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Carucci Take2: Bills make it clear they’re now the top dog of the AFC

This was the Bills’ chance to demonstrate they had closed the gap with the team that beat them in the January's AFC Championship Game. They passed the test.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Here are my five takeaways from the Buffalo Bills’ 38-20 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium:

1. Statement made!

The notion that this was “only” a Week 5 game never could be taken seriously. This was the Bills’ chance to demonstrate, at the very least, they had closed the gap with the team that beat them in January's AFC Championship Game and, at the very most, they’re the new kingpin of the conference – if not the league.

They succeeded on both counts.

“We believe in ourselves,” Jordan Poyer told reporters after the game. “Last year left a bad taste in our mouths.”

Not only are the Bills 4-1, but they also have the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker for home-field advantage should it come down to that with the 2-3 Chiefs. At the moment, it is the Bills on the right side of the gap.

The Bills clearly were the better team in every respect Sunday night. Their smothering defense made the NFL’s best offense look ordinary. Their offense found big play after big play against the Chiefs’ porous defense.

2. You can’t say enough about that incredible defense.

What that unit did in winning three in a row after that inexplicable season-opening loss against Pittsburgh was impressive, especially with two shutouts. But it’s equally fair to say the Bills beat up on three sub-standard opponents in Miami, Washington and Houston.

On Sunday night, they used that dominant form to frustrate Patrick Mahomes and his array of dynamic playmakers. They forced four turnovers and pretty much did what they pleased, something that rarely happens against the Chiefs.

They mainly played two-deep coverage, while keeping five defenders underneath and relying on their base four-man front to apply pressure while flooding the secondary with defenders. And that often had Mahomes finding nowhere to go with the ball … or throwing a pick-six to Micah Hyde, whose 26-yard return gave the Bills a 31-13 lead in the third quarter and marked the team’s first defensive touchdown of the season. Or being intercepted by rookie defensive end Greg Rousseau.

After leading a 17-play, 6:29 drive that ended with a field goal and a 12-play, 7:55 march that led to a touchdown, Mahomes repeatedly struggled to find open receivers, who were generally well covered. It was the same basic scheme Tampa Bay used to beat Kansas City in the Super Bowl last February.

The Bills were particularly effective in taking away Travis Kelce, who shredded them in the conference title game. Defenders took turns pounding on him to limit his production. He was mostly invisible in the first half before finishing with six catches for 57 yards and a late TD.

3. The Bills’ offense took advantage of a defense that has been having problems all season.

Josh Allen had little problem making big plays with his passing arm and his feet. He threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns, including strikes of 35 and 9 yards to Emmanuel Sanders and 53 yards to Dawson Knox, who extended his team lead of scoring catches to five. Knox finished with three receptions for 117 yards.

Allen, who had a passer rating of 139.1, also had a 61-yard completion to Stefon Diggs. In averaging 31.3 yards per completion through the first half, he became the 12th player since 1991 with an average above 31 yards per completion in a first half and the first since Baker Mayfield in 2019 (32.2 at Cincinnati in 2019).

Additionally, Allen ran 11 times for 59 yards and a touchdown as the Chiefs frequently left large chunks of green for him to exploit. When they didn’t, he just hurdled a defender, as he did as a rookie against Minnesota in 2018. Mahomes also found those big open spaces, running eight times for 61 yards, but the difference was his feet were the most impactful part of Kansas City’s offense.

4. When you look at the Bills’ schedule, it’s hard not to feel as if they’re entering a stretch that could allow them to establish as firm a hold as any team on the top spot in the AFC.

Yes, the Los Angeles Chargers are also 4-1 and coming off a statement-making win of their own against Cleveland.

After next Monday night’s game at Tennessee, which is followed by a bye, they face Miami, Jacksonville, the New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts. Except for a December 12 game at Tampa Bay, no game looks all that daunting the rest of the way.

5. How can Sean McDermott keep his team grounded?

Simple. Just remined his players of the five accepted penalties for minus-42 yards in the first half. The Chiefs had six for minus-40.

There was a fair amount of sloppiness on the part of both teams, especially through the first two quarters. But give McDermott and the rest of the coaching staff credit for pulling things together well enough for the Bills to build an 11-point halftime lead.