by Mario "Game" Granata
With much of the debate in the Buffalo area about the 4th down calls in the Buffalo Bills match-up against the Kansas City Chiefs this past Sunday, many are wondering why the Bills weren’t more aggressive during the 4th quarter. Well, for those of you fans who haven’t played or coached the game, hopefully this will be a small glimpse of what transpired on the field at One Bills Drive.
11:51 left, 4th and 1, Bills at own 41-yard line, Buffalo leads 13-10:
In a game where there are two evenly matched teams, who have dominating defenses, field position becomes a big factor in the result of the game. (Maybe on par with turnovers, but we will discuss that later.) Field position is just as much of the mental part of the game while turnovers are more physical. Nevertheless, The Bills tried to draw the Chiefs off sides to gain a first down, and hopefully slow down the pass rush later in the drive. The Bills were flagged for an offside on Seantrel Henderson, and inevitably had to punt. Now, up to that point, the Bills defense held Kansas City to 146 offensive yards in 49 minutes of play, and the lone touchdown for the Chiefs came on a 4th and 1. With that type of momentum shift in a close game, you don’t want to give the Chiefs more momentum and a short field to work with (we saw how that played out later in the quarter)..
As a result the Bills punted, and placed their most effective unit on the field holding onto a 3-point lead.
Pros: The Chiefs started their next drive at their own 8-yard line.
The Bills force a 3-and-out.
Cons: Leodis McKelvin fumbles the ball, and the Chiefs start their drive at the Bills 26 yard line.
6:51 left, 4th and 1, Bills at own 41-yard line, Kansas City leads 17-13:
The Buffalo Bills, like much of the season, are still in the game, with a chance to win, and have close to 7 minutes to do so. In a game that is still in hand for the Bills, they decide to once again swing the field position, and have their defense get the ball back, and with some better field position. Once again, with the Chiefs just scoring another touchdown, the Bills not only have to get momentum back on their side, but they have to get the ball with more manageable field position.
As a result the Bills punted once again, with the hopes of pinning the Chiefs back. With a 4-point lead, and Alex Smith at the helm, the Bills weren’t expecting anything too exotic to come from the Kansas City offense.
Pros: The Chiefs start their drive at the 3-yard line.
The Bills force the Chiefs into a 3-and-out.
The Bills manage a good return to start their drive at the Kansas City 25-yard line.
Cons: The Bills are down 4.
4:35 left, 1st and 10, Bills at Chiefs 25 yard line, Kansas City leads 17-13:
Given everything that transpired in the game thus far, the Buffalo Bills are in great position to take control over Kansas City. Now, what happened next is up for interpretation from the Buffalo Bills and their thought process going into that drive. They started to take a lot of time off the clock, which led me to believe that they were trying to milk some clock with the hopes that they were going to score 7. With the leg of Dan Carpenter, they were most certainly guaranteed 3 points. So, on one hand, they wanted to score 7, go up 20-17, and with their defensive play being very impressive, and the fact that the Chiefs aren’t known for their ‘Big Play’ strike, they would take time off, and force Kansas City to make a mistake. The Bills also probably thought since they were able to have two separate 11-play drives in the second half, that they would be able to sustain one last effort to score, despite Kyle Orton being out of rhythm much of the afternoon.
Once the Bills secured a 1st and 10, from the Kansas City 15-yard line, there are two schools of thought that are at play for the next sequence of events:
A. The Bills take a couple shots at the end zone, settle for 3 points, and kick-off to the Chiefs down 17-16, with the 2-minute warning and all of their time outs to get the ball back. Calling offensive plays for Andy Reid would be entirely different when his team is up 4 points, than when they are up a single point, and he is looking across the field at Dan Carpenter, who can make one from 50+ if needed. When the Bills elected to throw to the end zone, this is what I thought they were going to do.
B. IF the Bills determined that they were in ‘4-down’ territory, wouldn’t they have tried to hit some higher percentage plays to gain another first down? For whatever reason, the Bills elected to do a hybrid of both scenarios, leading to 0 points.
2:37 left, 4th and 10, Bills at Chiefs 15-yard line, Kansas City leads 17-13:
As mentioned in the previous scenario, the Bills play, when they eventually reached a 4th and 10, was to kick the field goal. Now, I know that might not be a very popular decision by Bills fans, but you swing the momentum of the game if you make it 17-16, and force Kansas City to make a few first downs, something that they struggled to do for the duration of the game. Time, if the Bills are down 1 point, is not a factor, and the Bills have a kicker, one that would have forced Andy Reid’s hand into calling plays that he is probably not comfortable calling. You couple that with the fact that you have the 2-minute warning, and all 3 timeouts to work with if the Chiefs happen to get a first down. When the Bills failed to convert, and were down 4, the mindset of both teams changes, and instead of having the option to kick a field goal and celebrate a hard fought 19-17 victory, the Bills were working against the Chiefs, the clock, and needed to score a touchdown.
All in all, there was a very ‘empty’ feeling in Buffalo this Monday, and what initially looked like a promising 6-3 record and a potential playoff run, now is a 5-4 dogfight. The Bills have a championship caliber defense, and one that will keep their offense in the game, as evidence of what transpired this past weekend. However, the downside of the game was that in the 4th quarter, Andy Reid was playing chess while Doug Marrone was playing checkers, and proved one of the mantras of the NFL: Good Teams Compete, Great Teams Finish.