Championship Sunday: What we learned from conference title games –

1) The box score and the game tape from this one looked a lot like most of the Chiefs’ wins. Kansas City peppered its offensive possessions with gains of 10-15 yards, taking what the Buffalo defense gave it as the Bills aimed to prevent the explosive plays for which the Chiefs are well known. The problem was the Chiefs’ smaller chunks turned into explosive plays, and by the time we got to the second half, the Chiefs had posted three touchdown drives of five minutes or less. It comes as a surprise to very few to see that Tyreek Hill finished with nine catches for 172 yards, Travis Kelce caught 13 balls for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and Patrick Mahomes finished with a passer rating north of 127. Kansas City provided the internet with a bushel of easy-to-share clips of Hill streaking down the field and Mahomes extending plays to find open targets for big gains, all with the same theme for the unfortunate defenses trying to stop them. In the end, it was once again simple: Buffalo couldn’t do it, just as Cleveland couldn’t, nor could the vast majority of teams the Chiefs faced in the regular season. Save for a futile comeback attempt to make the score a little more respectable, the Bills lost this track meet by a wide margin in a fashion that’s all too familiar to the many clubs unfortunate enough to find themselves in Kansas City’s path.

2) The exciting showdown so many of us thought was coming never materialized because the Bills’ explosive offense couldn’t get its gunpowder out of the barrels it had rolled out onto its sideline. Credit is due to Kansas City’s defense, which sabotaged Buffalo’s attempts to put significant points on the board by limiting the Bills to a 5-of-14 night on third down, and held Buffalo to three field goals on trips into Kansas City territory — including two possessions that ended inside the 10-yard line. The key to Kansas City’s defensive success centered largely on the Chiefs’ ability to take Stefon Diggs out of the game. At halftime, Diggs had just two catches for 12 yards, and he reached the start of the fourth quarter with a total of four receptions for 28 yards. Josh Allen was forced to look elsewhere, finding early success in short-yardage situations by dumping it off to tight end Dawson Knox, but without his top receiver making much of an impact and no rushing game to speak of (Allen led the Bills with 88 yards on seven attempts), Buffalo’s offense entered a rut it couldn’t lift itself out of until the game was already decided. Add in Kansas City’s ability to get after Allen — the Chiefs pressured him on 25% of his drop-backs, holding him to a completion percentage of 33.3 on such attempts — and their four sacks for a combined loss of 53 yards, and we saw what a watered-down Bills offense would look like in a pivotal contest.

3) It’s interesting (if not downright frustrating) to witness coaches who typically direct their teams fearlessly then suddenly tighten up in big moments, pivoting to taking the points just to keep a game somewhat within reach instead of flirting with a blowout. That was Sean McDermott’s approach Sunday evening. McDermott sent the field goal unit out for an attempt with the ball at Kansas City’s 2-yard line just before halftime in a 21-9 game, then did it again from Kansas City’s 8-yard line in a 24-12 game midway through the third quarter. Sure, it kept the Bills within striking distance — if a touchdown plus a field goal is considered striking distance against the league’s most explosive offense — but it didn’t make the dent that is absolutely essential to attempting to take down the reigning champs. It wasn’t until the Bills were down, 38-15, that McDermott threw caution to a wind that had already swept away his team a quarter earlier, going for it on fourth and-1 to extend a drive that ended in a touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie to cut the deficit to 38-21. And even then, Buffalo’s two-point conversion attempt failed via interception in the end zone. Too often, the Bills were on the doorstep of matching Chiefs touchdowns with their own, but elected to take the points and keep the score within nine, burning precious time and wasting away rare opportunities to try to keep pace with the fast-moving Chiefs. There’s coaching to win, there’s coaching to not lose, and there’s coaching to not lose by a huge difference in points. Only one of those actually wins you the game, and in a massive moment like Sunday night’s conference championship game, McDermott did not coach to wrest the AFC crown from the Chiefs’ grasp.

— Nick Shook

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