Would the Bills have won if they squib kicked?
The Bills’ decision making at the close of their Divisional Playoff game against the Chiefs will be the subject of debate for years to come. This all centers on moment: Kicking off to Kansas City in the final moments of regulation.
With 0:13 left on the clock, Buffalo decided to kick off like normal, leading to a touchback. This gave the Patrick Mahomes every last second available, starting his drive from the 25 yard line and needing to get into field goal range. The alternative, which many are saying should have happened, would have been to use a squib kick. This is a short, line drive kick designed to bounce before forcing a return. This would have ensured Kansas City needed to attempt a return, burning anywhere from four to five seconds left off the clock, leaving Mahomes with far less time.
Bills coach Sean McDermott didn’t want to really discuss the decision in his post-game press conference.
“I don’t really want to get into specifics. Overall, there were things we talked about and we can just execute better. That starts with me and goes all of the way down. I don’t want to get into specifics now. I am really proud of the guys and their effort. Obviously, they made a couple of plays down the stretch, so I will just leave it at that.”
Obviously McDermott isn’t going to throw his people under the bus, but the decision not to squib kick is being heavily scrutinized — but is that really warranted? Let’s break it down.
There’s obviously dozens of factors that go into the squib that we simply can’t predict. Strange bounces, weird mistakes, the possibility of an onside recovery. These are all random elements that we can’t predict. Obviously some would be hugely beneficial, even game-winning for Buffalo, but there are equal scenarios that could have sealed the game for Kansas City. If the squib bounced out of bounds, that would essentially be an automatic field goal. If the coverage team didn’t have time to track the returner, it could have been a big return.
So let’s split the difference of all this and assume a fairly middle of the road result for both teams. A squib kick that traveled 20 yards, and was returned 5, eating four seconds off the clock. This would put the ball at Chiefs’ 35, with nine seconds left.
We know that Harrison Butker’s effective range to be comfortable with a field goal is somewhere around the 53-yard mark, and it’s wholly possible he could drill one up to 60 yards. So let’s split this once again and set him up for a 56-yarder. Big, to be sure, but absolutely not unheard of.
In this scenario the Chiefs needs to gain 22 yards in one play, maaaaybe two — but that would really be pushing the tempo. As the game played out Kansas City took 10 seconds off the clock to gain 44 yards, on a 19-yard pass and then a 25-yard completion. On this we can’t re-write history to benefit the squib. The Bills defense could not stop Mahomes through the air.
So if we assume that same 19-yard completion happened to start the drive (taking five off the clock), then the Chiefs modified their play call into a short pass with four seconds left that gained 5 yards (to preserve time) we have the end result of KC gaining 24 yards, setting Butker up for a 54-yard field goal, which we know is in his effective range.
This is absolutely longer than the 49-yarder which tied the game, but not by much. Furthermore, the Bills eliminated any chance of randomness by kicking off normally — and honestly, that’s probably the smart play. It trusts your defense, which should be trusted.
Without the benefit of hindsight think about this for a second: If you’re Buffalo and you say “the Chiefs have to gain 44 yards on two plays against our defense” how do you feel about that proposition? The answer should be “really good.” Defense is supposed to be a strength of the Bills, they just failed to execute when it mattered most.
As far as I’m concerned, the squib decision is really inconsequential in the scheme of things. It was a tough choice either way, and McDermott and Co. decided to side with predictability and put faith in their defense over the alternative. Had they squibbed and it took a weird bounce with the same game result, all anyone would be talking about this week is how “Buffalo didn’t have faith in their defense.” It’s really a damned if you do, damned if you don’t proposition.
The way that game changed into a shootout in the final two minutes with neither offense being able to stop each other simply played too far into the Chiefs’ hands and their core competencies as a team. It was awesome to see Buffalo stand toe-to-toe with them, but that’s not their game. The prefer a defensive style, it just happened to let them down when it mattered most.
When the dust settles and emotion fades I think we’ll all see there wasn’t really a way to prevent overtime based on how the game was going. Squib or no squib, it just didn’t matter.