since 2002) and the most recent defeat was almost Jets-ian in nature. Their 33-6 loss at the hand of the San Francisco 49ers was the worst margin of the Belichick era at Gillette Stadium and provided little if any bright spots in terms of growth and developments. It’s only perhaps added to Brady’s legacy. Whereas the Patriots have faltered under Cam Newton (whose fast start was stifled by a positive COVID-19 diagnosis), Brady has performed well enough in Tampa to warrant the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Month Award.

But the fact of the matter is that Brady isn’t the Bills’ problem anymore, at least not until slated to play the Buccaneers in 2021. In fact, Brady wasn’t even the Bills’ biggest problem during the most recent editions of their yearly pair. Over the last six get-togethers between the divisional rivals…all of which went the Patriots’ way…Brady only broke 300 yards once and threw only four touchdowns in that span. The real enemy has been the defense, which has held Buffalo to no more than 17 points in each of those past six showdowns. Allen has partaken in three of them…and has thrown five interceptions.

Veteran receiver Stefon Diggs, a newcomer to the Bills-Patriots story, but he knows just how important it will be to master the New England defense. He knows what it’s like to be neutralized by the unit, being held to 49 on five receptions (most of it coming on a 24-yard grab in the first half) in the Minnesota Vikings’ 24-10 loss to the Patriots in December 2018.

“They’re fundamentally sound, Diggs said, per Dante Lasting of BuffaloBills.com. “They do a lot of things well on defense, they are active, they have some great players and they’re smart. All the guys play as a unit, everybody’s always on the same page, they are big on communication, and everybody’s in the right spot so it’s definitely a challenge for us. It’s something that I look forward to for our offense to go out there and try to execute at a high level, make some plays, and fly around. It’s more so that we have to execute better than they do. They do a great job, have a great scheme, and have great coaching staff so it’s definitely going be fun.”

Furthermore, the Patriots show no signs of giving up divisional rights with a battle. Enough living, breathing cautionary tales have been written about declaring the Patriots dead in the Belichick era. Sure, a lot of those redemption chapters have been authored by Brady, but nobody needs to prove their mettle less than Belichick. Brady missed almost the entirety of the 2008 campaign, and that still didn’t stop Belichick-supervised destruction with Matt Cassel leading the way under center in a traditional sweep…one of which was a 13-0 shutout to complete an 11-5 ledger in the season finale.

Defensive captain Devin McCourty was blunt yet confident after the San Francisco debacle in analyzing just what the Buffalo game means to the Foxboro dwellers.

“They’re first in the division. We’re 2-4. So I definitely wouldn’t call us the team to beat this year,” McCourty said in a report from Nick Goss of NBC Sports Boston. “I know, me personally, I talk about it every year, it doesn’t matter what’s happened here in the past. I’ve always said that when you talk about the Super Bowls won in the early 2000s, that doesn’t have anything to do with us. Super Bowls after 2010, they have nothing to do with us.”

“I would say right now, we’d be crazy to think coming into the game that we’re the team to beat. They’re No. 1. They’re gonna be a huge challenge for us on the road. The top team, we’ve got to really bring our A-game coming off three straight losses. I think, for us, our backs are against the wall. We’ve got to go out there and play well.”

McCourty is right in his analysis; the past means nothing as the Bills-Patriots Rivalry enters its sixth decade. That message apparently has resonated through the New England locker room.

If it hasn’t in Buffalo, the clouds of questions over the Bills’ place in this evolving NFL world will continue to hover over Orchard Park more dangerously than that of any snowstorm.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Four plays that decided the Buffalo Bills’ Monday fate vs. Kansas City

An ugly second half against the defending champions doomed the Buffalo Bills on a rainy night in Orchard Park.

The Buffalo Bills managed to keep Patrick Mahomes mostly in check on a rainy Monday night, but it still wasn’t enough to take down the defending Super Bowl champions.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire put up an infantile career-best 161 rushing yards, pacing the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense on a cold overcast night at Bills Stadium en route to a 26-17 victory in Monday night’s showdown between AFC divisional leaders. Mahomes did contribute to the Kansas City (5-1) cause with two touchdown passes, each to Travis Kelce.

Buffalo (4-2) has now lost consecutive regular season games while at full strength for the first time since 2018 (not counting the season-ending losses at the end of last season, when the Bills played mostly backups in their unsuccessful Week 17 game against the New York Jets).

ESM looks back on the four plays, one from each quarter, that determined Buffalo’s fate on Monday night…

1st Quarter: Matt Milanooooo

If this is the way the Bills’ defense looks without Matt Milano, it might be time to give the veteran linebacker some MVP consideration in absentia.

The Bills knew it would be a tall task dealing with Kelce with or without Milano, but his prescience might’ve at least made things more difficult in the red zone. His physicality and coverage prowess were particularly missed on the Bills’ second defensive drive when Kelce outworked Tremaine Edmunds (whose still working off the effects of a shoulder injury) to score the Chiefs’ first touchdown of the game. It echoed the success Tennessee was able to earn from the tight end spot on Tuesday, as Kelce was able to match Jonnu Smith’s two touchdowns scored in Nashville.

2nd Quarter: Walk the Klein

Kelce had three receptions in the first half, each of them playing a major role in the game’s timeline. He scored another touchdown in the second quarter (one that wound up giving Kansas City the lead permanently) and seemed poised for a chance to get another when the Chiefs got the ball back with just a minute to go and all their timeouts on the board. Stationed at the Kansas City 32, Kelce took a Mahomes pass to just about midfield, where he was stripped of the ball by A.J. Klein. Josh Norman was able to pounce on it, giving Buffalo a chance to try a potential tying field before the halftime gun.

While Tyler Bass missed the 52-yard attempt, the play was part of a strong stretch for the Buffalo defense. Not only did the turnover keep things at three points going into the locker room, but they also forced another Kansas City punt on their next drive. What could’ve been a 23-10 deficit remained stagnant at 13-10. For a team facing the mighty defending champions’ high-octane offense on short rest, that’s one of several moral victories gained against a brutal opponent.

3rd Quarter: Run All Night

With 11:22 to go in the second quarter, the Bills took a 10-7 lead through a 13-play, 75-yard masterpiece that was capped off by a Stefon Diggs touchdown grab. It was a drive that took 6:43 off the game clock…nearly seven minutes without Mahomes, Kelce, Edwards-Helaire, etc. on the field.

But over their next three possessions, Buffalo ran just 14 plays, tallying only 53 yards, and 5:18 on the time of possession clock. Kansas City noticed, taking advantage by showcasing their run game. In addition to Edwards-Helaire’s breakout effort, Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson united for 43 yards in relief. Williams dealt a crushing blow to a tired Buffalo defense, busting loose for a 13-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-one.

Each of Kansas City’s eight regular-season losses in the Mahomes era has come in games where they lost the time of possession battle. Buffalo failed to fulfill that requirement on Monday, as the offense was on the field for only 22:15.

4th Quarter: One-Hit Blunder

Penalties have been a bit of an issue (6.6 per game) for the Bills despite their success in the early going. They did manage to play a mostly clean game with only four flags on Monday, including none in the first half.

However, one of them was an unforced error of drastic proportions, a show of frustration that was almost…Jets-ian in nature.

With the Bills down 20-10, Poyer was able to briefly neutralize Edwards-Helaire by stopping him on a screen pass for a loss of two. Had Poyer let go once Edwards-Helaire was forced out of bounds, the Chiefs would’ve faced a third down with seven to go at circa midfield. Alas, Poyer forced Edwards-Helaire out of bounds and slammed him to the ground, drawing a 15-yard penalty and a first down. Kansas City would go on to earn a Harrison Butker field goal, more or less settling things at a two-possession game.

Penalties are going to be an issue if the Bills have any hopes of recovering and moving forward. Their currently per game tally is eighth-worst in football.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags