ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Sorry, Josh Allen.
You had it wrong when, in reference to Sunday night’s game at Arrowhead Stadium, you said, “That’s all it is … it’s Week 5.”
It’s so much more for you and the rest of the Buffalo Bills.
Not only because those of us in the media or any number of fans supporting the Bills and Kansas City Chiefs are hyping the daylights out of the matchup. Not only because it’s a chance to extend your winning streak to four, get a third victory in the AFC, and gain a crucial head-to-head advantage for a potential tiebreaker for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Brandon Beane said it himself last January. The Chiefs are the “gold standard” for the Bills. They’re the measuring stick against which Beane, Sean McDermott, Allen, and his teammates will determine just how far they’ve come since losing at Arrowhead in January's AFC Championship Game.
There’s a lot to like about the Bills’ 3-1 start. The defense is playing with dominance reminiscent of some of the NFL’s historically great units such as those of the ’85 Chicago Bears and 2000 Baltimore Ravens. The offense isn’t drawing quite the same amount of love, yet it has scored 118 points in the last three weeks, an average of nearly 40 per game.
Still, those impressive performances have come against the Miami Dolphins, Washington Football Team, and the Houston Texans. The collective struggles of those teams don’t minimize what the Bills have accomplished. Quite the opposite. The Bills did exactly what an elite-level club should do against bottom-dwellers.
They embarrassed them.
The Chiefs are in a separate category from every other team on the Bills’ schedule. Their Super Bowl appearances the past two seasons make that so. Their regular-season and playoff wins against the Bills last year and in January make that so.
And perhaps most important of all, Beane’s comments fresh off of that AFC title game loss make that so.
“This is three straight AFC Championships they’ve been in ... and now back-to-back Super Bowls,” the GM said of the Chiefs. “They’re the gold standard of the AFC, and maybe the league.”
Though the Chiefs would go on to lose to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, they still more than qualify as a perennial championship contender. Their 2-2 record doesn’t change that.
“Everybody wants to make this big deal about the AFC Championship rematch, and I get that’s what it is,” Allen said. “But it’s a new year and this team’s different than last year and their team’s different than last year.”
Sorry. Wrong, again, Josh.
The Chiefs still have Patrick Mahomes. They still have Travis Kelce. They still have Tyreek Hill. They still have the ability to make electrifying and back-breaking plays in a blink, as the Bills know painfully well.
The Bills? They still line up with Allen, the runner-up for last season’s NFL MVP. They still have Stefon Diggs. And the rest of their receiving corps looks to be even more dangerous with the addition of Emmanuel Sanders and a much-improved Dawson Knox, who leads the team with four touchdown catches.
The only thing that would make this rematch different is the Bills being the team that looks like it belongs at the top of the heap. The past three weeks have strongly suggested as much. But the only way to get there is to knock the Chiefs off their perch and redefine what “gold standard” means.
To do so, the Bills will, first, likely need their offense to stay very much in the 30-plus-point territory. The 75-0 combined score of those wins against Miami and Houston notwithstanding, Allen has to look more like he did in throwing four TD passes and running for one in the 43-21 triumph against Washington.
Of course, the defense must remain the driving force it has been behind the Bills’ strong start. As well as it has played, it’s hard to imagine it will do to Mahomes and the rest of the Chiefs’ offense what it did to the forgettable quarterbacks who had the misfortune of facing Buffalo the past few weeks.
That’s a dose of reality the Bills are allowing themselves to digest.
“Our goal is to slow them down,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “I don’t know if anybody really stops them. … It’s going to be a challenge.”
That goes for the entire team, which is fine. When you’re trying to fundamentally change the pecking order of the AFC, it should be a challenge.
Is Week 5 too soon for that to happen? Allen wants you to believe that.
“Whether we win or lose, we’re not going to let this game define who we are,” he said. “We’re going to have to keep learning and keep growing as the season goes on. But it is the biggest game because it’s the next one. All of our attention is focused on this one.”
Like it or not, the outcome and the way the Bills play will prompt a lot of us to provide a definition of what they’re all about. Win and expectations of Super Bowl glory receive their strongest validation to date.
Lose and, well, it’s hard to believe there won’t be at least a shred of doubt floating in the air for the remaining 12 games on the schedule.