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Buffalo Bills view Chiefs playoff rematch as another milepost moment on their journey

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When the Buffalo Bills flew out to Kansas City three months ago, they were a team on a seek and destroy mission.

They did their best to deny that, both before the game and after they had cathartically trounced the Chiefs 38-20 on the grand stage of Sunday Night Football, but everyone saw through the litany of cliches that were spewed.

We knew that plane ride home through the wee hours of the morning was joyous, and how could it not have been? And how could they have possibly thought we were going to believe left tackle Dion Dawkins when he said, “It feels good but it ain’t nothing different, honestly. We still got a whole two and a half months of football left. This win don’t mean nothing.”

Yeah, it meant something. It meant a whole lot because they had been at Arrowhead Stadium nine months earlier, and in that blood red venue the Bills were no match for Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce during a 38-24 beatdown in the AFC Championship Game, bringing Buffalo’s breakthrough 2020 season to a nosedive crash.

Buffalo wide receiver Stefon Diggs stands on the field in Kansas City after the Chiefs beat the Bills 38-24 in the AFC championshp game on Jan. 24, 2021.
Buffalo wide receiver Stefon Diggs stands on the field in Kansas City after the Chiefs beat the Bills 38-24 in the AFC championshp game on Jan. 24, 2021.

It was a defeat that resonated inside the walls at One Bills Drive for months, and it was the driving force behind almost everything general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott did as they reimagined the roster in the offseason.

Never mind that the Chiefs were blown out by Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, Kansas City had still built a fortress around AFC supremacy, and unless the Bills could find a way to scale it, they had no chance of getting back to the Super Bowl for the first time since January 1994.

Credit to star cornerback Tre’Davious White for saying so after the title game. “Plain and simple, to get to where we want to be, that’s going to be the team we’re going to have to go over,” he said. “We’re going to have to find a way to beat them. That’s the standard there.”

That’s why the visit to the heartland was so important for the Bills on that night of Oct. 10. Nothing short of a playoff victory over Kansas City would make amends for last season’s difficult loss, but proving they could beat the Chiefs in this game and at least put a dent in their aura of invincibility was a must for McDermott and his team.

And they did it, overcoming a monsoon that delayed the second half for an hour in what was, to that point, the most impressive and meaningful regular-season victory of McDermott’s tenure in Buffalo, since replaced by the Dec. 26 triumph at New England.

“Obviously last year left a bad taste in my mouth so we wanted to come back and play well,” said safety Jordan Poyer who helped lead a defense that intercepted Mahomes twice including a pick-six by Micah Hyde, while Josh Allen was doing his thing, throwing for 315 yards and three TDs.

Peter King wrote in his widely-acclaimed weekly Football Morning in America tome, “This felt bigger than one game. This looked like a changing of the guard in the AFC more than just a Week 5 game. This could finally be the year western New York forgets all those 90’s Super Bowl disappointments. Josh Allen will have a lot to do with that.”

That potential changing of the guard moment takes place 6:30 Sunday night in the divisional round at Arrowhead after Buffalo embarrassed New England 47-17, and Kansas City embarrassed Pittsburgh 42-21 in wild-card laughers.

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We always knew the road to the Super Bowl was going to pass through Kansas City. Most of us thought it was going to happen a week later in the AFC Championship Game, but because each team lost more than we expected during the regular season, the Tennessee Titans were able to grab the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

But hey, think of it this way. To get to Los Angeles, site of Super Bowl 56, Kansas City is on the way, and if the Bills have to also take a detour through Nashville, so be it.

Even better, imagine this circuitous route: The Bills beat the Chiefs, while the young and exciting Bengals knock off the Titans, meaning the road to Los Angeles really gets winding in this scenario because the AFC title game would be played at Highmark Stadium.

First things first, though, because the way things look right now, the Chiefs who will confront the Bills Sunday look much more like the Chiefs of 2020 than the Chiefs from Week 5 in 2021.

When the Bills blew them out, the Chiefs were in a rare rut. Their defense was playing as bad as any in the league, and not even Mahomes and his arsenal of weapons could overcome it.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) runs to the locker room after Buffalo beat the Kansas City Chiefs 38-20 on Oct. 10.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) runs to the locker room after Buffalo beat the Kansas City Chiefs 38-20 on Oct. 10.

As Buffalo left town that Oct. 10 night, the Chiefs were sitting at 2-3, and two weeks later after getting blown out 27-3 in Tennessee they were 3-4 and in last place in the AFC West, two games behind the Raiders.

Alas, the world got back on its axis and Kansas City won its next eight to secure the division, and the playoff victory over the Steelers made it 10 wins in the last 11 weeks which is why Sunday’s game will not be played in Orchard Park.

McDermott was asked after the Patriots game if he was rooting for the Steelers because then the Bills would be hosting the Bengals this weekend.

“Every team in the playoffs is really good,” he said. “I’ve learned never to wish for this team or that team. However, the good lord lets this play out, that’s the way it’s gonna be. We’re going to play a game next weekend, that’s all we know.”

Now they know. As it played out, it’s against the team the Bills have been pointing at for the last calendar year, and even though it won’t be for the conference title, it’s yet another milepost moment on their journey to glory.

Two straight AFC East division titles and a resounding decimation of their fiercest rival have been nice, but if there’s going to be any chance for a changing of the guard in the AFC, the Bills need to beat the Chiefs.

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

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Bills view Chiefs NFL playoffs rematch as another milepost moment