(WGR 550) -- Coming into their contest with the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, the deck appeared to be stacked against the Buffalo Bills. Their top two quarterbacks were injured, leaving them to start an undrafted rookie against one of the National Football League's top defenses.
The Bills very nearly came away with a win, but glaring plays helped snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Before Buffalo travels to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, first is a final look back at their game against the Chiefs with how each offensive and defensive player that took a snap performed.
Every week, with the help of the All-22 film available through NFL.com's Game Rewind package, WGR will provide the standouts, the duds and everything in between from the game that was.
For each player that appeared in the game on offense or defense, you'll see their name in bold, with a set of numbers after it. Example: Saul Goodman (54, -2, 2.7). The first number (54) represents the snap count of that game, the second (-2) represents the individual players plus-minus of positive plays to negative plays in that game. The third number (2.7) represents the weighted Grade Point Average assigned to that player by the author.
OFFENSE (80 total plays)
For his first start in the NFL, undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel (80, -6, 2.0) and his coaches devised the appropriate game plan for their opponents. They were effective in the run game, which allowed for some opportunities to throw high-percentage passes, and even give themselves looks for shots down the field in one-on-one matchups.
It actually started off really well for Tuel and the Bills. Although the first drive stalled, it was not due to Tuel's inefficiencies. When they came back out for their second drive, a much more confident offense pushed the envelope against the Kansas City defense. Twice within three plays, Tuel saw a one-on-one matchup for an outside receiver and chucked it deep.
The first time was vastly underthrown, but T.J. Graham still had a chance to make the play and couldn't come down with the catch. The second time, Tuel didn't miss and his receiver didn't spoil the opportunity. Marquise Goodwin flew down the field and corralled the catch without breaking stride for Tuel's highlight throw of the game and a 59-yard touchdown.
After that moment though, it was mostly downhill for Tuel. While he mixed in some solid intermediate throws that showed some nice timing, he sailed passes when he had to climb the pocket and also underthrew the rest of his deep targets.
The first of the inaccuracies came in the second quarter in an attempt over the middle of the field. A wide rush made him climb up in the pocket and he sailed his pass way over his target's head and into the arms of a Kansas City defender.
He also missed on a couple of surefire touchdowns in the second quarter as well. He put too much air on a throw to Robert Woods in the end zone and the receiver didn't have a chance for the points. After that, Tuel didn't go through his progressions and tried to force a throw into Woods in tight coverage, while Graham was running along the goal line with space over the middle of the field.
Once the Bills got to the second half, they elected to take the ball out of Tuel's hands for the most part. On 13 of their first 16 plays in the second half, they elected to run the ball and were doing it quite effectively. That's especially the case on their initial drive in the second half, when C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson could not be stopped leading up to the goal line.
Then, the play that defined the game happened and Tuel was partially to blame. Ahead of the play, he had it in his mind that he was going to Graham on a slant for the touchdown on the third down play. Had he looked before he threw, he would have seen an additional defender in that vicinity and then a wide open Stevie Johnson in the middle of the end zone. Instead, he threw at Graham and Sean Smith returned an interception 100 yards for a Chiefs touchdown and a tie game. That play was a 14-point swing.
After that was a combination of poor passing as the Bills attempted to get back into the game through the air, which is exactly what they wanted to stay away from when entering this game against that defense. After the interception, Tuel had eight more throws that didn't even give his receivers a chance to make a play.
Perhaps his decision making could have prevented Graham from being the heel of the game afterwards, too. On the 3rd-and-10 play with the Bills deep in their own zone, Tuel settled for a three-yard crossing pattern to Graham with his defender close behind him.
Had he read the whole play, he would have seen Marquise Goodwin in a one-on-one matchup with a safety slow to react, and the wideout beat his man cleanly. At the worst, that's an interception and likely not returned for a touchdown. At best, it's a huge play that would have put the Bills back in charge. Instead, he threw to Graham on a play destined to fail even with the best throw, and didn't even get a chance to punt the ball away.
All in all, Tuel didn't cost his team in the early going and that's just what Buffalo had in mind. But as the game got away from them, he didn't have the skill-set necessary to help them get back in the game. If Thad Lewis is available for the Pittsburgh game and EJ Manuel is not, the Bills shouldn't hesitate to re-insert Lewis despite his deficiencies.
For the entirety of the game, the running game was the star of the show for Buffalo's offense. Starting an undrafted rookie at quarterback, the Chiefs had to know they'd be seeing a lot of rushing attempts. While they made some solid stops, mostly keyed by nose tackle Dontari Poe, C.J. Spiller (23, 4, 3.3) and Fred Jackson (41, 4, 3.0) were electric all game long. Spiller seemed to regain his explosion, setting the pace with a 61-yard run on a cutback. He chipped in an additional 29-yard and a 27-yard reception in the flat to be one of the best players on the field for Buffalo. Jackson didn't do it all by himself, but it certainly looked like he did most of it. On a few separate occasions, Jackson performed a cutback from the way the entire offensive line was blocking, made some Chiefs defenders miss and rushed for large gains. Outside of the goal line opportunities, the Chiefs could not bring down Jackson upon first contact. Tashard Choice (16, 0, 2.3) chipped in an 8-yard run on a 3rd-and-10 situation, while Frank Summers (9, 0, 2.3) didn't get much work outside of short-yardage situations.
With a young quarterback making his first start, it could have turned into a frustrating day for the passing offense. After Sunday, the word 'frustration' doesn't even explain the half of it with Stevie Johnson (77, 2, 2.7). He was only able to make a handful of plays on the field while dealing with misreads and misfires for the majority of the game. On the 100-yard interception returned for a touchdown, Johnson was wide open in the end zone after viciously shaking his man at the line of scrimmage. As soon as he saw the turnover, he turned his back to the play and shook his head. While Johnson was shaking his head at the play, Bills fans were collectively shaking their heads at the performance of T.J. Graham (46, -1, 1.3). Graham let a first quarter opportunity deep down the sideline bounce off his chest, and then was responsible for the play that gave the game away. He caught a three-yard pass from Tuel and didn't secure the ball, allowing Marcus Cooper to strip the ball cleanly. The rest, of course, is history. Robert Woods (49, 5, 3.0) had a solid day before his injury, supplying solid route running and a consistent target for Tuel throughout the afternoon. Marquise Goodwin (29, 4, 3.3) was the star of the show for receivers. He's most noted for the 59-yard touchdown, but he also burned down the field and had his man beat on three different plays along the sideline. On the incompletion that should have been a catch, Goodwin concentrated on catching the ball even after the ball had deflected off the hands of his defender. He's been better than Graham by miles even in the short amount of time he's been healthy. Marcus Easley (8, -1, 1.7) defenders didn't have a leg to stand on after the game. On his lone pass catching opportunity, he dropped a fourth quarter pass as the Bills were trying to get back into the game. Chris Hogan (1, 0, 2.3) had a back issue leading up to the game, which likely led to Easley getting more snaps.
Most of the time Scott Chandler (74, -4, 1.7) is a bit of a calming presence for the Bills offense. He'll never set any NFL records as a receiving tight end, but he can lull teams into a false sense of security and burn them repeatedly throughout the game. That being written, Sunday was not his finest performance. He had two drops, three separate missed blocks that led to negative plays and a false start penalty. He added a few catches to try and salvage the day, but it wasn't his best effort. Lee Smith (25, 1, 2.7) was mostly in the game for blocking purposes like usual, but really stood out during Spiller's 61-yard run to start the third quarter. Smith made an initial block to help spring the long run, and then got down the field and pushed another defender along which helped Spiller to an additional 10-plus yards. Chris Gragg (2, 0, 2.3) was only in the game on offense on the two plays at the goal line that were stuffed ahead of the 100-yard interception return for a touchdown.
As a unit, the Buffalo Bills offensive line didn't allow a sack of Jeff Tuel throughout the contest. That was mostly due to a quick-fire passing attack approach to get the ball out under three seconds, but there were instances that left tackle Cordy Glenn (80, 2, 3.0) and right tackle Erik Pears (80, 0, 2.7) shined in that respect. Given the task of trying to shut down Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, the pair of tackles won their fair share of battles but were also taken advantage of at other times. On the lapses in pass protection, the ball was already out of Tuel's hands. Glenn did especially well in run blocking throughout the first half. It wasn't as nice of a game for the interior line. The trio along Kansas City's defensive line gave left guard Doug Legursky (80, -4, 2.0), center Eric Wood (80, -2, 2.3) and right guard Kraig Urbik (80, -1, 2.3) fits throughout the game. Nose tackle Dontari Poe was an especially tough matchup for whichever lineman he lined up against. Poe got the better of Wood quite a few times. Legursky lost five separate one-on-one matchups in the second half which led to the decline in offensive production down the stretch. Urbik's glaring play came on the Bills' second attempt at the goal line. He completely missed Poe on second down, and the nose tackle got to Fred Jackson and brought him down for no gain.
DEFENSE (58 total plays)
If you're looking for the reason that limited Kansas City on offense as much as the Bills defense did, it was mostly due to the strong play by the defensive line. While not as dominating a performance as they had in New Orleans last week, Kyle Williams (51, 3, 3.0) and Marcell Dareus (54, 2, 2.7) helped set the tone up the middle. Both players have gotten very good at extending their arms against their blockers and whipping them aside once they diagnose the run play. Both players caused holding penalties that put Kansas City in poor situations on offense. Despite starting, Alan Branch (29, -1, 2.3) only took half of the defensive snaps in the game. He's a bigger player and can look dominant at times, especially when he helped read the Dexter McCluster reverse and stopped it for a loss in the backfield. He'll also get cleared out by offensive linemen at times though too, which leads to some solid gains for the opponent. Corbin Bryant (10, 0, 2.3) was essentially non-existent in his short time on the field, but the same cannot be said for newcomer Stefan Charles (5, 3, 3.3). On three straight plays in the first quarter, Charles directly impacted the play. He showed a very good ability to extend his arms and then use his strength to get by the blockers and did so twice on run plays to stop them for minimal gains. He also used a bull rush, got near the quarterback in two seconds and hurried an Alex Smith throw. Charles has an extremely thick lower half and is quite strong. With how he played in a very short time, he deserves additional defensive snaps to see how he does with a bigger responsibility. He's a very talented player from the first look.
It was to be expected that both Mario Williams (53, 4, 3.0) and Jerry Hughes (28, 0, 2.7) wouldn't have an extreme impact on the game in the pass-rushing department. Since he's revived his career, Alex Smith usually gets the ball out quickly enough to limit other teams in that area. Hughes made the biggest play in that respect, forcing a fumble on a sack in the second quarter. Williams helped force the issue a couple of times in the first quarter to force negative Kansas City plays. Jamaal Westerman (4, 1, 3.0) got some heat on Smith on a delayed rush after the quarterback rolled out on third down. Westerman attacked and forced an incompletion to make the Chiefs punt in the fourth quarter.
It seems like rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso (58, 4, 3.3) is playing games with the running backs and blockers when he's out on the field. It's certainly fun to watch him operate in run support. While he's not always successful, Alonso sometimes baits the running back to take a certain cutback lane by hiding himself behind blockers. He did it on three separate occasions throughout the game, with the most glaring happening on a first quarter Jamaal Charles run. He hid behind an engaged blocker and Charles saw nothing but green grass. The runner took the cutback lane and was brought down for just a four-yard gain because of Alonso's con. Arthur Moats (22, -3, 1.7) struggled throughout the game in both run support and coverage. He couldn't get sideline-to-sideline quickly enough on a toss to Charles that went for 10 yards and also allowed a 20-yard Anthony Fasano reception.
While Nigel Bradham (15, -1, 2.3) flashes with some solid run support at times, he can also position his body incorrectly and get taken out of the play to lead to a big gain. Twice in the game a Chiefs blocker covered up Bradham in the running lane and the Chiefs were able to get 16 yards collectively on those two plays. Bradham did a nice job on a first quarter screen, fighting through a block and slowing up Charles on a play that could have been enormous.
In his first game back from a hamstring injury, Manny Lawson (41, 2, 2.7) basically provided a calming influence in the edge contain game. He also was even responsible for keeping Jamaal Charles covered when the running back would go out for a pass on certain plays. On a third quarter try, Alex Smith forced a ball over to Charles and Lawson made sure it went for a two-yard loss.
It was quite the battle between Stephon Gilmore (54, -1, 2.7) and Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe throughout the day. In the first half, Bowe was picking on Gilmore a bit, beating him for four receptions. That turned in the second half for the most part, with Gilmore providing solid coverage and staying step-for-step with the savvy route runner. Both players certainly had their moments in an entertaining battle. Leodis McKelvin (54, -1, 2.7) wasn't picked on all that much by the Chiefs. He was given the task of trying to stop Donnie Avery. McKelvin had a pair of pass breakups on the day. Nickell Robey (17, 2, 3.0) really didn't get much time on the field, but made a fantastic play on third down with the Chiefs driving the ball down the field. Dexter McCluster caught a pass out of the backfield, Robey spotted it and stopped him short of the first down marker with a big collision.
Now with some time in the defense, Jairus Byrd (54, -1, 2.3) didn't show as many flashes as he had in past weeks. That could be partially due to the Chiefs never really taking many shots down the field, but Byrd didn't do much to stand out. He put himself in a bad position by taking an unnecessary roughness penalty in the second quarter, but almost made up for it with a third-down pass breakup on a third quarter play intended for Dwayne Bowe. Aaron Williams (58, 0, 2.7) was flying all over the field. Even though he was beaten in coverage a couple of times, Williams was quite solid in run support and even stayed step-for-step with Jamaal Charles in coverage in the third quarter with the Chiefs driving. Da'Norris Searcy (23, 0, 2.3) got some time on the field as the third safety and faked a blitz that opened a rush lane for a teammate, meanwhile Jim Leonhard (8, 0, 2.3) only played sparingly.
Year to date grades, ranked by aggregate GPA (Last week's overall rank)
1) DL Kyle Williams - 3.17 (1)
2) ILB Kiko Alonso - 3.17 (2)
3) DL Marcell Dareus - 3.06 (3)
4) SLB Manny Lawson - 3.00 (4)
5) WR Marquise Goodwin - 2.95 (NR)
6) DE Mario Williams - 2.94 (5)
7) HB Fred Jackson - 2.94 (6)
8) RLB Jerry Hughes - 2.92 (7)
9) CB Nickell Robey - 2.87 (9)
10) WR Stevie Johnson - 2.84 (8)
11) LT Cordy Glenn - 2.77 (10)
12) HB C.J. Spiller - 2.76 (12)
13) WR Robert Woods - 2.70 (14)
14) C Eric Wood - 2.68 (11)
15) DL Alan Branch - 2.64 (15)
16) CB Leodis McKelvin - 2.62 (17)
17) S Jairus Byrd - 2.59 (13)
18) DL Alex Carrington - 2.56 (19)
19) RG Kraig Urbik - 2.54 (18)
20) TE Scott Chandler - 2.54 (16)
21) RT Erik Pears - 2.54 (21)
22) TE Lee Smith - 2.52 (22)
23) CB Stephon Gilmore - 2.50 (27)
24) WLB Nigel Bradham - 2.50 (20)
25) QB EJ Manuel - 2.48 (23)
26) S Aaron Williams - 2.45 (25)
27) S Da'Norris Searcy - 2.39 (28)
28) ILB Arthur Moats - 2.36 (24)
29) S Jim Leonhard - 2.33 (29)
30) WR T.J. Graham - 2.30 (26)
31) DL Corbin Bryant - 2.24 (30)
32) FB Frank Summers - 2.19 (31)
33) LG Doug Legursky - 2.07 (32)
34) QB Thad Lewis - 1.90 (33)
35) CB Justin Rogers - 1.74 (34)
36) QB Jeff Tuel - 1.64 (NR)
37) LG Colin Brown - 1.30 (35)
*Minimum 100 plays
**Those with (NR) beside their names just eclipsed the minimum plays on the season