On Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs an embattled AFC rival — the Buffalo Bills — in what was a must-win game for both teams. Kansas City’s mistakes marred the first two quarters. Still, the Chiefs were able to rally in the second half, giving themselves a chance to win the game in the final minutes — but a crucial mistake by wide receiver Kadarius Toney negated what would have been a go-ahead touchdown. The Chiefs fell to 8-5 with a bitter 20-17 loss.
Here are five things we learned from an ugly battle in Arrowhead.
1. The Chiefs secondary is the spine of this defense
Despite some mistakes on the first two drives of the game, the Kansas City secondary was nails after halftime. Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed continued his quest to shut down all of the league's premier wide receivers, limiting Buffalo’s star wideout Stefon Diggs to just four receptions on 11 targets for a mere 24 yards.
Despite losing Bryan Cook — and going for stretches of the game with safety Justin Reid on the sideline — the secondary took the teeth out of the Bills' passing attack, limiting quarterback Josh Allen to 233 yards passing on 42 attempts for a passer rating of just 68.8. Once again, the secondary’s solid play kept the offense in the game.
2. Marquez Valdes-Scantling should be a healthy scratch for the rest of the season
Sunday’s game was just the latest in which the veteran wideout was mostly a non-factor. Considering he has only played with future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, it’s pretty impressive how mediocre he has been for his entire career.
The few moments where Valdes-Scantling is a factor are often negative plays. On Sunday, this was the case on a crucial third down in the second quarter. The Chiefs needed 12 yards. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes expected Valdes-Scantling to break off his route and sit in the zone’s soft spot — but the receiver continued flat across the field, leading to an incomplete pass that forced Kansas City to punt.
These sorts of errors are nothing new for Valdes-Scantling. (He also drew a false start penalty on Sunday). His lack of production — and mistake-ridden play — make him a liability that the Chiefs can no longer afford to put on the field.
While Valdes-Scantling has never been a consistent producer, he now looks like a guy who’s on his way out of the league.
3. Safety Mike Edwards is a downgrade
Right from the game’s very first drive. it was clear how much the Chiefs are going to miss injured safety Bryan Cook. Edwards is fine for what he is — a veteran backup safety who can come in and make a play or two. But leaving him alone in single-high coverage is asking for trouble — which is exactly what happened on the Bills' opening touchdown drive. Edwards was caught flat-footed and out of position — and Buffalo running back James Cook flew right by him.
JAMES COOK FLIPPIN FOR SIX— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) December 10, 2023
Still, it wasn’t all negative for Edwards, who led the team with 11 tackles. But it was hard to miss that with Cook injured, the secondary suffered a significant drop in athleticism.
4. The Chiefs miss Drue Tranquill
In the first half, linebacker Nick Bolton — who was returning from injured reserve — was clearly rusty. But even if Bolton had been 100%, this was still a game where the team would have leaned heavily on Tranquill’s athleticism in coverage.
Part of the reason that Cook had such a big first half was that even on his best day, pass coverage is not Bolton’s strong suit. In the coming weeks, he will return to form — and after clearing concussion protocol, Tranquill will be back, too. It’s just unfortunate that on Sunday, Kansas City was without its best off-ball coverage linebacker.
5. It’s hard to win a game with a bullet in your foot
This isn’t just about Kadarius Toney lining up offsides and negating what could have been the greatest play of this NFL season. This isn’t about Jawaan Taylor getting called for another holding penalty — or about Creed Humphrey doing the same thing. It’s not even about Travis Kelce once again being called for offensive pass interference.
It’s about all of it.
The Chiefs' offensive struggles are cumulative. Everybody is taking turns passing around the gun that shoots the team in the foot every week.
Or more simply put, this Kansas City offense is just sloppy — and at some point, that’s on the coaching.
Based on the all-22 film of Toney’s offside penalty, it doesn’t appear that Toney checked with the official to see if he was over the line.
All 22 angle of the Kelce lateral/Toney offside play. Doesn't appear Toney once checks with the sideline judge on his side from this.— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) December 11, 2023
Also amazing job still from Kelce finding him in space. pic.twitter.com/UyiVABuBSp
Referee Carl Cheffers said after the game that Toney was so far offside that it was “beyond a warning.”
But to be honest: that’s immaterial. Toney was close enough to the ball to check himself — and ultimately, it’s his responsibility to make sure he is not over the line.
The Chiefs, however, didn’t lose Sunday’s game because the refs threw a flag on this play. They lost because on the opening drive — when the offense was clicking — Mahomes threw an interception. They lost because Rashee Rice fumbled the ball on another drive. They lost because the team leads the league in dropped passes.
The Chiefs lost because a team can only overcome a certain number of mistakes in a game — and on Sunday, the team made more than it could afford. Mahomes, head coach Andy Reid (and Chiefs fans) can be angry at the officials all they want — but the penalty on Toney is just one of many mistakes that led to this loss.
Everyone on the Kansas City offense — coaches and players alike — needs to take responsibility for the unit’s continued poor performance.