In a season of superlatives, a decidedly different word comes to mind to describe Josh Allen’s Week 6 performance against the defending Super Bowl champions: ordinary.
Allen put together an MVP-caliber resume in 2020, throwing 37 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in leading the Bills to a 13-3 record, their first divisional title since 1995 and their first two playoff wins in a quarter-century. But a 26-17 loss to Kansas City at home still stings, and Allen now hopes to use that as a learning tool for the AFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon in Kansas City.
Allen put together pedestrian numbers in the home loss, going 14-for-27 for 122 yards, although he did throw two touchdown passes. He also threw an interception against Kansas City’s defense, which has been strong the last two years, even if it has been overshadowed by defending Super Bowl champion MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
For the Bills to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since Jan. 30, 1994, when they lost in the championship game for the fourth straight year, Allen knows he can’t have a similar performance.
"We’ve got to do everything in our power to put our best foot forward," he said this past week. "Not make dumb mistakes and put the ball where it needs to be."
Look for Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who helped the Giants win Super Bowl XLII before becoming a part of last year’s championship run, to throw a variety of alignments at Allen. And look for the third-year quarterback, who has made good on the Bills’ investment of the No. 7 overall pick in 2018, to try to figure things out better than he did in the regular season.
"If they play zone or they play man, we’ve got to win our matchups outside and get our run game established and play really good complementary football," he said.
The Bills have done just that since their regular-season loss to Kansas City; Buffalo won nine of its last 10 regular- season games (the lone loss was on the "Hail Murray" pass in Arizona) before beating the Colts, 27-24, in the wild-card round and the Ravens, 17-3, in last weekend’s divisional- round game. After back-to-back playoff wins at home, it’s off to Kansas City for the right to earn a trip to Tampa and Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7.
"This is the next step for Josh," Bills coach Sean McDermott said. "This is what you want. This is what you work for and what he’s worked for. He’ll be ready and we’ll be extremely confident."
The regular-season loss actually might help in the rematch, according to McDermott. It’s all part of the process of learning how to win, even if it means losing along the way.
"It emphasizes and highlights a very resilient group of players that has continued to develop throughout the season," he said. "That’s important because it’s a journey. There’s going to be highs and lows through a season, and those players have done a phenomenal job of learning from previous experiences and situations and building as they move forward throughout the year."
Beating Kansas City on the road won’t be easy, though. Kansas City escaped with a 22-17 win over the Browns in the divisional round although Mahomes left the game midway through the third quarter with a concussion. He has practiced all week on a limited basis and is expected to play on Sunday.
A win over Kansas City would give McDermott his first Super Bowl appearance, and it would come against his former boss. McDermott was an assistant coach under Andy Reid in Philadelphia.
"Andy will be a Hall of Fame coach down the road," McDermott said. "I’ve learned a lot from Andy Reid in my time with him in Philadelphia. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him."
Reid said McDermott has done an outstanding job in Buffalo, particularly this season.
"He deserves to be coach of the year," Reid said. "He’s really done a nice job with that whole program. Good football team, well-coached. Sean’s done a tremendous job there. They’re just a very good football team."
Good enough to knock off Mahomes and the defending champions?
They’re about to find out.
Bob Glauber's AFC Championship Game prediction
Kansas City 27, Buffalo 17
Sure, the Bills have a chance in this one. They’ve won 11 of their last 12 overall and have built a steady and reliable winner over the last three seasons. But if Kansas City is back on its game – especially Patrick Mahomes, who returns from a concussion – then it’s advantage defending Super Bowl champions. Mahomes has the best collection of skill position players in the game, and if he can get Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill untracked, it should be good enough for a return trip to the Big Show.