Was there luck involved? Absolutely. The Buffalo tight end somehow forgetting how to pick up or fall on a football in the end zone was luck. The Bills offensive lineman trying to get away with baiting the Chiefs into an offsides penalty twice (one tiny flinch went uncalled, the second was just begging the officials to throw the flag) was luck. There were a few other plays that went the Chiefs direction.
Yes, luck was involved. But that win wasn't luck. That win was EARNED.
Ron Parker made an absolutely incredible hustle play to knock the ball out right at the end zone. A lot of players would have jogged out what looked like a clear touchdown. Making a play like that is earning a win.
Alex Smith sprinting around the left side and diving into the end zone headfirst (which is just something a quarterback shouldn't do, really), delivering a hit that left the defender sprawled on the field for a time is earning a win.
The defense pulling together in the red zone drive after drive to somehow, some way hold the Bills to 13 points despite them gaining 364 yards was earning a win.
The Bills, particularly their defense, made the Chiefs earn everything they could take on Sunday. I absolutely believe that's the best front four the Chiefs will face all season. They were just monsters all day, dominating the line and generally making a giant mess of things. Really, re-watching the first three quarters of that game, I can't believe the Chiefs pulled that out.
There's one drive that stands above the rest from Sunday. Although the image I'll probably remember from that game is either Smith diving into the end zone or Parker knocking down 847 consecutive passes, the most impressive and important drive of the game ... forget that, not the game, of the season ... didn't include either of those plays.
The Chiefs got the ball on their own 20-yard-line with 3:06 left in the third quarter. The Bills had just kicked a field goal to go up 10 points, which seemed like an insurmountable lead with the way the Bills defense was playing. Crap, a one point lead seemed insurmountable (I'm almost positive Smith is still having nightmares where Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams are chasing him around).
The Chiefs, instead of folding like a wet paper towel (I have no idea what that expression means. Do wet paper towels fold better than dry paper towels? That seems counter-intuitive. I feel like they'd be harder to fold. Old expressions are weird), marched down the field 80 yards and punched the ball into the end zone. Well, they didn't really PUNCH the ball in. But we'll get to that.
Considering the game atmosphere (my hat's off to Bills fans. They were insane), the high pressure of playoff implications, the situation (down 10), and the way the offense had been knocked around all day (momentum is a real thing in football), this drive was the most impressive of the Andy Reid era in Kansas City. Unreal.
The Chiefs needed someone to step up and make a play. I mean NEEDED it. And three players stepped up: Alex Smith, Dwayne Bowe, and Jamaal Charles.
A lot of people have a lot of things to say about Alex Smith and Dwayne Bowe, and they deserve some of the heat they get. But when the Chiefs had their back to the wall and the running game was getting completely stifled, look at who came through with first down after first down.
After Jamaal Charles got relatively stuffed on a running play (which had been pretty much the standard all day), Smith went to Bowe on a back shoulder throw, which they've been using more and more recently.
When a back shoulder throw is properly timed, it's borderline impossible to defend, particularly when it's a player like Bowe, who is fully capable of shrugging off contact from corners when they attempt to play him physical.
The Chiefs show how tough the play is to defend by immediately going back to the well on the next play. The Bills have to know it's coming at this point (and indeed, have a linebacker in zone attempting to cut off the throw), but there's nothing they could do.
Do not underestimate the difficulty of this play for both Smith and Bowe. As mentioned, a linebacker had dropped into zone and considerably narrowed the window into which the the ball could be placed. What that means for Smith is that he's got to adjust his throw to wherever it's available. What that means for Bowe is he needs to be able to adjust to wherever the throw goes.
You can see by where the corner is in both of these completions why a well-timed back shoulder throw is impossible to defend. A corner can't just "front" a receiver, at least not without safety help immediately over the top. Doing so is just begging a quarterback to throw it over your head and risks a much bigger gain. So defenders have to just try and recover quickly enough to prevent the reception OR jam the receiver at the line of scrimmage and try to disrupt the timing.
This is where Bowe's unique abilities put corners in an impossible situation. Corners just can't play Bowe physical at the line of scrimmage. Well, they can, but they'll get thrown to the side more often than not and will hardly ever mess with Bowe's route the way they can with a normal receiver. Bowe is one of the strongest receivers in the game. It's his best trait as a receiver. Sure, you can jam him. But it generally benefits Bowe more than the corner. Personally, as a Chiefs fan, I love it when corners jam him. Because it means I'll get to watch Bowe chuck those tiny defenders around like The Hulk. Big fun.
Anyway, the second back shoulder throw to Bowe gets the Chiefs short yardage. The problem is the Bills have been STUFFING the run all day. So Reid calls a read option to Charles. The Bills, naturally, are in a position to stuff Charles, so Smith tucks it in and prepares to take off. Look at what he's seeing.
Looking at that screenshot it doesn't appear that Smith has any business making it to the first down marker. But he somehow manages to use his always-faster-than-defenders-expect first step to gain enough room to dive forward. He takes quite a shot in the process, but one of the qualities Smith IS elite is toughness. Or grit. Or testicular fortitude. Whatever Skip Bayless is calling it this week. I personally prefer testicular fortitude, or perhaps Watermelons Syndrome.
On the next play Smith got flushed from the pocket (the Bills defensive front is just silly), so the Chiefs were facing second and 10. Where do they go? Well, where else?
One thing I love about this play is that Smith ALMOST doesn't make the throw. Bowe is bracketed between the safety deep and the corner shallow (as I said, it's the only thing the Bills could do to stop those back shoulder throws). If I were to nitpick I'd say Bowe doesn't run QUITE a deep enough route to get space beyond the corner.
Smith sees this and commits the quarterback sin of clutching the ball in the direction of the receiver he's looking to throw the ball to. You can almost hear The Conservative Mr. Smith saying, "Don't do it, Alex. It's only second down. Pull the ball down and live to fight another day. Don't risk the pick."
But The Conservative Mr. Smith wasn't calling the shots. And Smith goes for it. The following two pics show how great a play this was from both players. First, look at the window Smith threw the ball into (the commentators were drooling over this as well). In the second pic, look at the body control by Dwayne "they say I'm not a No. 1 receiver" Bowe.
Just a fantastic play by both players. And I can't tell you how thrilled I was to see Smith go for it instead of playing it safe. I understand there's a virtue in not turning the ball over, but this was the time to let it rip. A great throw, a great catch, a Buffalo defense that is on its heels ... the Chiefs are on a roll and will just breeze into the end zone from here, right?
Well, no. Of course not. Because nothing comes easy in Buffalo, apparently. In the name of all things good and pure, can the Chiefs STOP playing these guys every year?
Smith and Bowe fail to connect on a deep ball left (Smith overthrew it, and the corner was in fantastic coverage regardless). A play later, Smith gets sacked. Because of course he does. In case you were wondering, this is what the field looked like the last possible second Smith could keep his eyes down the field (you know, before large men started bearing down right in his face).
I'm all for Smith taking chances, but this play was a nonstarter. The o-line did decent for about a second and a half before getting annihilated. Smith looked to run, but the entire pocket just went kaput. Yikes.
All of this sets up one of my favorite plays in the last year and a half.
It's third and 16. The Chiefs NEED yardage. They're in four down territory at this point, and this drive has to net the Chiefs some points.
Let's just go ahead and fast-forward to post-snap. Smith is making his reads. And the Bills do something I think is just incredibly shrewd; they try and get The Conservative Mr. Smith to take over and make an easy, safe throw.
Look at the coverage the Bills offer, as well as the options open to Smith.
So as you can see, the Bills have dropped seven men into coverage and are just rushing four. What separates this play from the vast majority of the other times the Bills rushed four is that the Chiefs manage to create a very clean pocket for Smith to survey the field.
The Chiefs have two receivers (the non-circled guys in the picture) who are out of the question as options. Very well covered with multiple defenders nearby. That leaves the two realistic options for Smith as Anthony Fasano (handily circled and labeled with the number 1) and Dwayne Bowe (the same, except, you know, number 2).
What I love about this coverage from Buffalo is how wide open they leave Fasano. Sure, that probably sounds insane. But look at where Fasano is on the field. He's a good six yards shy of the ORIGINAL line of scrimmage, never mind the actual first down marker. Fasano ain't Travis Kelce. He's not a guy who is going to gain a dozen yards after the catch.
The Bills are basically giving that reception away in order to defend Bowe farther down the field. It's a great idea, especially considering Smith's legendary tendencies when it comes to checking down.
You know what makes this play really, really fun for any Chiefs fan who has been driven crazy by Smith's conservative tendencies? You can SEE him look first at Fasano (which is why I labeled him as the first option), then move along in his progression to Bowe.
Let me repeat that. Smith looked at Fasano, saw a very safe and easy throw that would gain positive yardage, then passed him up to look to Dwayne Bowe. Now, there's certainly a chance Smith was just trying to draw the defender away from Bowe with his staredown of Fasano. But I don't think anyone expects Smith to pass up an easy 7-8 yards to go for the really tough 15.
Bowe, in the meantime, is bracketed and has multiple Bills defenders around him. In order for Smith to make this throw, he has to fire it in fast enough for the ball to get there before the defender down the field makes it back to Bowe. BUT, he also has to put enough air under it to go over the head of the shallow defender. In other words, anything other than the sweet spot and this is an incomplete pass at best (and a pick at worst).
You all know how it turned out. Smith ignored the easy, safe option and went down the field to Bowe. Look at what this throw had to do (from a couple different angles).
These two pictures work together to demonstrate the point above. You see that circle around the ball? The defender's hand is at the edge of that circle. That's how close the poor guy came to being a hero, and that's why Smith had to put SOME air under the pass. One more foot and it's tipped, with the Chiefs now staring at fourth and 16.
In the second picture, you can see why Smith couldn't just loft the ball over the shallow defender to Bowe. Even with Smith only putting JUST enough air under the ball to avoid the initial defender, the corner arrives a split second after the ball to knock Bowe out of bounds. Really, the corner made a nice play by preventing a first down.
It's almost impossible to find a throw with a higher degree of difficulty. That's tougher than a 50-yard bomb. It's a 15-yard out from the opposite hash mark (which means it's traveling more like 30-35 yards in the air) that has to be thrown high enough to avoid one defender while fast enough to avoid another.
I'm not sure I've seen Smith make a better throw during his time with the Chiefs. Holy crap, I love everything about that play. Bowe beating good coverage and making the grab. Smith ignoring the safe option. Fantastic pass protection. A near-perfect throw. That's the type of play I'm just not used to seeing from the Chiefs.
With that the Chiefs needed to convert on fourth and one. And that's when Jamaal Charles said, "you know what, ya'll have worked hard. I got this."
There are two moments on this play I'll highlight quickly. The moment I knew it was a first down.
You knew the moment the toss was made the Chiefs were going to get some yardage here. What a brilliant play call by Reid, and what phenomenal execution by everyone involved. The Bills were absolutely and completely fooled.
From there, it was all Jamaal Charles doing Jamaal Charles things. He makes one of his patented "I'm cutting but I don't slow down like normal humans when I cut" cuts, and it was all over.
Here's where I knew it was a touchdown.
Charles is so great at so many things, it's easy to forget at times that he still possesses elite speed. In that moment, I remembered. And I knew he was gone.
The Chiefs still had work to do after this drive. They were, after all, still down three and needed a "I'm going to take this football from you because I'm more of a man than you are" play from Anthony Sherman to get in position to win the game.
But this drive. This drive was when the game became winnable. This drive is one I don't see the 2013 Chiefs making against this Bills defense. This drive featured the "Big Three" of Smith, Bowe, and Charles throwing the team on their back and carrying it. And this drive is when I finally, fully bought into the idea that this Chiefs team could make some serious noise in a crowded AFC.
Here come the Seahawks. The Chiefs have sent a message to their fans that this isn't the same team as last season. The time is ripe to send that same message to the NFL.