KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Bills and Chiefs are accustomed to playing each other with the NFL spotlight shining squarely upon them.
There was that AFC championship game a few of years ago, when Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen and Kansas City counterpart Patrick Mahomes went toe-to-toe for four quarters. And the divisional playoff game the following season, when Mahomes needed a mere 13 seconds to march his team into range for a tying field goal, then led the Chiefs to victory in overtime.
Even their games the past two Octobers have been must-see TV featuring two of the league's best teams.
Yet there is a different feel surrounding the Bills' return to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
Buffalo is muddling along at 6-6 and outside the current playoff picture, the first time since Allen's rookie season in 2018 that the Bills were .500 or worse at this point in the season. And the Chiefs have lost three of their last five games, falling to 8-4 and suddenly looking up at Baltimore and Miami in the AFC standings.
“We understand what’s in front of us and what situation we’re in,” Allen said , “but we've got a lot of guys in this locker room that are very excited to be back, and we have a very good feeling in this locker room right now for what we need to do.”
The Bills are in their current predicament largely because of their inability to win close games. Each of their losses have been by six points or fewer, including four losses in the six games they played before getting last week off.
With Dallas and Miami still on the schedule, their path back to the playoffs won't be an easy one.
“We have to have a somewhat playoff mentality going forward,” Bills center Mitch Morse said, “and that's not going to guarantee us to win all the games. But we can't reach our goal if we don't play, work, practice, come together with a sense of urgency.”
The Chiefs have a similar sense of urgency coming off their loss last Sunday in Green Bay. They squandered control of their own destiny when it came to the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, and the AFC's lone first-round bye, with the lackluster 27-19 defeat.
“I've been on a team that was 6-4 and ended up winning the Super Bowl,” Mahomes said. “We have confidence every week that we’re going to find a way to win. Obviously, these last few weeks we’ve lost a couple, but we still have that mindset.”
Unlike the Bills, though, the Chiefs do not face anyone with a winning record the rest of the regular season.
“We can’t lose three out of four, or three out of five. It’s a critical situation,” Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said, "especially where we’re trying to be in the next few weeks. We have to correct the errors, and we have to correct them fast.”
Miller turned himself in to police in a Dallas suburb after being charged in a warrant with domestic violence against the mother of his children, who is pregnant. He faces a charge of third-degree felony assault of a pregnant woman.
“No one wants their name associated with any accusation like that,” Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane said. “But things happen sometimes, and again, we have to remember people, we have to give them their fair due process.”
The Chiefs are unlikely to have linebacker Drue Tranquill (concussion), left tackle Donovan Smith (neck) and safety Bryan Cook (ankle), while running back Isiah Pacheco is nursing a bruised shoulder. But they are hopeful that linebacker Nick Bolton will be back soon from injured reserve, where he landed after wrist surgery, providing a big boost to a banged-up defense.
INJURY ITEMS, PART 2
The Bills aren't going to give the Chiefs any sympathy when it comes to injuries. Tight end Dalton Knox has missed five games after his own wrist surgery and cornerback Kaiir Elam four to an ankle injury, but both resumed practicing this week, raising hopes they will soon come off IR. Meanwhile, cornerback Dane Jackson cleared the concussion protocol and safety Taylor Rapp was back at practice after missing a game with a neck injury.
Allen and Mahomes have been so good for so long that it becomes a big storyline whenever things go awry. In both of their cases, turnovers have been a problem this season.
Allen has committed at least one in eight straight games — nine interceptions, two lost fumbles — while Mahomes has thrown 10 picks and is on pace to set a career high.
The Bills have scored 66 points in their two games since offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was fired and quarterbacks coach Joe Brady took over; they had scored 123 in Dorsey's final six games total. But that doesn't mean the Chiefs are writing off everything that Buffalo did over its first 10 games this season.
“There's some differences,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, "but there’s also some of the same things. They didn’t completely can the offense there. I think we’ll have a good feel for what they do.”
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Dave Skretta, The Associated Press