Buffalo Bills' top-ranked defense to face 'overwhelming amount of weapons' vs Chiefs

Sal Maiorana
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

ORCHARD PARK - Moments after the Buffalo Bills wiped out the New York Jets 27-10 to put a wrap on one of the finest season-long defensive performances in team history, the members of the team’s secondary needed to make a call.

This being 2022, a FaceTime call, of course, to their fallen teammate, star cornerback Tre’Davious White, whose season came to an end Thanksgiving night when he suffered a knee injury.

The Bills were celebrating the clinching of the AFC East title, but also the fact that their defense finished the year ranked No. 1 in several categories including two of the most important - fewest yards and fewest total yards allowed, but also just as gratifying for the DBs, fewest passing yards allowed.

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They needed to share the achievement with White who had obviously played a role in it, and when the call was done, safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde - as they do after every game - entered the post-game interview room, only this time they were joined by cornerbacks Levi Wallace, Dane Jackson and Taron Johnson.

Tre'Davious White, who recovered this fumble when the Bills beat the Chiefs in October, won't be available for Sunday's divisional playoff game.

“It was only right for all us to come out there,” Poyer said, recalling that day a couple weeks ago because having to play without White had truly been a team effort. “We’re a close group of guys, working so hard with each other for such a long time. Micah and I for five years, Levi for four years, Taron in the mix for four years, Dane, two years.”

Oh, and they also brought White’s No. 27 jersey and laid it on the table before them, their way of including the man who, since being the first draft pick Sean McDermott made with the Bills in 2017, has been such a key figure in the altering of a once-flailing franchise’s destiny.

“It was a pretty special moment for all of us to come out there and show our unity and show our love for each other and Tre’Davious,” Poyer said. “He’s just excited for us, and he’s excited to be a part of this journey. We wish he could’ve been there with us to celebrate that moment.”

In Tre'Davious White's absence, Levi Wallace has stepped into a bigger role in the secondary.

Undoubtedly, the Bills wish White could be with them Sunday night, too. Not on a FaceTime call but on the field at Arrowhead Stadium for the AFC divisional round playoff showdown against the explosive Kansas City Chiefs.

When White was felled by his torn anterior cruciate ligament in New Orleans, there was immediate concern about how his absence would impact the defense. He’s an All-Pro, after all, a player who generally takes a single receiver or a side of the field out of the equation for opposing quarterbacks.

Now, Wallace would have to assume the No. 1 cornerback role and Jackson, an unproven and inexperienced 2020 seventh-round pick, would have to step in as a starter, so naturally, the drop-off was going to be obvious, right? 

There was no sign of it when the Bills lost to New England Dec. 6 in the first game after White’s injury because the Patriots threw only three passes. But the following week in Tampa was a different story. Tom Brady threw for 363 yards and two TDs in a 33-27 overtime victory, and the worrying began.

Turns out it was misplaced. In the five games since, all Buffalo victories, the pass defense was outstanding in allowing an average of just 130.8 net yards per game. Those are defensive numbers you would have seen in the 1960s, not the 2020s.

“I can tell you we miss Tre out there,” said McDermott. “But Dane and Levi have done a tremendous job, and I think just overall the guys have come together as a team and played good team defense in Tre’s absence. The entire secondary has taken that as a challenge and embraced that challenge. It’s never about one guy … I just think about the overall team, the overall unit, in this case, the defense. So we’ve got to continue to play like that in Tre’s absence and take our game to another level.”

Kansas City Chiefs have 'weapons galore'

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce runs against Buffalo Bills  Jordan Poyer.

And that starts Sunday night because for the first time since Brady had his way, the competition takes a sharp turn upwards for Buffalo with Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle and, based on last week’s win over the Steelers, Jerick McKinnon.

The one caveat to the Bills’ play since losing White is this: In the last five games they faced the awful Cam Newton, an aging Matt Ryan, and rookies Mac Jones (twice) and Zach Wilson, the latter of whom totaled a laughable five net yards passing in the regular season finale.

“I would think so, just trying to reflect back on some of the teams we’ve played,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said when asked if this was the biggest test in the post-White period of the season. “This is a high-powered offense, a top-five offense in our league. They definitely present challenges for any defense with a quarterback of the caliber of Patrick and the weapons that he has. Not just Travis and Tyreek, there are weapons galore.”

Last week against a stout Pittsburgh defense, Mahomes completed 30 of 39 passes for 404 yards and five TDs with six different Chiefs catching at least four passes.

“Just an overwhelming amount of weapons on that side of the ball, just to name that side of the ball,” McDermott said. 

When the Bills beat the Chiefs 38-20 in Week 5 with White in the lineup, they never blitzed Mahomes. Not once. They rushed with four and were still able to get two sacks and 25 total pressures (eight from Jerry Hughes alone) per Pro Football Focus. 

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes scrambles from Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Addison.

And with the heat they generated, they also got a pick-six from Hyde and another interception from rookie edge rusher Greg Rousseau. It was a defensive masterpiece as Mahomes averaged just 5.04 yards per attempt, the second-lowest figure of his 72-game NFL career counting playoffs.

During much of the first half of the season Mahomes and the KC offense was a bit off, and the Bills caught them at that time. But the Chiefs have now won 10 of their last 11 games and Mahomes has thrown 24 TDs to just five picks and has three 400-yard games. 

In other words, he’s back to being Mahomes.

He won’t have to worry about White as he did in the first meeting, but that doesn’t mean White isn’t lending a hand in the preparation and film study, and pumping his teammates up. 

“He sent me a text last night,” Poyer said. “He said, ‘hey, you’ve gotta go crazy; best in the world.’”

Sal Maiorana can be reached at maiorana@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.