KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Buffalo Bills needed to win this way. Not with a blowout filled with highlight-reel splash plays. Not with reserves playing meaningless minutes as the game clock ticked down in the fourth quarter. It had to be like this -- with Josh Allen trying to make critical plays, his receivers coming up with big catches and Von Miller wreaking havoc when Patrick Mahomes was looking to create his all too familiar brand of magic.
The Bills got the win they wanted in Kansas City, beating the Chiefs 24-20 on Sunday afternoon. How they ultimately earned that victory said far more than the result itself. Three of Buffalo's first four wins of the season came by an average margin of 30 points. The odds of them beating the Chiefs that soundly weren't good coming in and it's more beneficial to their long-term goals that it didn't go that way.
The Bills are the best team in the NFL. If they want to still be able to make that claim at the end of the season, they need to win games like this against teams like this.
"I'm proud of our team and how we battled tonight," Allen said. "We obviously didn't start off how we wanted to, but guys just kept their heads down, didn't panic or blink, trusted the game plan, trusted situational football and got a W. That was our only goal coming in here. If it's by one or 100, it's another win and that's what we're trying to do each and every week."
The start Allen alluded to was a fumble on an option pitch on Buffalo's first drive of the game. Chiefs linebacker Darius Harris recovered the ball at Kansas City's 11-yard line and ended the Bills' initial opportunity to send an immediate message in a hostile environment. That play could have been an ominous sign of what was to come for the Bills. Instead, it became a reason to be even more optimistic about what this team can become as it chases a Super Bowl victory.
The Bills have been amazing when they've dominated opponents, of course. However, their recent track record in close games hasn't been that great. Dating back to the start of last season, Buffalo had lost seven straight one-score games (including the playoffs) before its 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4. The Bills' most noteworthy defeat in that stretch of futility was the epic 42-36 overtime loss they suffered to the Chiefs in Kansas City in the Divisional Round of last season's playoffs.
So yes -- the Bills did need this win, as it moved them to 5-1, kept them in sole possession of first place in the AFC East and gave them a head-to-head advantage when it comes to deciding whether the AFC Championship Game might be played in their stadium come late January. But this victory should say so much more about Buffalo because of the optics. That playoff loss in Kansas City was especially traumatizing because the Bills appeared to have that game in hand until the Chiefs miraculously tied the contest on a field goal after taking possession of the football with just 13 seconds remaining in regulation. This win didn't erase that memory, but it went a long way toward revealing that Buffalo is better equipped to handle late-game situations against this opponent.
The most fulfilling aspect of Sunday's contest had to be Buffalo seeing its prized offseason acquisition, Miller, pressuring Mahomes to the point that the quarterback threw the game-clinching interception to Bills cornerback Taron Johnson with less than a minute remaining.
"I know what happened today -- we came out on top," said Miller, who finished with two sacks. "Everything else is in the past. I think ignorance is bliss and I didn't feel that (desire for redemption after the playoff loss). I wasn't here with these guys to go through that game. But I was here today, and I witnessed these guys work all week and all offseason long to have success out here."
The Bills added Miller to the team because they knew he could be a missing piece in their pursuit of a title. Mahomes had bamboozled them in consecutive postseasons -- the Chiefs also beat Buffalo in the AFC Championship Game during the 2020 season -- and it was imperative that Buffalo find some way to pressure him in key moments. As the Bills' offense proved on Sunday, their quarterback has continued to develop in his own right. Allen provided plenty of exciting moments, but it was how he performed in the clutch situations that stood out in this contest.
Buffalo faced a 7-3 deficit late in the first half when Allen led his team on a 7-play, 96-yard drive in just 1:13 of game time. His 34-yard touchdown pass to Gabe Davis gave Buffalo a lead that was only trumped by Mahomes putting Kansas City in position for Harrison Butker to kick a team-record 62-yard field goal as the half ended. Then the Bills trailed 20-17 when Allen got the ball with 5:31 left in regulation. This time he engineered a 12-play, 76-yard drive that ended with his 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dawson Knox with 1:04 remaining.
Allen wasn't ready to make those plays consistently a couple years ago. He made them last season when it counted, but Buffalo couldn't stifle Mahomes when it mattered most. The best thing about the way the Bills handled Sunday's outcome was that they kept it in perspective. They know there's a very good chance they will need those same types of plays in the postseason, perhaps against the Chiefs for yet another time.
"We're just trying to be playoff-caliber," said Allen after throwing for 329 yards and 3 touchdowns. "Every game is big in the NFL. It doesn't matter if you're playing a team that is 4-1 or 1-4. Any given Sunday, Monday or Thursday, any team can win when you're on the field. We're professional football players for a reason. Everybody is good. So we have to turn our attention to the next week."
Allen admitted that he didn't know who was up next for Buffalo, as the Bills have a bye before hosting Green Bay on Oct. 30. He did acknowledge that he was looking forward to some downtime, with some golf or fishing likely on the agenda. The Bills are off to the fast start every team hopes for, so a little relaxation won't be a bad thing. They know that the more success they have now, the more it will mean when they're playing postseason games.
Allen didn't have to say this win was sweeter than others because Buffalo won in Kansas City last October. That game was a 38-20 victory, a blowout like the Bills' demolition of the Rams in this year's season opener and their 35-point win over the Steelers last week. The people who watched those wins came away raving about what the Bills could be when at their best. There wasn't that same kind of talk after Buffalo's season ended in Kansas City last January.
These Bills have had a different vibe about them since Miller showed up. They've openly talked about being all-in to win a title and they've made some serious moves to back that up. But what this team should understand better than any other is that championships don't come easily. You've got to earn them the hard way, and it helps to have plenty of practice in that arena.