Why the Chiefs face a new reality in the Patrick Mahomes Era after this loss to Bills

·5 min read
Nick Tre. Smith/Special to the Star

Von Miller walked behind the lectern inside the tight quarters of a room reserved for a Bills news conference, less than half an hour after his team beat the Chiefs here at Arrowhead Stadium. He began with an opening statement, of sorts.

“Howdy,” he said, and then he offered a grin. “I came in this stadium a whole bunch of times, and I’ve been at this same podium, and I ain’t have no smile. So it’s good to come in here and smile.”

For years, the Denver Broncos could not beat the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs with Von Miller at this stadium, but on Sunday, the Bills would not have won without him. The marriage has helped form the team that is intentionally and blatantly built to beat the Chiefs, future ramifications be damned.

But with a payoff. The Chiefs are no longer the best team in the NFL — a home defeat did not produce that statement, but rather cemented it. That title belongs to the Bills now, and for evidence, don’t look at the fact they won, but rather how they won.

Josh Allen was nails on the game-winning two-minute drill, which absorbed the kind of inevitability Patrick Mahomes has so often delivered others. But Allen was nails last time the Bills visited Kansas City. The difference this time? Their defense got the stop it could not get here in January.

That was Miller’s doing, and it’s the reason the Bills felt comfortable paying a 33-year-old edge rusher $45 million guaranteed this summer, even if it means he will still be eating up cap space at age 37.

The final impact play reads as a Mahomes interception into the arms of Bills cornerback Taron Johnson, but Miller wrecked the play with pressure inside the edge of right tackle Andrew Wylie, forcing Mahomes into a throwing window he did not plan. One drive earlier, Miller sacked Mahomes to end a drive the Chiefs would also like back.

He is a difference-maker on a team that spent an offseason knowing it was 13 seconds shy of beating the Chiefs in January — heck, knowing it has spent the last two summers with a lot of time to dwell on the Kansas City Chiefs.

That’s the way it works now.

The title of best-team-in-football will change course over the next decade, with the Chiefs glued to that mix, but the Patrick Mahomes Era will always include a general manager out there somewhere, constructing the blueprint of a roster to take him out, even if it means sacrificing part of his future to do it.

The Bills are this year’s version, and maybe next year’s version, and maybe the version over the next few years.

But for the duration of Mahomes’ 10-year contract, there will be others. This is a new norm, a new reality confronting the Chiefs that is more complimentary than it appears on the face of it. The Bills do not care if Miller’s contract puts them in cap hell in two years, when he’s 35 and earns $22 million — he is the over-the-top addition to win games like the one they won Sunday. Or to win the exact game they won Sunday.

And it worked.

But barely.

It’s a weird spin to put a moral victory on a Mahomes loss — the Chiefs are not some sort of lovable underdogs, even if they were underdogs on this field Sunday for the first time in Mahomes’ career. While that’s not the intention, not all losses are created equally. Three weeks ago in Indianapolis, the Chiefs looked capable of losing to just about anybody.

On Sunday, the team that has eyed them for two offseasons with all resources on deck needed a lot of things to go right in the fourth quarter. This felt like a coin-toss game — though not quite as literally as last time. The Chiefs are certainly not miles away, even after implementing an inverse offseason strategy, extending their championship window at the expense of a short-term hit.

The gap between the Bills and Chiefs appears more razor-thin than I anticipated, and if you don’t expect they’ll get another shot, I’d like to see which team you think will get that shot at the Bills in the postseason.

“I think you just want to win, just because you’re a competitor and you know you’re playing the best of the best — and you feel like you’re the best of the best,” Mahomes said. “You wanna win those games.

“At the end of the day, that’s something you gotta reiterate to the guys in the locker room — it’s one game in the regular season that you wanted to win, felt like you could win and you didn’t. So how are you going to respond?”

The broader point is this: If you felt like the Chiefs could win the Super Bowl before Sunday, and count me on that list, why would a late interception do anything to change that?

The reverberation of the outcome is not that the Chiefs can no longer accomplish everything on their preseason goals list — rather, it’s that for the first time since Mahomes became the franchise quarterback, he might need to go on the road to accomplish them. The Bills have a leg up on the race for homefield.

But otherwise, nobody needs a reminder that the Chiefs lost this same game, which arrived in similar timing on the schedule, just a year ago. In a much worse fashion, to boot. And then they won the rematch.

A lot can happen between now and the time the playoffs arrive — three months can resemble a lifetime in football — so a rematch is not guaranteed. But there’s not another team in the AFC that belonged on the field with either of these teams.

There is, however, a key difference if they do meet again — a difference that could become more convention, less abnormal.

They’ll be the underdogs.