KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Many years ago at Brigham Young University, Andy Reid played both guard and tackle along the Cougars offensive line.
Considering the way Sunday afternoon’s game against the Buffalo Bills went for the Chiefs, Big Red may have been the next guy up on an injury-riddled offensive line. Blockers were dropping like the rain that fell all day at Arrowhead Stadium. With seven linemen active and available, there were only four healthy bodies.
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“We would have had to forfeit,” Reid said with a smile of what he could contribute at this point in his life. “We were down to everybody playing there.”
Despite a patched together offensive line the Chiefs came back from a 10-point, first-quarter deficit to beat the Buffalo Bills 30-22 and push Kansas City’s record to 6-5 on the season. It was the Chiefs fifth straight victory and improved their chances of finding a spot in the AFC playoffs with five games left in the regular season.
Somehow, the resilient 2015 Chiefs added another chapter to their story about overcoming problems. With dreams of the postseason dancing in their heads, the Chiefs found a way to win. There has been a formula to the Chiefs winning streak. It was about not making mistakes, not turning the ball over, winning the field position battle, forcing opponents to giveaway the ball, keeping the offense balanced and playing complementary football with offense, defense and the kicking game working in concert.
They did not start Sunday’s game according to that script. They fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter, as Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor and wide receiver Sammy Watkins were torching the Chiefs defense, specifically cornerback Sean Smith. Top pass rusher Justin Houston went down in the first half with a strained left knee and did not return. In the first quarter, the Chiefs had just 29 yards on offense. Punter Dustin Colquitt and kicker Cairo Santos struggled with the bad weather.
The offensive line injuries started when left guard Jeff Allen came out of the game with a sprained left ankle. A few moments later, left tackle Eric Fisher was taken to the locker room with a neck strain. In the second half, center Mitch Morse left the field after suffering a concussion. There were seven blockers active for the game, and three went down in a position group that requires five players.
Still, the Chiefs were able to put together enough offense to win, although they started with just 29 yards in the first quarter. They finally caught fire behind quarterback Alex Smith, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back Spencer Ware. Smith threw for 255 yards, two touchdown passes and did not have an interception. Maclin caught nine passes for 160 yards and a touchdown. Ware picked up 114 rushing yards on 19 carries with a touchdown.
“We had a couple starters go down and we had guys stand up, guys like Zach Fulton who came in and played center under these conditions (cold and rain),” said Reid. “I’m proud of them. They worked their tails off and they kept it going. We didn’t lose any momentum.”
All the momentum in the first half belonged to Buffalo, especially the combination of quarterback Tyron Taylor and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. They connected on six passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the first two quarters. Taylor also connected with running back LeSean McCoy for a third-quarter score.
“We were throwing it to him a bunch and he was making plays,” said Bills head coach Rex Ryan of Watkins. “We had some chances with other guys as well.”
Taylor and Watkins went after right cornerback Sean Smith. On the third offensive play of the game, they combined on a 48-yard completion. Later, they got the first touchdown on the board on a 28-yard touchdown pass. They added a 21-yard scoring play late in the second quarter. All came against Smith.
“Sean, he had a rough first half, no matter how you cut it,” Reid said. “He’s having a Pro Bowl year and you saw why; he fixed the problem and kept competing.”
Watkins did not catch a pass in the second half, and was targeted just once by Taylor.
“Those guys get paid too,” said Smith. “Sammy Watkins made some tremendous plays out there. But we knew if we stayed on top of those routes, finished on the ball and got some PBUs (passes broken up) and things of that nature we would be all right. That’s what we did in the second half.”
Kansas City’s offense was slow coming out of the blocks and it wasn’t until halfway through the second quarter that they reached the scoreboard. The Chiefs put together a 6-play, 80-yard drive with Ware scoring on a 3-yard run. They added another first-half TD on a 41-yard scoring pass from Smith to Maclin with less than two minutes to play in the half. The PAT kick by Cairo Santos pulled the Chiefs to within two points and he had an opportunity to give K.C. the halftime lead, but his 54-yard field-goal attempt on the last play before intermission bounced off the crossbar.
“The message at halftime, I mean, we were losing,” said safety Ron Parker. “Buffalo came out there and gave us all they had. We felt like in the first half they shot all their fireworks. We knew we had to just continue playing two quarters of football.”
While Taylor and Watkins had all the attention in the first half, Smith and Maclin were quietly connecting four times for 99 yards, including the touchdown catch. That combination kept clicking at the start of the third quarter, setting up a 15-yard connection between Smith and tight end Travis Kelce in the end zone. The PAT kick allowed the Chiefs their first lead of the game, 21-16.
“In a game like this, we know where we are going with the footing on the wet field,” said Maclin. “At the end of the day, we had opportunities to go out and make plays and today we connected.”
Buffalo’s only second-half score came on the 10-yard pass from Taylor to McCoy. Down 24-22 because of an earlier missed PAT kick, the Bills went for two points but were stopped by the Chiefs defense and they were done for the day. The Chiefs added three second half field goals by Santos of 37, 38 and 49 yards to set the final score.
“It was a tough loss to say the least,” said Ryan of his now 5-6 Bills.
The questions facing the Chiefs will be the health of their team as they head to Oakland for a meeting next Sunday against the Raiders. Houston went down in the first half due to a left knee strain and did not return to the game. Reid said it would be Monday before they know the seriousness of the injury. None of the offensive line injuries appear bad enough to end the season for Allen, Fisher or Morse. In fact, Allen was forced to return to the field after Morse went down, playing left guard on basically one functioning ankle.
“We all have each other’s back,” said Allen. “That’s how you recover from a five-game losing streak.”
That recovery will continue in Oakland, no matter who may be available to play.