Struggles by Bills, Josh Allen against AFC elite a cause for concern

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Through the first four weeks of the NFL season, the Buffalo Bills looked like the league’s next-great offense. Powered by a potential MVP candidate in QB Josh Allen with a palpable connection between him and wide receiver Stefon Diggs, the Bills boasted the NFL’s fourth-best offense in terms of yards per game and fifth-best in terms of points scored.

Buffalo’s offensive success masked any concerns about its defense’s slow drift into a liability; or distracted from it, at least. But if the past two weeks are any indication, there is room for concern on both sides of the ball.

The Bills surrendered more rushing yards (245) than passing yards (221) in a 26-17 loss Monday to the Kansas City Chiefs. Meanwhile, Buffalo’s offense never got into a rhythm as Allen looked more like his rookie self than the NFL’s eighth-leading passer entering Week 6. He missed throws throughout the night and outside of an impressive touchdown throw to Diggs (whose catch was arguably more impressive than the throw), it was an utterly forgettable night for the Bills’ quarterback.

Especially after a humbling loss to the unbeaten Titans in Week 5, Buffalo needed a bounce-back game against another quality opponent to prove its blowout defeat was more of an anomaly than a regression to the mean. But Monday’s showing added more credibility to the argument that the Bills were fool’s gold to start the season.

Is that the truth? Reality might not be so dramatic. Buffalo has a get-right game against the winless New York Jets in Week 8 before hosting the Patriots in a critical AFC East matchup in Week 9. The season’s not over and the Bills’ outspoken goal of winning their division is still very much intact. But the talk of them as Super Bowl contenders appears presumptuous until proven otherwise.

Describe the game in two words: No energy. The Bills routinely credit the support they get from their fans for the team’s success, and the rest of the world might have underestimated just how serious they were. Monday night marked the second straight home game in which Buffalo played with a visible lack of energy and with no end in sight for New York state’s ban on fan attendance, this is an issue the Bills need to get over.

Promising/troubling trend: The Bills hadn’t allowed a ton of rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks entering Week 6 — just 84 yards, total, ranking 19th-most in the NFL. However, the yards they had given up were a back-breaking 6 yards per attempt to opposing quarterbacks, which was fourth-highest in the league. That trend continued against Patrick Mahomes, who ran for 38 yards on 8 attempts, including a 9-yard scramble to convert a 3rd-and-7 on the Chiefs’ game-sealing possession late in the fourth quarter.

Biggest hole in gameplan: It’s reasonable to think the Bills picked their poison when developing their plan for Monday night, opting to sell out to limit the Chiefs’ passing game and sacrifice yards on the ground. But there’s a difference between sacrificing yards on the ground and opening the floodgates, and the Bills flirted with the latter for the majority of the game. Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushed for 161 yards on 26 carries as Buffalo allowed more than 200 rushing yards for just the sixth time under Sean McDermott. To their credit, the Bills clamped down on the run late in the game — but ultimately, it was too late to change the outcome.

Pivotal play: A momentum-swinging, three-play span put the game on ice late in the fourth quarter. After pulling within one score, the Bills seemingly forced and recovered a fumble on the third play of the Chiefs’ ensuing drive. However, Edwards-Helaire’s knee was ruled down and Kansas City kept the ball. Two plays later, on third-and-12, Mahomes completed a 37-yard pass to Bryce Pringle to put the Chiefs in field goal range. The drive ended in a game-sealing field goal but was nearly a game-changing defensive possession for Buffalo.

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