PITONIAK: Bills “D” redeems itself, keeping playoff hunt alive in a 16-10 victory vs. Kansas City

NFL Buffalo

               There was much talk about Tyrod Taylor being a changed quarterback after last week’s benching; that somehow he would become this riverboat gambler and start flinging it all over the place like Brett Favre. It was foolish to think that way because the Tyrod you have seen is the Tyrod you’re going to get. Oh sure, he might take a chance here or there and force a throw, but when push came to shove, Tyrod was going to be Tyrod. For the most part he was going to play it safe.

                And playing it safe – as we learned in Nathan Peterman’s five-interception debacle of a debut – isn’t the worst thing in the world. In fact, if your defense and special teams are playing up to their potential, having a quarterback who’s moderately efficient while being superb at protecting the football can be part of a winning formula.

                Taylor was THE story heading into Sunday’s Bills game, but we should have been paying more attention to the defense, which, after being a sandcastle against a tidal wave the previous three games, was the Great Wall of China in a 16-10 victory in Kansas City against a Chiefs team that was favored by 10 points. The loss continued the Chiefs free-fall that’s seen them drop five of six after opening 5-0. The win rejuvenated the Bills postseason hopes. Teams with 6-5 records have made the playoffs 43 percent of the time since the 1970 merger. So, there’s hope.

                Yielding an average of 45 points per game the last three games had seriously wounded Buffalo’s pride and confidence. But to the Bills credit, they heeded their coach’s relentless reminders to trust the process and turned in a performance reminiscent of their 5-2 start.
No, they didn’t revert to being a take-away machine, though it was appropriate the Chiefs last gasp was snuffed out by a Tre’Davious White interception with 1:11 to go. But they did limit Kansas City to 55 rushing yards, including just 17 on 11 carries by the normally elusive Kareem Hunt. They also held Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce to 39 yards on three catches and limited speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill to seven catches on 11 targets for a harmless 41 yards. Hill entered the game averaging a robust 14.6-yards-per-catch. His long this day was 11 yards.

                The Bills were so dominant that they forced Kansas City to go three-and-out on its first five possessions. The Chiefs didn’t record a first down until late in the second quarter. They punted eight times and converted only two-of-13 third downs.

                Buffalo’s special teams were equally impressive. Colton Schmidt did a marvelous job of flipping the field, pinning four of his punts inside the 20-yard line. The Bills punt and kickoff coverage teams easily won the field position battle, forcing Kansas City to start drives inside its 20 five times.
                And let us not forget about Stephen Hauschka, who’s had a foot in several Bills victories this season. He did miss a field goal attempt from 52, but, hey, the guy’s only human. He was successful on his three other kicks, including one from 56 yards. I shudder to think where Buffalo would be without him this season. He’s been the team’s most dangerous scoring threat, accounting for 38 percent of the Bills points.

                Tyrod was, well, Tyrod. He completed 19-of-29 for 183 yards and one score – an 11-yarder to Zay Jones – and finished with a 94.3 passer rating. He also gained 27 yards on nine rushes, picking up two drive-sustaining first downs. And the man who throws fewer interceptions than any quarterback in history put up another big, fat zero in that column.

                On a day, when the defense redeemed itself and the special teams were really special that was enough to get the job done and keep Buffalo’s playoff hopes alive.

                Were this topsy-turvy season to end today, the Bills would have the sixth playoff spot. They will be bumped should the Baltimore Ravens win Monday night. No worries should that happen because all these wildcard contenders are extremely flawed. I can’t see any of them coming close to running the table.

                Last week, the phrase “in the hunt” gave “trust the process” a run for its money during Sean McDermott’s press conferences and interviews. If I never hear either phrase again, I’ll be eternally happy. But McDermott is right; the Bills are in playoff contention heading into what portends to be a very interesting December.

                They play three consecutive home games, starting with next Sunday’s showdown with the New England Patriots. Tom Brady’s bunch comes to New Era riding a seven-game win streak. After that, Buffalo hosts the 3-8 Indianapolis Colts and the 4-7 Miami Dolphins. Buffalo will visit New England on Christmas Eve Day, then finish up in Miami on New Year’s Eve Day.

                It’s dangerous to project anything regarding this Bills team, but that’s what we get paid to do. It’s quite plausible Buffalo could sweep Miami and beat Indy to finish 9-7, which given the mediocrity of the AFC, might be good enough to earn a wildcard.

                After the win, McDermott was asked about Taylor. The rookie head coach who had just schooled his longtime mentor, Andy Reid, said Taylor would start again next week, but wouldn’t commit beyond that. McDermott still refuses to admit that he made a mistake by starting Peterman before the kid was ready last week. Unless, Taylor has some sort of meltdown or is injured, you have to stick with him if you’re still in contention.

                If the defense and special teams continue to show up like they did Sunday, Tyrod being Tyrod can be part of a formula that ends the 17-year playoff famine.          

                Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is in his seventh season as a Bills analyst for WROC-TV and in his 33rd season covering the team.

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