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'We learned a lot' | Bills coaches look ahead to rematch with Chiefs in AFC Championship

Ed Oliver (91). Buffalo Bills vs Kansas City Chiefs, October 19, 2020 at Bills Stadium.
  Photo by Bill Wippert
Ed Oliver (91). Buffalo Bills vs Kansas City Chiefs, October 19, 2020 at Bills Stadium. Photo by Bill Wippert

Clyde Edwards-Helaire came into Buffalo and put together the game of his young career back in Week 6. The rookie ran for a season-high 161 yards against the Bills, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.

And yet, for all that success on the ground, the Chiefs scored 26 points against the Bills – tied for their sixth-lowest output of the season. The Bills trailed by one possession before a Harrison Butker field goal put the finishing touches on a 26-17 Chiefs victory with 1:56 remaining.

All of these factors will come into play as the two sides brace for a rematch in the AFC Championship on Sunday.

"They certainly outcoached and outplayed us," Sean McDermott said Monday. "They gave us fits on both sides of the ball and special teams and that's where this week comes in. We've got a big week of preparation for ourselves to get ourselves ready to go against the defending world champ."

Kansas City's success on the ground during that meeting was in part by design. McDermott said the Bills were willing to give ground in the run game if it meant taking away the Chiefs' explosive passing offense, which ranked second in the NFL with 69 completions of 20-plus yards and first with 5,005 total passing yards. Patrick Mahomes threw for 225 yards against the Bills, his third-lowest total of the season.

The problem was the extent of chunk plays Kansas City was able to generate on the ground. The Bills' run defense has improved with the benefit of time, evidenced by their performance against Baltimore's top-ranked rushing attack during the Divisional Round.

"We went into it saying OK, they're not going to beat us over the top," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "They were hitting so many explosives, and they're still doing it. We just weren't going to give up the explosive passes and that's the way we played.

"We said, OK, we're going to dare them to stay with the run game, and lo and behold, they stayed with it, and had a lot of success running the football. You know, we learned a lot from that ballgame, hopefully some lessons that will help us going forward, but that was the strategy going into game. We'll have to find a balance, do a better job against the run than we did in that first encounter."

Offensively, the Bills were held to a season-low 206 yards against the Chiefs, who relied on zone coverages designed to force Buffalo into underneath passes as opposed to looking downfield. The Bills offense improved in that regard as the season progressed, beginning the following week with Josh Allen's 307-yard passing performance against the Jets.

"It's the second time we play them, so it's almost like you play your division games," offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. "You play the Patriots twice. You play the Jets twice, the Dolphins twice. You look at stuff that you did in the first game, and you evaluate that and say, `Boy, I wish I would have not done that,' or 'We could've done this better.'

"It's a point of reference you can go back to, particularly the matchups and things like that, seeing how their guys play against your guys. But it's just one step in the preparation process."

The Bills are 12-1 since that meeting with the Chiefs, with the lone loss having come on a Hail Mary play in Arizona. Since then, they rank seventh in points allowed per game (20.7) and first in points scored (34.5).

Here are more notes going into championship week after hearing from McDermott, Daboll, and Frazier on Monday.

The Andy Reid effect

There was one other recent meeting with the Chiefs on Frazier's mind Monday. The Bills visited the Chiefs during Week 12 of 2017, a contest that came on the heels of a tumultuous three-game losing streak during which they had been heavily outscored, 135-45.

Buffalo won that game, 16-10, and then went on to win three of its next five to end the franchise's 17-year playoff drought. Frazier, who got his NFL coaching start along with McDermott on Reid's staff in Philadelphia, said the Bills' ability to respond to adversity had its roots in lessons from Reid.

"Because of Sean's leadership, we went there not feeling down about what happened the previous three weeks," Frazier said. "We had learned from those mistakes and wanted to go get a win. I think some of that can be traced back to Andy Reid as well. I think Sean would attest to that. One of the things that we remember most, and he and I talked about this, is how well Andy handled losses."

Daboll has less personal experience with Reid, but he spoke at length about the respect he has for the Chiefs head coach. Namely, he pointed out Reid's decision on Sunday to go for it on 4th-and-1 at Kansas City's own 48 with a five-point lead and 1:14 remaining. The decision punched the Chiefs' ticket to the AFC Championship.

"I've had such an admiration for him," Daboll said. "He's an aggressive, aggressive play-caller. He trusts his players. He goes after it, man. He goes at 'em."

Daboll showed a similar trust in his offense Saturday, calling a pass-heavy game against Baltimore despite high winds in Orchard Park.

"The ball sailed a couple times when we put it up over the top, but I have a lot of confidence in Josh's ability to throw the football in any condition," Daboll said.

Mahomes watch

Mahomes left during the third quarter of Kansas City's win on Sunday and entered concussion protocol. Reid said the quarterback was "doing great" after the game, and Mahomes himself tweeted a thumbs up shortly after the victory.

That said, with no official word regarding Mahomes' status, McDermott was asked how it might affect Buffalo's preparation.

"We know we've got work to do to prepare," he said. "Certainly, we have a lot of respect for Patrick and how he plays the game and what he adds to their offense, but as you saw with the weapons that they have and the system that Andy runs, I thought (backup Chad) Henne came in and did a really good job and won the game for them there. So, we've got a lot of work to do as a team, but also in this case, just on our defense to get ready."

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