ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — For an outcome which ranks among the most frustrating in his 24 NFL seasons, Bills coach Sean McDermott appeared at ease on Wednesday when asked to relive the nightmare of Buffalo’s most recent trip to Kansas City.
McDermott managed to even crack a few smiles as if to welcome questions of Buffalo squandering a three-point lead in the final 13 seconds of regulation of a 42-36 overtime loss to the Chiefs in an AFC divisional playoff game in January.
“Well, I mean that did happen. That’s part of our past,” he said.
“You learn from things like that and you move forward and you’re not afraid to learn from things and correct things and adjust and evolve,” McDermott added. “I’m just comfortable with this football team, comfortable going out there today and practicing and trying to get us better.”
As much as McDermott was open to addressing the topic with reporters, the game dubbed “13 Seconds” is something he didn’t broach with his team as Buffalo prepares to play at Kansas City on Sunday.
“No. I don’t think there’s a need to,” he said. “They’re aware. And this is a new team in a lot of ways. And we’ve already shown that this year in a lot of ways. And this team will take on its own identity.”
At 4-1, the Bills are in the familiar position of having won four or more of their first five games of a season for a fourth straight year.
And the Chiefs (4-1) represent a familiar opponent with the non-division rivals meeting for the fifth time in three years, with Kansas City having won three of four, including both playoff meetings.
What encourages McDermott is the Bills showing glimpses of an identity of overcoming adversity. Though they’ve enjoyed three blowout victories, including a 38-3 rout of the Steelers last weekend, the Bills have also persevered.
In rebounding from a 21-19 loss at Miami, in which Buffalo was thinned by injuries and exhausted by the South Florida humidity, the Bills rallied from a 17-point deficit in a 23-20 win over Baltimore the following week.
It was an outing in which Buffalo finally won a one-score game, after being on the losing end of its past seven decided by seven points or fewer. And it marked the largest deficit Buffalo had overcome in 11 years.
For McDermott, beating the Ravens was a tangible sign of progress.
“When you go through things like that, it doesn’t define you, but it refines you if you handle it the right way,” he said in comparing the loss to the Chiefs to beating Baltimore. “It makes things that we do better, because you do a lot of research, you do a lot of soul-searching.”
An offseason of soul-searching led to McDermott introducing the phrase “Find A Way,” in reference to his team overcoming obstacles. The Bills also went beyond messaging in muscling up an inconsistent pass rush, highlighted by the addition of Von Miller, the NFL’s active leader in sacks.
In an electrifying playoff shootout in which the Chiefs and Bills traded leads four times in the final two minutes, the eventual outcome hinged on Buffalo’s inability to sack Patrick Mahomes.
The final drive of regulation featured Mahomes completing two passes for 44 yards to set up Harrison Butker’s 49-yard field goal as time expired. The outcome could well have been different if not for Buffalo’s Jerry Hughes being a half-second late in getting to Mahomes before he completed his pass to Travis Kelce.
Miller is more than familiar with facing the Chiefs, after spending his first nine-plus seasons with AFC West rival Denver. And yet, he doesn’t have to carry the baggage of the Bills loss.
“I think the good part for me is I don’t know what happened. You know, ignorance is bliss,” Miller said.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of it on the Bills side this time, and I’m going to put my best foot forward,” he added. “They’re going to make plays, we’re going to make plays. And we just got to figure a way to make one more play.”
In putting the loss to the Chiefs behind him, center Mitch Morse said there’s only one lesson to learn from having Buffalo’s season end the way it did.
“It stings until the season’s over. But time marches on,” Morse said. “You learn from those experiences. You understand that games are truly never over until the clock his zero no matter where you are, especially there.”