NFL Nation: 2013 Week 9 KAN at BUF

Sean SmithAP Photo/Gary WiepertThe defense scored both of the Chiefs' touchdowns -- including a Sean Smith pick-six in the third quarter.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Brilliant football minds can watch all the video they want but they have no explanation for why the NFL’s best teams are not just good but lucky as well.

They can have no justification for what happened early in the third quarter Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the Kansas City Chiefs and their unbeaten season were teetering on the brink against the Buffalo Bills.

With Buffalo at the Kansas City 2, the Chiefs blew a coverage and left Buffalo’s best and most accomplished receiver, Stevie Johnson, uncovered in the end zone. The ball did not go to Johnson but in another direction and eventually the hands of Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith.

One hundred yards later, Smith scored a touchdown himself and rather than falling behind by 14 points for their first double-digit deficit of the season, the Chiefs tied the score. They went on to win 23-13 to go 9-0 and remain as the NFL’s only unbeaten team.

“We make mistakes while we’re in there," said linebacker Tamba Hali, who in the fourth quarter scored Kansas City’s second defensive touchdown of the day. “We blow coverages. There’s a lot that happens but we just focus on the positive. Sometimes things are going their way and we just keep playing and [then] things happen to go our way. Our guys are just strong-minded men."

Football purists might not like Hali’s answer but it better captures what’s happening with the Chiefs than any other reasoning. The Chiefs won’t be able to get away with leaving receivers open in the end zone in their next game against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, the following week against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers or in the subsequent game, a rematch against the Broncos.

The fact remains that Sunday they were playing against the Bills and undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel. He is Buffalo’s fourth-string quarterback, playing only because of injuries to the three quarterbacks ahead of him.

On the game’s most important play, Tuel didn’t go to Johnson but tried to force the ball into coverage instead. The whole stadium was shocked by his decision, Smith included.

“So surprised," Smith said. “It was like Christmas. You know, you go downstairs as a little kid and there’s a big box right there? That’s how I felt.

“Those are the plays that you always wish happens to you when you’re watching on TV. It was my day."

It was the Chiefs’ day, really. But all the days this season have belonged to the Chiefs and particularly in the fourth quarter. They again won the final period, which began with the score tied at 13.

The Chiefs scored both of their touchdowns on defense and managed just three field goals with their offense. But that’s not a crazy thing for them. They have five defensive and two special teams touchdowns this season and coach Andy Reid didn’t have to go back too far in his memory to recall winning a game in a similarly bizarre fashion.

“We’ve had a couple this year," Reid said. “We’re not making excuses for it."

Nobody is asking them to, but if the Chiefs think they can compete against the Broncos playing as they did against the Bills, they’re only fooling themselves. They were outgained in total yards Sunday 470-210 by a 3-6 opponent playing its fourth-string quarterback.

Yet if the Chiefs have proved one thing, it’s that it’s risky to underestimate them. They are on an amazing roll that goes beyond X's and O's.

Take the two touchdowns scored by Hali this season. Both have come from short range. He intercepted a pass in the season opener in Jacksonville and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown.

Hali on Sunday scooped up a fumble and returned it 11 yards for the touchdown that put the Chiefs ahead for good.

The Chiefs were fortunate it was Smith called to go 100 yards and not Hali, who is one of the NFL’s best pass-rushers and a relentless player who gives a maximum effort on every play. He’s just not built to go long distances, something he jokingly acknowledged.

“With blocking, I can run 100 yards if you’re not going to chase me," he said.

Smith is much better equipped to go the long haul. In truth, though, his touchdown return was so well-blocked that indeed even Hali could have scored.

“Do you know," Smith said, “how long 100 yards is in the cold?"

For the Chiefs, no distance has been too long, no hurdle too big. After going deep into the fourth quarter the past three weeks before outlasting under-.500 teams from Houston, Cleveland and now Buffalo, the Chiefs don’t appear they will pass any smell test.

Conventional wisdom will undoubtedly hold that they’ll have trouble against the high-scoring Broncos in two weeks, after their bye. But little to happen this season to the Chiefs has followed conventional wisdom.

That Nov. 17 game in Denver will probably fall into that category as well.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- What's the difference between an 9-0 record and a 3-6 record?

Three.

That's how many turnovers the Buffalo Bills committed in Sunday's 23-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, who did not turn the ball over once.

Despite out-gaining Kansas City more than 2-to-1 in offensive yards -- 470 to 210 -- the Bills couldn't overcome their critical mistakes to topple the undefeated Chiefs, who were trailing the Bills' 10-3 at halftime.

Understandably, that had Bills coach Doug Marrone fuming after the loss.

"I'm definitely frustrated. I am. Guys work hard all week, they bust their butts, the fans come, and they do a great job and we have a chance to get a good score and a lead in this game," Marrone said. "And we can't finish it."

For more than a half, the Bills looked like the better team. Undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel, making his first career start, lobbed a 59-yard touchdown to fellow rookie Marquise Goodwin late in the first quarter, helping to build a lead against a stagnant Chiefs offense.

But it was Tuel's third-quarter interception -- returned 100 yards for a touchdown -- and later, a T.J. Graham fumble -- returned 11 yards for a touchdown -- that made all the difference in this game.

"We knew coming in that this team scored a lot of points off turnovers," Marrone said. "They had 17 off of turnovers [on Sunday]. ... When it's time to make the plays, you have to make the plays and we didn't do that."

With replacement starter Thad Lewis "not close" to being ready to play, according to Marrone, the Bills turned to Tuel, who went 18-of-39 passing for 229 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.

"Did Jeff play well enough for us to win? At times," Marrone said. "At times he didn't. I think you could say that about a lot of people."

The Bills didn't reveal their decision to start Tuel until Sunday, after holding out hope that Lewis could play through sore ribs that kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday, while limiting him Friday.

"It's tough with the situation we had because you never really know what the coaches are going to say," Tuel said. "I kind of had a feeling that I was going to go, just as far as talking to Thad and seeing how he was doing physically."

Tuel is the third inexperienced quarterback that Marrone and offensive coordinator Nate Hackett have started this season, joining Lewis and first-round pick EJ Manuel.

"I think whenever you have a young guy ... we've had to do whatever we can to make them feel comfortable back there," Hackett said. "It's frustrating. It's hard. You want to develop a guy. ... We haven't had that option yet. I give Jeff a lot of credit. That was the first game he's had to play where he's had a practice coming into [it]."

Young quarterback or not, Marrone's frustration was evident.

"I have high expectations. It's my responsibility to put a guy out there that can win," Marrone said.

And Marrone thinks his team is close to winning.

"This one hurts. It hurts me, it hurts the guys in the room. I hurt for them. I hurt for our fans. It's a tough one," he said. "We're not out of the playoffs. We're a good football team that is not making the plays that we have to make. We play extremely hard, we fight through adversity, but we're just not making the plays at the times we need to make [them]. And that's everybody."

Dissecting Tuel's game-changing pick-six

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
6:25
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Quarterback? Receiver? Play-caller?

Blame who you want, but Jeff Tuel's goal-line interception, returned 100 yards for a touchdown, was the turning point in the Buffalo Bills' 23-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

It couldn't have come at a worse time -- the Bills had a 10-3 lead, received the opening kickoff of the second half, and drove quickly downfield -- and the result couldn't have been more catastrophic.

So what happened? Who deserves fault on the play?

Let's take it blow-by-blow, first setting up the situation: a third-and-goal on the 1-yard line, following two straight Fred Jackson runs for no gain.

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Sean Smith
AP Photo/Gary WiepertSean Smith steps in front a pass intended for T.J. Graham and returns it 100 yards for a touchdown.
"When it got down tight [in the red zone], they did a great job. They would show all-out [pressure], then back up," offensive coordinator Nate Hackett said.

After going big on the first two plays -- both runs -- the Bills spread the field for the third play. Tuel was in a shotgun formation, with Steve Johnson and T.J. Graham aligned to the offensive right.

"Obviously, if you want to run the ball, it sucks. If you want to throw the ball, you have to get it out quick [since] somebody is going to take a shot at you. We wanted to try to combine two things in one," Hackett said.

The play-call, then, was a designed run that could be changed into a pass if the defense showed "all-out" pressure.

"It was a play that was working for us well during the game," coach Doug Marrone said. "If there's an all-out pressure, we pull [the run] and have the ability to throw it. They were in an all-out [look], cover-zero."

"I think it was one of those things, when we threw it to T.J., I took it off of [Tuel]," Hackett said. "I just said 'hang back there and throw a good ball. Because you're going to have so many people coming at you.' I didn't want to have him think too much. So I didn't have him think. I just wanted him to drop back and throw a good ball in that situation."

Tuel correctly read the "all-out" pressure and made the decision to throw to Graham, who cut towards the center of the field at the snap. The problem is that Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith allowed Johnson to run free over the middle, instead stepping in front of Graham's route.

"[Tuel] went to throw the ball to his first read and [Smith] just stopped. Just stood there," Hackett said. "Jeff let it go, from what I could tell. He had a couple of other guys, but he was so into, 'got to get it out, got to get it out,' he just threw it. I think he might have thrown it a little bit blind in that situation."

"[Smith] comes off Stevie Johnson. Doesn't cover him. And he was standing right there when he was throwing the ball into the slot," Marrone said. "Either they knew exactly what we were doing, or it was just unbelievable. I haven't seen a lot of that."

"It was zero coverage all out. 100 percent my fault, something I've got to see," Tuel said. "I can't do that."

So why didn't Tuel see Johnson?

"There were a lot of bodies down there. That's one I have to see on tape and if he could have done something else on it -- I think we had Stevie and some other guys -- but with all those guys up there, we had to have a plan for that," Hackett said.

Would they re-think the play-call?

"Situationally, do you question the play call? No. Do you question the execution of it? Yes," Marrone said. "Should we go in there and try to keep running and work on it? It's a play in the [middle of the] field that we do pull it and throw it, a lot of times down the goal line we don't pull it and throw it. We've got to do a better job coaching it."

"There's two thoughts of it: get big or get small. We did both and both didn't work," Hackett said. "So we just have to get back to the drawing board, go to work, and figure out what we can get done."

Locker Room Buzz: Buffalo Bills

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
5:28
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Observed in the locker room after the Buffalo Bills' 23-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

Marrone's frustration evident: After a week in which Bills coach Doug Marrone was as upbeat as he's been all season, his frustration level seemed to be through the roof after Sunday's game. "I'm pissed," he said. "I'm going to use that type of energy. I'm going to go home. I'm not going to talk to anybody. I'm just going to shut it down. I'm going to be by myself. I'm not going to pet my dog. I'm going to get fired up. I'm going to come to work tomorrow. I'm going to watch this film. I'm going to be a pro. I'm going to be a man." This was about as passionate as we've seen the first-year head coach.

Woods
Marrone questions incompletion: Marrone lost his only challenge of the game in the fourth quarter, when Marquise Goodwin couldn't corral a 40-yard pass from Jeff Tuel. "I thought it was a catch all the way. I really did," Marrone said. "I saw him bounce. I saw it in his hand. I struggle sometimes ... I'd love for someone to tell me what the definition of a catch is. Because he bounced once and he had it. The second time he bounced, he didn't. I was told that the first time he bounced that he lost the ball."

Woods' X-rays negative: Receiver Robert Woods left the game in the third quarter with a leg injury. Marrone said Woods couldn't put weight on his leg, which suggested a bone injury. However, Marrone added that X-rays were negative. He did not provide a prognosis on Woods, who had played more than 90 percent of snaps this season until Sunday. Meanwhile, Goodwin, who left late in the fourth quarter, has a hamstring injury, according to Marrone.

Locker Room Buzz: Kansas City Chiefs

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
5:15
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Observed in the locker room after the Kansas City Chiefs23-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills:

Hali
Celebrating in style: Linebacker Tamba Hali, on his 30th birthday, did something before the game that he says he rarely does before playing. He had breakfast. “I usually don’t eat on game day but I ate today for some reason," said Hali, who scored a fourth-quarter touchdown on a fumble return. “A bagel and bacon and an omelet [that] I put on the bagel. It was good."

Injury-free: The Chiefs didn’t lose anyone to injury. Last week against Cleveland they didn't lose any of their front-line players, but rookie defensive lineman Mike Catapano, a backup who played mostly on special teams, suffered a high ankle sprain that kept him out against the Bills.

Smith’s introduction to Buffalo: Quarterback Alex Smith played his first game in Buffalo on Sunday. On a wintry day with temperatures in the 30s, Smith survived the tricky winds at Ralph Wilson Stadium to complete 19 of 29 passes. But he threw for just 124 yards, with his longest completion of the day going for 20 yards.

Rapid Reaction: Buffalo Bills

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
4:03
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 23-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

What it means: This unfolded just as expected. The Bills, starting undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel, committed two critical errors -- an interception and a fumble, both returned for touchdowns -- that were the difference in the game. The Chiefs, although outgained by the Bills 470 yards to 210, did not turn the ball over. In what was hardly a marquee quarterback matchup, veteran Alex Smith (74.5 passer rating) outplayed Tuel (52.2).

Spiller provides spark: What a difference a week off makes. Running back C.J. Spiller, after resting a high-ankle sprain, rushed 12 times for 116 yards, while adding another 39 yards on two catches. Spiller had a 29-yard run in the second quarter and a 61-yard run to open the second half, doing his part to kick-start an offense dealing with inconsistent quarterback play. He's still not 100 percent, though, so his action was limited.

Stock watch: Rising: pass protection. It wasn't enough to overcome the Bills' offensive miscues, but it's worth noting that the Bills did not allow Tuel to be sacked in this game. In their previous three games, the Bills had allowed 13 sacks, the most in the NFL. For Tuel's 39 pass attempts in this contest, zero sacks is a solid performance. The Chiefs boast two of the NFL's best pass-rushers -- Tamba Hali and Justin Houston -- and neither could get to Tuel.

Woods injured: Rookie receiver Robert Woods injured his leg diving for a deep pass in the third quarter and did not return. He appeared to land hard on his knee, and eventually limped to the locker room. Despite the injury, Woods finished as the Bills' second-leading receiver, with four catches for 44 yards.

What's next: After dropping their second straight game, falling to 3-6 and remaining in fourth place in the AFC East, the Bills travel to face the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday. The combined record of Buffalo's next six opponents entering Sunday: 12-33.

Rapid Reaction: Kansas City Chiefs

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
4:01
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A few thoughts on the Kansas City Chiefs' 23-13 victory against the Buffalo Bills:

What it means: The Chiefs moved to 9-0 and, more importantly, guaranteed they will head to Denver for their Nov. 17 showdown with the Denver Broncos with no worse than a one-game lead in the AFC West. The 7-1 Broncos had a bye Sunday and will play the Chargers in San Diego next Sunday.

Stock watch: The once-productive pass rush continues to be ineffective. The Chiefs, who lead the NFL with 36 sacks, failed to get to Buffalo rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel. The Chiefs tackled as poorly as they have all season in allowing more than 200 rushing yards to C.J. Spiller and the Bills. Dexter McCluster dropped a deep pass when he was uncovered and could have scored a touchdown. Rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper was beaten deep for a touchdown in the first half by Marquise Goodwin, but made up for it in the fourth quarter when he punched the ball lose from T.J. Graham. Tamba Hali recovered the fumble and returned it for the touchdown that put the Chiefs ahead 20-13.

Offensive futility: The Chiefs had fewer than 200 yards until late in the game, and managed just three field goals offensively. Alex Smith completed 19 of 29 passes, but for just 124 yards. Both of Kansas City’s touchdowns were scored by the defense. Hali’s score came early in the fourth quarter. A bigger play came early in the third quarter. With the Bills ahead 10-3 and on the Kansas City 2, Tuel threw an ill-advised pass into coverage that was intercepted by Sean Smith, who returned it 100 yards for the tying touchdown. Tuel had wide receiver Stevie Johnson open in the end zone on the play, but apparently didn’t see him.

What’s next: The Chiefs are on their bye, and they’ll need to benefit from the break. When they return to game action, they’ll head into the meaty part of their schedule. Two of their next three games will be for AFC West supremacy against the Denver Broncos. Sandwiched in between is a game with another division rival, the San Diego Chargers.

Halftime thoughts: Bills 10, Chiefs 3

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
2:52
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Offering some halftime thoughts as the Buffalo Bills lead the Kansas City Chiefs, 10-3:

1. Jeff Tuel, starting in place of Thad Lewis, has arguably outplayed Alex Smith to this point. Tuel was able to connect on a 59-yard touchdown to Marquise Goodwin, which has been the difference early in this game. Smith and Tuel are both completing a lot of shorter, manageable passes, as was expected. Despite the Chiefs entering the game with the NFL's best pass rush, they haven't gotten to Tuel yet today. The Bills, on the other hand, have two sacks.

2. Tuel's one interception came in the second quarter on a bad misfire to tight end Scott Chandler. The Chiefs knocked on the door after the turnover, moving to the Bills' 11-yard line, but cornerback Nickell Robey came up with a key tackle on third down -- another solid play by the undrafted rookie who has held his own this season. It doesn't feel like the Chiefs' offense has the punch it needs for this game.

3. C.J. Spiller's week off seems to be having an effect, as he was able to break away from defenders on a 29-yard run in the second quarter. Spiller sat out the first drive of the game and the Bills have used a rotation featuring more Tashard Choice than usual, but when Spiller's been on the field, he's been effective. Spiller has 46 yards on six carries.

4. You have to think field position will be a major factor in the second half. Each team has gone on long, sustained drives early in the game. Expect possessions to be limited in the second half. This one feels like it could come down to a late turnover deciding the outcome.

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