National Post (Latest Edition)
Thirteen seconds that killed the Bills
DEFENSIVE STRATEGIC BLUNDER BY BUFFALO WASTED ALLEN’S EPIC PLAYOFF PERFORMANCE
Thirteen Seconds. Thirteen rotten seconds of strategy. That might have been all that prevented the Buffalo Bills from winning their first NFL championship.
If it weren’t for those Thirteen Seconds — about the amount of time it takes to hang a shirt in your closet, according to webbists who log such things — the Bills might well be the newly crowned Super Bowl champions.
Should be, actually. Instead, Thirteen Seconds, in time, surely will eclipse Wide Right — Scott Norwood’s missed field goal at the end of Super Bowl XXV 31 years ago — as the most ruinous moment in Bills history.
Think of it ...
The Bills offence was performing at peak indomitability in the playoffs, head and shoulders above the rest of the league’s 14-team playoff field, thanks mostly to the otherworldly play of quarterback Josh Allen. And the Bills defence ended the regular season No. 1 against both the pass and the score.
Seriously, what more could an NFL franchise possibly want in January?
The Bills, it says here, fielded the best team come playoff time — yes, including even the eventual Super Bowl LVI champion, the Los Angeles Rams.
But they blew it. Disastrously so.
Let’s take a closer look why and how. On both sides of the ball.
OFFENCE: Josh Allen: Playoffs MVP
Never mind the Cooper Kupp vs. Aaron Donald debate on the Rams. The real NFL playoff MVP? Wasn’t even close.
Josh Allen of the Bills. If you watched what the fourth-year star did to New England in the wild-card round and to Kansas City in the divisional round — especially late in the fourth quarter of the Bills’ heart-crushing overtime loss to the Chiefs — then you shouldn’t need any further proof or explanation. The eye test suffices.
Similarly, did any player this post-season, if you watched all 13 playoff games, make you go WOW as much as Allen?
Allen was the most electric, clutch performer over this year’s 13 playoff games. His offensive output on Jan. 15 and 23 was historic. Offthe-charts elite, by a slew of barometers. To wit ...
For starters, Allen threw nine touchdown passes in two games. Matthew Stafford of the Los Angeles Rams didn’t throw his ninth TD until 1:25 remained in the Super Bowl, his fourth playoff start. Only Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes threw more TDS this post-season — 11, but in three starts.
What’s more, Allen led all other throwers in this year’s playoffs in passer rating (a near-perfect 149.0), in QBR (94.3), in completion percentage (77.4) and in averaging 10.3 yards per pass attempt. Regarding the latter stat, if you don’t know much about it, Checkdown Charlies never come within telescope distance of leaders in this category. For further perspective, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow led the league in the regular season with an 8.9 YPA, and the modern-era single-season NFL record of 9.9 was set by Kurt Warner in 2000.
Since 2004, no QB who has played in multiple games in a single post-season has averaged more than Allen’s 10.3 yards per throw, although Atlanta’s Matt Ryan also hit that figure in 2016.
Allen also was the only QB who played in multiple games this post-season who wasn’t intercepted. There’s more.
In Buffalo’s 47-17 destruction of New England in the opening round, Allen became the first quarterback in the nearly 17,000 games played over the 102-season history of the NFL — regular season or playoffs — to pilot his offence to a touchdown on its first seven possessions. None of the drives were gimmes either, coming on lengths of 70, 80, 81, 89, 58, 77 and 39 yards.
As I wrote the next day, on those seven drives the Bills faced third downs only six times. That’s not even as many as one per drive. And Allen and the Bills converted all six. Also unheard of.
Allen accounted for 374 yards in the bitter cold at Highmark Stadium that Saturday night and threw for more touchdowns (five) than he had incompletions (four, in 25 attempts).
Eight nights later at Arrowhead Stadium, Allen did not do a single thing down the stretch to prevent the Bills from beating the Chiefs. Quite the opposite. And yet, capping TWO 75-yard drives with a pair of OMG touchdown throws in the final 1:54 of regulation wasn’t enough, including what should have stood as the winning points — his 19-yard rope to Gabriel Davis with 13 seconds left.
Allen, just 25 years old, was simply heroic in these playoffs. It might be a long, long time before any NFL QB matches his above feats over any two consecutive post-season games. And he did it against defences designed by men (Bill Belichick and Steve Spagnuolo) with a combined 47 years of experience as chief defensive strategist.
The shame of it is — not just for Bills fans, but for all of us — we were robbed of seeing what more Allen might have done in the post-season. Would he have remained on pace for one of the most epic post-season performances in NFL history, if not the most? We’ll never know.
Who did the robbing? Some might say Mahomes and his elite Kansas City receivers, along with Chiefs head coach and offensive mastermind Andy Reid.
I say otherwise ...
DEFENCE: ‘Thirteen Seconds’ ... Historic infamy
We have now seen the defensive equivalent of They Should Have Handed The Damn Ball Off To Marshawn Lynch.
That is, the most epic strategic blunder on defence in NFL playoff history.
You all surely remember how head coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell prevented the Seattle Seahawks from earning “dynasty” recognition in February 2015. When, with 26 seconds remaining in Super Bowl XLIX, with the ball at New England’s oneyard line and trailing by four points, Carroll approved Bevell’s change-up idea to throw it — on a risky quickslant, rather than just hand the damn ball off to “Beastmode” running back Lynch, who’d just plowed through 4-5 Patriots tacklers for a four-yard gain to the one.
As it was, Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler burst up and intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass to Ricardo Lockette and the Patriots won 28-24, their fourth of six Super Bowl championships in the Belichick/brady era.
Numerous Seahawks players — primarily defenders — reportedly never got over the wasted, no-brainer opportunity to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
Now, more than a week after the 2021 NFL post-season ended, the instant take-away poured from that night in K.C. seems to have cured into permanence: The defensive equivalent of Seattle’s epic failure in offensive post-season play calling came during what’s now referred to by Bills fans merely as Thirteen Seconds.
After Allen hit Davis for that breathtaking, go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds left, all the Bills had to do to clinch victory over the Chiefs and play host to the Bengals the next Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, was burn 13 seconds off the game clock between the kickoff and one or two scrimmage plays, while preventing Mahomes and the Chiefs from advancing into game-tying field-goal range. Couldn’t do it. Somehow, the message to squib the kickoff either never got to Bills placekicker Tyler Bass, or Bass forgot and booted deep for a touchback, which ticked no time off the clock. That Buffalo replaced its special teams coordinator early this off-season might or might not be meaningful on this point.
That wasn’t the half of it, though. The Bills’ defensive architects — head coach Sean Mcdermott and coordinator Leslie Frazier — pulled a Carroll/bevell inversion, opting on two K.C. scrimmage plays with 0:13 left to rush three, leave a fourth as a (useless) spy, and drop seven defenders into deep, loose, soft-shell coverage. All Chiefs receivers, on both plays, had free releases off the line.
On the first play, from the K.C. 25, the Bills aligned their seven defenders in coverage like this: With a man guarding each sideline 10 yards back (which was stupid, because the Chiefs had all three timeouts left and didn’t need to stop the clock with a receiver going out of bounds); three more defenders in lane zone coverage between the numbers 15 yards back, and dropping farther back at the snap; and finally two super deep safeties.
That left 10-20 super easy yards for the Chiefs to gain between the numbers. And Reid and the Chiefs were ready with their play call — a dump-off left to blazing-fast Tyreek Hill, with two receivers who’d lined up near him now charging out ahead as blockers.
Complete, gain of 19 to the K.C. 44. Timeout, Chiefs. Eight seconds left.
Mcdermott and Frazier presented Reid and the Chiefs with the same defensive look for the next snap, before calling timeout themselves, then tweaking their soft seven-man zone to the following: Three defenders in wider spaced, sideline-to-sideline lanes situated seven yards back; two more defenders about 12 yards back but both to K.C.’S right side, where the Chiefs had trips receivers lined up, opposite lone target Travis Kelce on the left; and again, two super deep safeties.
Buffalo’s coverage on this pivotal play created a huge gap for Kelce to merely run straight ahead, look back and catch Mahomes’ simple pass up the left-side seam — for a gain of 25 yards to the Buffalo 31.
Three seconds left. Timeout, Chiefs. Chiefs kick 49-yard field goal. Overtime. Chiefs win toss. Chiefs score touchdown. Chiefs win. Bills gutted.
It was all of Buffalo’s defensive strategists’ doing.
Four weeks ago, Pro Football Hall of Fame QB Dan Fouts told me the last thing a defence should ever do in those desperate, end-ofgame situations with only a handful of seconds left is allow receivers a “free release” off the line of scrimmage. Meaning, when no defender bumps them or jams them or otherwise tries to physically thwart them from running freely to where they and the quarterback know they’re going — which itself eats time, and which usually forces the QB to take more time to glean where to throw it.
But it was worse than even that for Mcdermott and Frazier. They had brought into that game the NFL’S No. 1 scoring defence, No. 1 total defence and No. 1 pass defence — and were on the night were shredded by Mahomes and crew, to the tune of 30 first downs, 42 points and 552 total yards.
Only four times in the playoffs, in 26 chances, did a team run up more than 400 total yards. The Bills offence did it twice, with 482 against New England and 422 against K.C., yet won only once. The Chiefs had 478 against Pittsburgh in the first round.
After the point in the Bills-chiefs game when 12 minutes remained in the fourth quarter, K.C. racked up 200 of its 552-yard total on four possessions, which produced two touchdowns and two field goals.
Complete. Epic. Allaround. Defensive. Failure. By the Bills.
And it took every bit of that for Mcdermott, Frazier and Bills defenders to undermine and waste one of the most spectacular post-season performances by a quarterback in NFL history.
Especially in those Thirteen Seconds.