This was a gut-wrenching loss for the Bills. They had this game in the palm of their hands and completely Munson’d it. The loss dropped them to 5-4 in an ultra-competitive AFC that currently features eleven teams over .500.
Kyle Orton is not a superstar quarterback. However, he’s a tremendous upgrade over EJ Manuel because he keeps the offense on schedule. For the most part, he gets the ball to where it is supposed to go based on the design of the play. His physical skills are limited, but he’ll keep the offense moving more consistently than Manuel will.
Orton’s limitations become more visible later in the play. He doesn’t have much ability to win late in the down or adjust on the fly. His arm is just average, and this passing game is based on him making quick, smart decisions. The objective is to get the ball out of his hands. If the first two reads of the design of the play don’t beat the defense, the chances for success on that particular play drop close to zero with Orton.
Trailing 17-13 with 2:31 remaining in the game, the Bills decided to go for it with the ball on Kansas City’s 15-yard line. Buffalo aligned in a 3×1 set with Sammy Watkins isolated backside. This was where the play was designed to go. Watkins’ route was a fade. Cornerback Ron Parker gave him a free release off the line and immediately let Watkins get on top of him. This is called a tailgating technique, and it is used when a corner is playing to his safety help over the top. On this play, though, the safety to Watkins’ side was late getting over. This was either a blown coverage, or the safety just didn’t get over Watkins in time. This actually might have thrown Orton off.
At the snap, Orton did what he was supposed to. He looked down the middle of the field at the safeties. He saw that the safety to Watkins’ side was between the hash marks and the numbers, which indicated that he would not be able to help overtop of Watkins. To Orton, this meant Watkins was in 1-on-1 coverage. However, it also meant that the corner would most likely be playing on top of Watkins, not allowing him to get by him into the end zone precisely because he had no help. Orton anticipated a back shoulder throw as a result. Unfortunately, Watkins was on top of the corner. There was a ton of room for an easy throw in the end zone, but Orton failed to read Watkins against the corner because it was a quick throw (remember what we said about him adjusting on the fly?). It was either that, or he severely underthrew a wide-open touchdown, which is highly unlikely. The result was an incompletion. This was really the only chance Buffalo had left in the game to take the lead.
You might remember running back Bryce Brown from two years ago when he replaced an injured LeSean McCoy in Philadelphia and had consecutive games of 160+ rushing yards and 2 touchdowns. You might also remember the fumbling problems he had. Clearly, not much has changed with Brown. He had several nice runs and receptions out of the backfield on Sunday, displaying that same playmaker-type quickness we saw two years ago. Unfortunately for Buffalo, he also fumbled the ball a yard before reaching the end zone on what would have given the Bills a 17-3 lead with 10 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. With the way their defense was playing, that might have sealed the win. Instead, the ball trickled out of the back of the end zone for a touchback. Another missed opportunity for Buffalo.
The offense wasn’t the only culprit for the Bills in this game. Leodis McKelvin fumbled a punt deep in his own territory in the 4th quarter. The Chiefs recovered at the Bills’ 26-yard line. Two plays later, Alex Smith was in the end zone for what would eventually be the game-winning touchdown.
Whether or not the Bills are a playoff team remains to be seen. There are still seven games left. What’s clear is that they aren’t good enough to make the types of mistakes they did on Sunday and still come away with a victory. Their defense has been very good this season. If they can eliminate turnovers and capitalize when the plays are there, Buffalo has a legitimate shot of reaching the postseason. More sloppy play, on the other hand, will keep them out of the playoffs for the 15th straight season.