Rams, Chiefs Prevail in Classic Doubleheader
NFL Divisional - Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Lions fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
Los Angeles Rams 30 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27
Scott Spratt: The Bucs won't have an injured Tristan Wirfs at right tackle today. Wirfs led regular tackles with a 1.2% blown block rate per Sports Info Solutions.
Bryan Knowles: Between Wirfs, Andrew Whitworth, and David Bakhtiari, it has not been a great week for top NFC tackles.
Aaron Schatz: Josh Wells (Wirfs' replacement) was good on the first Bucs drive. Joseph Noteboom (Whitworth's replacement) even better on the first Rams drive. A couple of long pass plays, including picking up first-and-20 with Odell Beckham and a lot of YAC. Finally stalled out near the goal line, field goal makes it 3-0 Rams.
Bryan Knowles: Normally I'd be yelling at the Rams for end zone fades on third down—and maybe I still should be—but it worked with Odell Beckham against the Cardinals. Still think there are higher-percentage plays they could be running down there.
Scott Spratt: Wells fared a bit worse on a third down on the second Bucs drive when the Rams shifted Aaron Donald to defensive end. Donald beat Wells to the edge and hit Tom Brady to force a maybe-incompletion, maybe-sack and fumble. Either way, it's another three-and-out.
Bryan Knowles: I loath taunting calls. The two biggest plays on the Rams' first touchdown drive were both Tampa Bay penalties. One was a 16-yard pass interference which was a bit borderline, but fine. The other, however, was on Ndamukong Suh, after clobbering Stafford on a naked bootleg, getting flagged for taunting. On the list of "things Suh has done after making a big play," this was about a 0.1 on a scale of 1 to 10, and yet it's 15 free yards, moving the Rams into the red zone. Hate it.
Derrick Klassen: Matthew Stafford has managed the pocket exceptionally well so far. The offensive line is holding up fine, but in the handful of instances the Bucs have been able to crush the pocket, Stafford has done a great job finding space and keeping his cool. Going to be a huge advantage for the Rams if Stafford and the offensive line can keep that up.
Vince Verhei: Yes, but there have been mistakes too—the interceptable pass thrown way behind Cooper Kupp in the end zone, and another one on the next drive (which I think was wiped out by penalty). Every throw with him is an A or a D-.
Dave Bernreuther: It really is, Vince. He's either the missing piece to a super team or looks like he's throwing with the wrong hand. (This is exactly why I made my foolish contrarian Cardinals play in the fantasy draft.) That throw on the penalty play was worse than any underthrown DPI I have seen in terms of deserving the yards gained.
So far, though, his A throws are doing what they need to, while the pass rush is getting close enough to Brady to force a bunch of Bs and Cs, thus the two-score (back down to one now) lead.
Vince Verhei: The Rams keep moving Donald to left end on third down to match him up against the backup right tackle. The Bucs keep refusing to get their backup right tackle any help. Guess how that's going.
Carl Yedor: Through the first quarter, the battle of the banged-up offensive lines has favored the Rams. Brady has been under more duress than Stafford, and it has been showing up with how much time Stafford has had to pick apart the Buccaneers' secondary. It was only 10-3 at the start of the second quarter, but on third-and-long, Tampa Bay completely turned Cooper Kupp, of all people, loose down the sideline. Easy pitch-and-catch for Los Angeles, and it's now a 17-3 advantage. Tampa Bay looked to be finding some answers for how to better mitigate their concerns up front on their most recent drive, but they're a bit behind the eight ball now.
Bryan Knowles: I am not entirely sure how Cooper Kupp, of all people, gets free on third-and-20. There are coverage mistakes, there are busted coverages, and then there's whatever the heck that was. Carlton Davis just passed Kupp off to air.
Aaron Schatz: Mike Edwards was the deep safety in what looked like Cover-2 and two receivers went deep on that side and Edwards picked the wrong one (Van Jefferson). Actually, on further look, he really picked the wrong one because it is TAMPA-2, not just Cover-2, and Devin White has Jefferson coming up the seam and Edwards really needed to be on the outside where Kupp was.
Cooper Kupp 70-yard touchdown dots!! pic.twitter.com/RudssP9R5l
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 23, 2022
Dave Bernreuther: That type of play is why I stopped enjoying college football. Cooper Kupp was so wide open that he had time to stop and wait for the underthrown pass, and then after the defenders caught up while he stood still, he still ran away from them and scored anyway.
We have talked plenty all season about how bad the Bucs' secondary is. They look worse than that so far today. There were two penalties on that play too.
Bryan Knowles: A lot of "the Bucs' secondary is bad" has been due to injuries. Everyone's back today! Maybe they're rusty from not getting to play with one another for most of the year.
Vince Verhei: Let's not overlook how Edwards (apparently) blew the coverage, but then also missed the tackle. He should have had Kupp down right around the 20-yard line.
Aaron Schatz: Bucky Brooks disagrees with me on the coverage bust, but I think it was Tampa-2 not Cover-2.
Collinsworth is wrong with the explanation. The safety is responsible for staying on top of WR2 down the seam, the CB should sink run with WR1 when he sees WR2 run vertically in Cover 2. The bust is on Davis, not the safety. #LARvsTB
— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) January 23, 2022
Scott Spratt: Meanwhile, Mike Evans is drawing a lot of Jalen Ramsey in coverage today. Ramsey defended Evans on just two of his 10 targets earlier this season when the Bucs had a healthy Chris Godwin.
Scott Spratt: Brady just drew the Bucs' third unsportsmanlike penalty for yelling at the refs for missing a Von Miller shot to his chin. And to prove he's right in that, Brady is bleeding from his mouth.
Vince Verhei: Brady followed with a one-legged fadeaway to Leonard Fournette for a second-and-long conversion. It was such an absurdly good play I laughed out loud. That and the scramble-drill lob to Rob Gronkowski that set up their first field goal were Mahomes-esque plays. Obviously, they're the exception so far today, but still pretty amazing to see from a guy who is literally getting gray-haired.
Dave Bernreuther: The worst part to me about Whitworth being out was that it cost us the matchup of the two grey-haired elder statesmen.
Vince Verhei: We mentioned in the preview that the Rams had a big edge in special teams. So far we have seen the Bucs miss a field goal, put a kickoff out of bounds, and had three kickoff returns tackled at or inside their 20-yard line.
Scott Spratt: A 28-3 halftime score isn't out of question at this point.
Bryan Knowles: I'm fairly sure half the Rams would rush on the field to sack Matthew Stafford themselves if Los Angeles tried to go for two to make this 28-3. Some fates you don't tempt.
Dave Bernreuther: You tempted it just by saying that. That's a fumble. Having landed on his head, Came Akers wasn't down when the ball came out.
Scott Spratt: I actually don't know this rule, is the head down like an elbow or knee?
Vince Verhei: Anything other than the feet or hands counts as being down, but I'm pretty sure the ball was loose by then.
Aaron Schatz: I think the ball is moving before his head hits.
Dave Bernreuther: I actually thought head wouldn't mean down, but it was clearly out before that anyway (and also, since there was contact, I'm wrong and dumb anyway).
J.P. Acosta: That looks like a fumble to me. Potentially a huge swing, because the Rams were probably going to score there and make it 27-3. But Brady looks so uncomfortable in the pocket. On that interception, it was a good read, he just didn't step into and drive the ball because of the threat of pressure.
Vince Verhei: Like all Bucs games, this is pass-wacky on both sides of the ball. Bucs handed off on each of their first three plays and took a knee at the end; in between, they passed on 23 out of 26 plays. The Rams, meanwhile, have passed on 25 of 37 plays.
The other story is field position. Average starting field position for Tampa Bay: their own 17-yard line, with no drives starting outside their own 25. (Even if you ignore their last drive after the fumble, that average only improves to their own 20.) For the Rams, average start is their own 41-yard line, with only one drive inside their own 25.
Bryan Knowles: Per ESPN, the Buccaneers have had two plays all game where their offensive line has held up for 2.5 seconds, their definition of a pass-block win. Some of that is Brady throwing the ball out quickly, of course, but if you can't give your quarterback three seconds from time to time, you're going to have a long day. And one of those two successes was the interception anyway. Bucs need to figure out something protection-wise in the second half if they're going to come back. I'm not sure what you can figure out against "Aaron Donald lines up everywhere and wins, and Von Miller takes the other side," but I would hope that the Bucs coaching staff is slightly more creative than I am.
Carl Yedor: Tampa Bay's best shot at getting enough stops to make the improbable comeback here probably centers on the Rams shifting too far toward the run here in the second half. Obviously burning clock is important with such a large lead, but if the Rams decide to turtle and play it safe by shifting away from early-down passes, the Buccaneers might be able to get back in it. The counter to that if you're Los Angeles is to just keep throwing the ball seeing as you have had so much success with it already.
Tom Gower: Halftime has Rams up 20-3. I emphasized the importance of third down in the previous matchup, notably the deep shot to DeSean Jackson early in the second half that came on a third-and-10. And there was Cooper Kupp's 70-yard touchdown on third-and-20, and the Bucs getting stopped on their first third down most drives (they were 2-for-6 in the first half, with their only two conversions that came on the drive ending in Ryan Succop's missed field goal). The Rams were 3-for-6. Their first touchdown drive didn't face any first downs, with a potential third-and-1 averted via taunting penalty, but the other two third-down conversions came on the second field goal drive.
The key to the game so far feels like the Wirfs injury. The Bucs are playing like they're scared to death of their pass protection, and ESPN's pass block win rate stats suggest they're correct to do so. They're not getting yards in huge chunks, with Gronkowski's 29-yard catch-and-run their longest play, thus the premium on third downs. And as I'm typing that sentence, just to emphasize my point, Tyler Johnson can't haul in a third-and-3 pass on the Bucs' first drive of the second half.
Bryan Knowles: Adding injury to insult, Josh Wells was hobbling and going to the medical tent. So Tampa Bay's now down to their third-string right tackle, and it's getting late early…
Vince Verhei: More Rams special teams in the second half. Johnny Hekker's punt from midfield pins Tampa Bay at their own 5. Bucs go three-and-out, and Brandon Powell returns the punt 33 yards to the Tampa Bay 28.
J.P. Acosta: The Rams get so uncreative in the red zone, it's kinda shocking. But a quarterback sneak does the trick, and this is getting out of hand.
Bryan Knowles: It was a better Stafford sneak than we saw last week! And, well, I know to never count out playoff Tom Brady, I know 28-3 was a thing, I know all of this…
… I think that's ballgame. I don't think the Buccaneers have the time, the protection, or the firepower to carve in to a three- or four-score lead with a quarter and a half left to play.
Aaron Schatz: The ultimate San Francisco 49ers nostalgia journey would be to have to go through Dallas, Green Bay, the Los Angeles Rams, and then Cincinnati to win a Super Bowl.
Josh Wells is now out at right tackle. The Bucs now have rookie Nick Leverett there. Oh, that's not going to go well.
Vince Verhei: Actually, it might have been an upgrade as the Bucs drive into the red zone … but then Aaron Donald gets a stuff by splitting a double-team and not moving an inch when Leonard Fournette—LEONARD FOURNETTE—plows right into him. Pressure forces an incomplete pass on third down and the Bucs kick a field goal to cut the lead to 27-6.
And then the Bucs put ANOTHER kickoff out of bounds.
Aaron Schatz: Cooper Kupp fumbles for the first time since early in 2020, Bucs get the ball back at the Rams' 30. And Tom Brady does what Aaron Rodgers couldn't do last night: he finds his secondary receivers. He knows the Rams will cover Evans and Gronk. On fourth-and-9 that he has to have, he finds Scotty Miller. Tyler Johnson on the next two passes. Then Leonard Fournette runs it in for a yard and now we have it at 27-13 Rams. Uh-oh. This thing is not over.
Vince Verhei: Johnson was slow to get up after the catch that made it first-and-goal. If he's out, I think Evans and Miller are literally the only Tampa Bay wide receivers available—Cyril Grayson is out with a hamstring injury.
With one quarter and 12 seconds to go, the Rams are up to 17 carries for 33 yards. It is hard to kill clock when you can't run at all.
Carl Yedor: If this were any other quarterback on the opposite side, I think most Rams fans would be about as zen as it gets during a playoff game with a two-score lead. The fact that I'm even considering that as a worry for folks down in Los Angeles speaks to the career that Tom Brady has had. At the start of the fourth quarter, the Rams have a second-and-long, and to echo Cris Collinsworth on the broadcast, they need to, for lack of a better term, avoid playing scared. They have the personnel to seal this game on the offensive side; go seize the moment.
Vince Verhei: UPDATE: The Rams will go into the fourth quarter at 18 carries for 33 yards.
Scott Spratt: Lavonte David is making a late defensive player of the year push with the Bucs' run defense DVOA splits with and without him healthy.
Aaron Schatz: A very, very quick three-and-out will give the ball back to Tampa Bay at their own 30 with 14:51 left. I don't believe in momentum, but that Tom Brady mystique has definitely taken over the minds of everyone watching this game.
Vince Verhei: Stafford is now 6-of-9 in the second half, which is good, but for only 58 yards, which is bad. Suddenly he can't get anything going down the field.
Aaron Schatz: Apparently, momentum is only as good as whoever is blocking Von Miller.
Wait, I take that back. Momentum is only as good as whoever is snapping the ball for the Los Angeles Rams.
Bryan Knowles: Touching to see some NFC West solidarity, with the Rams paying tribute to the Cardinals' season by botching a snap.
Vince Verhei: It's not just the lost fumble on the snap, it's the yards. From the Tampa Bay 25 to the L.A. 45.
Aaron Schatz: Tampa Bay essentially gained 30 yards by exchanging fumbles. Amazingly lucky.
J.P. Acosta: This game has gone full tilt, and now we're in MAC-tion area.
Vince Verhei: Nick Scott breaks up a deep pass to Gronk. That dude has been ballin' today.
Carl Yedor: I did not know the defenseless player flag was enforced after the play because it almost never occurs in situations where a turnover on downs is relevant. You never know when you might learn something new.
Bryan Knowles: Interestingly, Weddle's massively unnecessary hit might end up helping the Rams. Gives them a longer field to work with, and the potential to bleed more clock. Still, though, that was a terrible hit by a guy who was on his couch a month ago.
Scott Spratt: Wait, a hit on a defenseless receiver is a dead-ball foul? How does that make sense?
Aaron Schatz: Apparently, it's a dead-ball foul if the ball hits the ground before the hit on the defenseless receiver. I admit, I did not know this either. It was just a fraction of a second. This never comes up because how often do you get an unnecessary roughness for a hit on a defenseless receiver on a fourth down that results in turnover on downs?
Scott Spratt: But consider the name of the infraction: defenseless receiver. That carries a clear implication of live-ball.
Vince Verhei: The play is over when the ball hits the ground. It's either a dead-ball foul or not a foul at all. Think of it like a late hit. The play counts, and they assess the penalty afterwards.
Carl Yedor: My phrasing there was also slightly imprecise because I think they may have announced a different name for the penalty if memory serves. The amount of chaos in this game may or may not be frying my brain a bit.
Vince Verhei: Play-by-play lists it as unnecessary roughness.
Oh, I love that handoff to Van Jefferson on the fly sweep. Haven't used it all game, but caught the Bucs napping and got a first down with it.
But Matt Gay's field goal attempt from 47 yards out is … short? That's odd. Still a two-score game. But still a good drive by L.A. to take nearly six minutes off the clock.
Aaron Schatz: Brady had tons of time to throw, finally, on fourth-and-9, and he couldn't get it to Cameron Brate. Too much pressure on the downs before that, except for a good Fournette screen. Rams are really overwhelming the Bucs' offensive line. But even on the play where they couldn't, Brady is just having an off day.
Bryan Knowles: Even on an off day, however, Brady can still sling it when needs be—a 55-yard touchdown bomb to Mike Evans (who had burned Jalen Ramsey quite badly), and we're at 27-20…
Vince Verhei: Lord almighty what a beautiful throw by Brady. As Collinsworth is pointing out, Scotty Miller is getting so open they had to roll coverage his way and leave Evans one-on-one with Ramsey.
Miller only played 135 snaps in 10 games this year. Maybe he should have played more.
Aaron Schatz: Bruce Arians of course should have gone for two there, but is not the kind of coach who would do that.
Scott Spratt: I'm not sure our model accounts for the fact that Brady would 100% win the coin toss if this game got to overtime.
Bryan Knowles: The Bucs maybe should have gone onside kick, to boot, with no timeouts left. I believe we have the two most conservative coaches left in the playoffs trying to figure out late-game strategy on the fly, and I'm here for it.
Aaron Schatz: Oh my god, Cam Akers fumbled. Ndamukong Suh stripped it. Lavonte David hopped on it. Brady's luck is AMAZING.
Vince Verhei: Four fumbles for L.A. today. All recovered by Tampa Bay.
Bryan Knowles: Oh, I think the Rams called a bad timeout. The Buccaneers moved the ball inside the 10 and thought they had a first down, but the refs ruled that no, it was fourth down instead. The Bucs looked a little discombobulated, but the Rams stopped the clock, and are letting Tampa Bay get prepped for a huge play. Plus, there's a chance that this is actually a first down, or at least closer than the refs spotted it, on review … a review they wouldn't have had time for if the Rams hadn't stopped the clock…
Though I suppose it gives the Rams more time to score…
Scott Spratt: Is this when Stafford throws the pick-six?
Vince Verhei: No, Scott, it is not.
Stafford beats blitzes. He beats himself on zones. Bucs blitzed him and he beat them.
Aaron Schatz: Todd Bowles, live by the blitz and die by the blitz. Buccaneers blitz the slot corner which leaves a safety on Kupp, and that's a bad matchup.
KUPP 44-YARD DOTS pic.twitter.com/myLnBXlaDN
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 23, 2022
Bryan Knowles: Cooper Kupp shreds coverages on back-to-back plays, getting wide-open to get that drive going. Put the team on his back there.
Vince Verhei: L.A.'s drives after going up 27-3:
- one play, lost fumble
- three plays, punt
- one play, lost fumble
- nine plays, missed field goal
- three plays, punt
- two plays, lost fumble
- five plays, field goal
Field position evened out a lot in the second half, but still ended up at the 29.0-yard line for Tampa Bay, 38.7 yards for L.A. That's a massive amount of yardage over 15 drives each.
Tom Gower: On field position, through 47 minutes, the Bucs had six points with an average starting field position of their own 17. On their last six drives of the game, over which they scored 21 points, their average starting field position was their own 48. A massive difference, thanks entirely to the Rams' screwups rather than good things by the offense (though they did get the Mike Evans touchdown on the drive they started back at their own 23).
There's so much to say about this game, but I think one of the key things is the final Cooper Kupp play against the blitz. One of the things Aaron mentioned on Thursday's live show is how good Matt Stafford was against the blitz. Todd Bowles is a blitzing defensive coordinator. He blitzed that play. He got a free rusher. Matt Stafford stood in there against the free rusher and found Kupp downfield to set up the game-winning field goal.
Buffalo Bills 36 at Kansas City Chiefs 42 (OT)
Scott Spratt: The Chiefs somewhat surprisingly made running back Darrel Williams inactive. And while Bryan probably hates that for his playoff fantasy team, I'm excited to see what Jerick McKinnon can do with more touches this week with his excellent speed.
Bryan Knowles: Considering Williams got me -1.6 points last week, the goose egg may end up actually being beneficial. But man, Andy Reid's doghouse is a sturdy one, with Williams getting sat down after the fumble last week, and McKinnon just running away with his job.
Aaron Schatz: I love the Bills calling a short pass to Cole Beasley on third-and-9 near midfield with the idea that they would go for fourth-and-short if he caught it. And he did, and they ran a quarterback sweep to Josh Allen for 10 yards. Great play calling and a nice aggressive fourth-down go.
Bryan Knowles: And they end the drive with another fourth-down go—less aggressive, being at the 1, but still. Love the Bills' entire offensive philosophy.
Tom Gower: Opening drive takeaway: the Buffalo Bills offense looks faster than the Chiefs defense. Getting Isaiah McKenzie to the edge to set up the first-and-goal (and he got a couple more yards than I thought he should) wasn't the first play I thought that, and then the fourth-and-goal score by Devin Singletary comes from him winning the race to the pylon.
Cale Clinton: Might be getting a bit too into the weeds, but I am a big fan of the Bills and Josh Allen going with a more rugby-style pitch on the Singletary touchdown. The toss is a bit more labored than the typical quarterback pitch, but the most important element of it is that the pitch comes as parallel to the line of scrimmage as possible instead of tossing it more backwards on an angle. With this kind of toss, Singletary catches the ball with a full head of steam that allows him more optionality as a runner. If he gets that ball more upfield, catching it more on his heels, Frank Clark could have pursued upfield and swallowed him up. The optionality freezes Clark a bit, giving Singletary just enough time to find the edge and make it to the end zone.
Aaron Schatz: Bills continuously pressure Patrick Mahomes on the next drive and they just can't bring him down. He has a flip pass to McKinnon for a conversion, a 35-yard scramble, and now a 7-yard scramble for another first down.
Bryan Knowles: And another 8-yard scramble for the touchdown. Mahomes' scrambling is only, like, the 12th-best thing he does, and he's still amazing at it. He is made of magic.
And as long as the Bills are doubling Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, and leaving the middle open, well, Mahomes is going to run all day.
Vince Verhei: Two drives, two touchdowns, plenty of fourth-down goes, quarterbacks running all over the place. This game is as fun as advertised so far.
Scott Spratt: Clearly Bills punter Matt Haack had fresh legs pinning the Chiefs after not needing to punt last weekend.
Scott Spratt: With Tyrann Mathieu now officially ruled out in concussion protocol, I'll mention that Mathieu missed 9.5% of his attempted tackles this season per Pro Football Reference. Daniel Sorensen missed 25.0%. And Sorensen also gave up the two biggest deep passes to Josh Allen in Week 5, back when he was playing over Juan Thornhill.
Vince Verhei: For most quarterbacks, this sidearm throw to go *around* a defender like a frisbee would be a highlight of the year. For Patrick Mahomes, it's Sunday.
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) January 24, 2022
J.P. Acosta: That's one of the most preposterous throws I have seen Mahomes attempt.
Scott Spratt: Clearly Gregory Rousseau is too tall at 6-foot-6, Vince.
Carl Yedor: Huge drive coming up for the Bills here with just under two minutes in the half. Kansas City takes the ball 86 yards in just under seven minutes to take a 14-7 lead, and with the Chiefs getting the ball to start the second half, it will be important for Buffalo to make something of their final possession here in order to keep Kansas City from creating too much separation. Buffalo's offense is more than explosive enough to keep up, but staring down a large deficit against Mahomes and company limits your ability to be patient with short passes and running the ball when trying to make a comeback.
Vince Verhei: Chiefs, as usual, get super-cute in the red zone. Second-and-goal from the 2, they try an underhand shovel pass, which has worked several times this year, but this time it's incomplete. So it's third-and-goal from the 2, and Mahomes fakes a rollout left, then pivots into a rollout right, directly into the face of a heavy Bills blitz. Fortunately for Kansas City he is still Patrick Mahomes and he calmly hits Byron Pringle for the score.
Bryan Knowles: If the Chiefs were hoping to double-up before halftime, well, they forgot that the other guys are practically uncoverable as well. Josh Allen had some amazing throws to move the Bills down the field, finding Gabriel Davis on a play where the two Chiefs defenders crashed into one another for a score; 75 yards in 1:15, yowza.
Of course, now the Chiefs have 37 seconds of their own…
Aaron Schatz: Allen also had some excellent runs, and he did a great job to get out of bounds to stop the clock. Even though it did leave time for the Chiefs, we didn't know for sure the Bills would score so quick and I think that was very wise of him. Also, that was a seven-man big blitz on the touchdown pass! So much for those numbers showing Allen was subpar against the blitz this season. Sample size of one, pretty good play.
J.P. Acosta: The Bills are having a lot of success running with Josh Allen, specifically when they have the tight end as the only eligible receiver on the short side of the field.
Vince Verhei: Dots on the Davis touchdown. Yes, the two Chiefs defenders take each other out, but I am howling at this "route" which is "just run in a straight line towards the goalposts."
Gabriel Davis touchdown dots! 38 spins out his own man. pic.twitter.com/QnudJRMusU
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 24, 2022
Scott Spratt: Gabriel Davis has averaged 10.0 touchdowns and 10.2 expected touchdowns per 100 targets since the start of 2020 and including the playoffs. That latter total is the highest among wide receivers with 100 or more targets. Mike Evans is second at 8.4.
Vince Verhei: Chiefs miss a field goal to end a weird-as-hell, fast-moving first half. 14-14 sounds fairly mundane, but each team only had four drives. Both teams were moving the ball all over the place, it just took them a long time to get there. Chiefs are 5-for-6 on third downs; Bills are only 3-of-7, but made up for that with the two fourth-down conversions. The quarterbacks have each run for 40-plus yards, and both teams are averaging more yards on running plays (including scrambles) than on dropbacks.
J.P. Acosta: That was a nasty fourth-down playcall, especially with Mahomes killing the Bills with his legs.
Here’s the McKinnon run. pic.twitter.com/lkEPX8kxP0
— Ben Heisler (@bennyheis) January 24, 2022
Scott Spratt: Massive win for the Bills that the Chiefs scored just three points in their pair of drives on either side of halftime.
Vince Verhei: Chiefs run 13 plays, take nearly eight minutes off the clock, to go 54 yards and kick a field goal. Converted on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 before another third-down conversion was called back for holding and they settled for three.
Bills respond with a three-and-out, including a punt on fourth-and-a-foot from their own 34. No idea how, the way Kansas City has been driving, you don't give Josh Allen a chance to pick up 12 inches.
Tom Gower: Through the end of that Bills possession Vince just noted, Allen has attempted 19 passes for a total of 120 yards. I don't know that he has an attempt more than 15 yards (those marked deep in the play by play) other than the touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis. This seems like (a) a mistake by the Bills, (b) maybe under-ratedly great defense by the Chiefs, or (c) some combination of the two of those.
Vince Verhei: Yup. Kansas City says "thank you very much for that punt" and gets a touchdown in five plays. Mecole Hardman takes the end around 25 yards for the score as the Chiefs' running game continues to out-produce their passing game. Butker misses the PAT so we're at a 23-14 lead.
— Darius Butler (@DariusJButler) January 24, 2022
Bryan Knowles: I'm mildly shocked Hardman squeezed his way through traffic to score on that end around. Great patience—the Bills had things bottled up, but Hardman waited for their momentum to take them slightly past the play, a channel to open up on the backside, and he was off.
Scott Spratt: That was Harrison Butker's 19th missed extra point since he entered the league in 2017 (regular and postseason). For reference, Justin Tucker has missed four since he entered the league in 2012.
Bryan Knowles: There's your deep pass, Tom.
J.P. Acosta: Play-action shot is textbook Bills, and they needed to start going downfield too. A bomb from Josh Allen.
Scott Spratt: The Chiefs allowed 2.4 more yards on play-action passes than traditional passes per Sports Info Solutions charting. That was the fourth-biggest differential this season.
Bryan Knowles: And now it's the Chiefs turn to punt from midfield. I'm fairly sure whenever a punt unit comes out in this one, it's a significant win for the opponents. Every Bills fan I know is relieved that the Chiefs didn't go for that one; the Bills' odds of driving 90 yards isn't that much lower than their odds of driving 50!
Aaron Schatz: SIS ranked Buffalo as an average tackling defense this year so I am a bit surprised by the trouble they're having, not just bringing Mahomes down, but bringing the other Chiefs players down.
Carl Yedor: In most circumstances, the potential risk of injury makes putting your best offensive players back to return punts not worthwhile. In the playoffs, that consideration is a bit less important. After a return that mostly went nowhere was wiped away due to offsetting penalties, forcing a re-kick, Tyreek Hill busts a huge punt return on his second attempt to set the Chiefs up inside the red zone. However, the Chiefs continue their refusal to just be a normal team in the red zone and have to settle for a chip-shot field goal.
Bryan Knowles: Matt Haack making the tackle on Hill to save a touchdown looks like it may be huge, as the Chiefs get too cute on third down. Andy Reid isn't going for fourth-and-4, so they kick a field goal and are only up five, not nine.
Vince Verhei: Certainly not the Chiefs getting super cute in the red zone and costing themselves points. That would never happen. So they get that big punt return and then kick the field goal that turns a one-score lead into a one-score lead.
J.P. Acosta: I REALLY don't like that play call. Don't get too cute when you only got a yard to gain. Keep it simple.
Vince Verhei: I think if the Chiefs ever came out in third-and-1 and lined up I-formation with two tight ends, the defense would call a timeout in panicked confusion.
Aaron Schatz: I know I'm in the minority, and I would have just kept Mahomes in the game to run it instead of Blake Bell, but speed option is usually a great play call with 1 yard to go.
Bryan Knowles: I'm alright with that play if Mahomes is running it, but I'm more alright with it on fourth down, not on third where any loss of yardage is going to lead to Andy Reid kicking it.
I do kind of like the Bills being methodical on this drive. They got the ball with 8:55 left, and they seem determined to move down the field at a snail's pace, by their standards. They're not really designed to drain the clock and score as time runs out, but it's probably the right call against Mahomes and company.
Vince Verhei: Except they have a first down in Kansas City territory with five minutes to go. That is a LOT of time to kill. Chiefs have all their timeouts too.
Aaron Schatz: Brian Daboll does a lot of good stuff but what on earth was going on with a play-action fake on third-and-7? Slowed down the play for the pass rush to get to Allen, and nobody thought the Bills would seriously hand off there.
Vince Verhei: Buffalo's methodical pace backfired. Fourth-and-13 at the two-minute warning and they have to go for this. Two more minutes, they could kick here and hope for a field goal-stop-field goal finish. Not good odds either way, but I'd definitely rather have that second scenario.
Bryan Knowles: Honestly, with three timeouts left, field goal-stop-field goal is still a theoretical possibility. Fourth-and-13 is a long down and distance.
Or you can just find Gabriel Davis massively wide open for a touchdown. You know, either/or.
Aaron Schatz: He made the defender, Mike Hughes, slip on the grass with his move! And Buffalo gets the two-point conversion too. 29-26 Buffalo. But did they leave Mahomes too much time?
Vince Verhei: 1:54 and three timeouts? Yes, they did. Although this nutty-ass scrambling two-pointer by Allen gives them a very good chance of at least getting to overtime.
I would like to point out that the Bills had to convert on fourth-and-4 and fourth-and-13 because they had punted earlier on fourth-and-a-foot.
Dave Bernreuther: I'm on mobile and don't have anything unique or clever to add, other than that because I have mocked Josh Allen as much as anyone on here, I feel compelled to say, on the record, that he has been very fun to watch and half-cheer for (I like both teams so I'm kind of just cheering for fun) and those plays to elude pressure and convert the fourth downs and then pick up the HUGE two-pointer were amazing.
And now, after Hill turns on the jets, we get to see what kind of fun he can create again.
Bryan Knowles: Tyreek Hill catches a Mahomes pass and kicks it into second, third, and fourth gear, racing 64 yards for the go-ahead touchdown! But did they leave Allen too much time?
Vince Verhei: 1:02 and three timeouts? Yes, they did. Although this four-point lead means we probably won't get overtime.
Carl Yedor: I'm glad there are no games Saturday next week because I'm definitely going to need the extra day to recover.
Dave Bernreuther: The games this weekend have certainly made up for last weekend's non-thrillers, that's for sure.
Bryan Knowles: And we get our third lead change in the final two minutes as Allen leads the Bills right back down the field, hitting Davis (who else?) in the end zone for another touchdown. But did they leave Mahomes too much time?
Aaron Schatz: This time, I don't think they did. Thirteen seconds. Davis beat L'Jarius Sneed and that's the first four-receiving touchdown game in NFL playoff history.
Vince Verhei: Is Davis invisible? Is he phasing in and out of the timestream? Why can Kansas City never find him?
For the record, I do not think the Bills scored too quickly. 13 seconds, even with all three timeouts, is probably not enough.
Aaron Schatz: Oh my god. They did leave Mahomes enough time. He got it into field-goal range on two passes. Nineteen and 25 yards. Butker hit a 48-yarder. How on earth did that happen?
Vince Verhei: Clearly, I know nothing.
Dave Bernreuther: I am rooting for fun. Fun is winning.
Bryan Knowles: Let it be noted that the Bills kicked off deep, giving the Chiefs a touchback and running zero seconds off the clock. And let it also be noted 13 seconds is apparently too much time to give Patrick Mahomes.
Every game this weekend had a field goal go through the uprights with 0:00 on the game clock. Three ended the game. And this one is better.
Tom Gower: Speechless. I don't even know how to react to that game. Amazing. Incredible. The Chiefs really found something with those crossers against man coverage. The Bills did what they needed to do to come back. The Bills wouldn't have been able to come back even doing what they did had Butker not missed a couple kicks, to add to one of the themes of the weekend.
Bryan Knowles: The Bills not getting a response drive in overtime is sad, because I could watch this game for the next 20 years, but it's hard to feel too bad for them when they had multiple chances to stop the Chiefs in the final two minutes and couldn't.
Same time next year?
Vince Verhei: I am exhausted. Maybe the best game I have ever seen. So good a tiptoe game-winning touchdown catch in overtime almost feels anticlimactic.
And yes, I think we'll be seeing a lot more Mahomes-Allen duels. And that is wonderful, wonderful news.
Dave Bernreuther: How awful for Josh Allen. If you lead a do-or-die touchdown drive with a minute left in a road playoff game and score to go ahead with :13 left, you deserve to win. To have to sit and watch that happen after that drive … I have seen a lot of unlucky things happen to quarterbacks that did their job as well as it could possibly be done, but that's the worst I have ever seen. It's worse than the worst thing I could have even imagined. Wow.
(But also wow: Patrick Mahomes.)