It all started with a 48-yard completion on the third offensive play of the game. Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor stepped up in the pocket and delivered a strike between Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith and safety Eric Berry. On the receiving end was wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who took the ball all the way down to the Chiefs 13-yard line.
The duo of Taylor and Watkins continued to bully Smith and Berry throughout the first half. On the Bills third drive, with just over a minute remaining in the first quarter, Taylor split the two Chiefs defenders again, placing a 28-yard touchdown pass right in the proverbial bread basket for Watkins. Watkins had again beat Smith down the left sideline, and the score put the Bills on top 10-0.
The touchdown reception was Watkins 10th for his career. He became the fifth Bill to record at least that many receiving touchdowns in his first two seasons, and the first to achieve the mark since Lee Evans (16) in 2004-2005. Elbert Dubenion (13 in 1960-61), Jerry Butler (10 in 1979-80), and Andre Reed (11 in 1985-86) also accomplished the feat.
Those plays were just two of Watkins six highlight-reel catches in the first half of the Bills 30-22 loss. All of his receptions went for at least 14 yards as he totaled 158 yards and two touchdowns on the afternoon.
"We were just getting perfect looks and we were practicing them all week," said Watkins. "We got the looks we wanted to get, and [Tyrod] was just throwing the ball freely."
The nine-first half targets for Watkins came five days after head coach Rex Ryan said the team needs to get their former first-round pick the ball more, and Watkins had a noticeable swagger from the increased attention.
"I just go out and play fast and play physical," he said. "That's my game plan every week. Impose my will on every defender no matter who is out there."
Watkins second touchdown reception came with two-and-a-half minutes left in the second quarter. Just like the first scoring play, Taylor lined up in the shot gun. He threw a 21-yard strike towards the pylon, where Watkins faded away from Smith and hauled in the completion. The score gave the Bills a 16-7 lead.
Watkins dominant first half was directly responsible for Buffalo's advantage on the scoreboard. Unfortunately his lack of involvement in the second half also directly correlated to the offensive struggles that led to what wound up being an eight-point loss.
After the Chiefs claimed the lead on the opening drive of the third quarter, Watkins received only one target for the remainder of the game. As the second-year receiver from Clemson remained quiet, the home team continued to build up its lead, and the Bills scored just six points in game's second half. Ryan attributed the inability to get Watkins the ball to the Chiefs halftime adjustments.
"They started playing the safety a zillion yards deep over there on top, and he had more range on Sammy back there. That was the biggest difference I saw," Ryan said.
Taylor and Watkins noticed the same defensive adjustments.
"They definitely changed the coverage. They realized it was a matchup problem just like we did," said Taylor.
"They showed a little bit of cover two," Watkins said, "and rolled coverage a little bit."
Taylor also cited time-of-possession as a reason he and Watkins could not make the same kind of connections as they did in the first half.
"We only had the ball 11 minutes in the second half, so we didn't have as many opportunities to take those shots like we did in the first half," he said.
After the game Watkins said that he wanted to see the Bills play with an increased sense of urgency in the second half. Whether or not that means more targets for him or not.
"I think every game we've played great in the first half," he said. "For the most part, the wide receivers and tight ends were making plays in the first half. The second half we didn't do that. We need to come out in the second half and try to put points on the board."