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Chiefs' Reid, Bills' McDermott to match wits for AFC title

By Dave Skretta
Associated Press
Chiefs coach Andy Reid, right, speaks with Bills head coach Sean McDermott before a game. McDermott, who was fired by Reid as defensive coordinator for the Eagles in 2011, will bring his team to Arrowhead Stadium Sunday for the AFC Championship.

Ten years after firing Sean McDermott as his defensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid will stare across the field inside Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday and see his protégé trying to spoil his hopes of a Super Bowl repeat.

Funny thing: Even after firing him, Reid suspected deep down that McDermott was destined for big things.

"Very organized, very smart and very tough," he explained this week. "He came from a coaching family – his dad was a heck of a coach. Sean just kind of picked up right from there. Very solid, very good."

In fact, downright exceptional.

McDermott has the long-suffering Buffalo Bills playing in their first AFC championship game since beating Kansas City on Jan. 23, 1994, when they advanced to their fourth straight Super Bowl. They have won 11 of their past 12 games since losing to the Chiefs in Week 6, beating the Colts in the wild-card round and the Ravens in last week's divisional round.

"He deserves coach of the year, man. He's taken a franchise there, both he and his general manager, have put this thing together with some bold moves and production now," Reid said.

"I think he's done a tremendous job. What a great thing for the NFL and for Buffalo. They love football in Buffalo and he's really done a nice job with that whole program."

Not surprisingly, the job McDermott has done with the Bills neatly parallels the job Reid has done in Kansas City.

Both took over downtrodden organizations and quickly built them into juggernauts. Both have bright young quarterbacks in the Bills' Josh Allen and the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes. Both have surrounded them with playmakers, such as the Bills' Stefon Diggs and the Chiefs' Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. And both have built defenses to not only complement two of the best offenses in the NFL, but capable of clinching wins under pressure, as each did last weekend.

Mahomes, who sustained a concussion last week against Cleveland, is poised to play after practicing all week. 

Chief's quarterback Patrick Mahomes is pressured but still makes an off-balance throw in a 26-17 win over the Bills.  Mahomes threw for 225 yards and two touchdowns.

McDermott never harbored any animosity toward Reid when he was fired from the Eagles on Jan. 15, 2011. Instead, he went to Carolina and over the next five years honed his craft and built his reputation to the point the Bills – who at the time had not made the postseason since 1999 – were willing to give him a shot in charge.

Buffalo reached the wild-card round in 2017 and again last year before reaching the brink of a Super Bowl this season.

"It's always an honor to go up against great coaches, and Andy will be a Hall of Fame coach here in the future sometime down the road," McDermott said. "I've learned a lot from Andy in my time with him in Philadelphia, so I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and his family, the way they helped guide me then and still do today."

MOMENT ON MAHOMES

The Chiefs' quarterback, who was knocked out of last week's game against Cleveland with a concussion, was cleared to practice on Wednesday and took the majority of first-team reps Thursday. Mahomes still needed clearance from team doctors and an independent neurologist, but all signs pointed to him being under center on Sunday.

"The goal is to have Patrick," Hill said, "but I really don't know. I feel like it doesn't matter who is out there. Whoever steps in at quarterback, we're going to put our confidence behind them in the same way."

OTHER CHIEF CONCERNS

Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who also sustained a concussion last Sunday, practiced this week while awaiting clearance from doctors and neurologists. Running back Le'Veon Bell was held out Thursday because of a swollen knee.

On the flip side, Clyde Edwards-Helaire could return for the first time since a high-ankle sprain in Week 15 and Sammy Watkins could be back from a calf injury that he sustained the following week. The rookie running back and the veteran wide receiver both practiced this week and moved around well in the portion of practice open to reporters.

GROUNDED GAME

The Bills don't run often – in fact, they called just one running play in the first half against the Ravens last week. They finished with 16 carries, including four kneel-downs by Allen, for 32 yards in their lowest rushing output since a game in Minnesota in 2002. The Bills' total of 1,482 yards this season was their fewest since 2014, which they balanced out by setting a franchise record with 4,786 yards through the air.

"We're not going to change who we are," Allen said. "It's the biggest game because it's the next one, but we understand that we don't have to be anyone different than who we are."

STAR STRUCK

Though the Bills would love to have Star Lotulelei enjoy this playoff run with them, cornerback Tre'Davious White and several teammates continued backing the starting defensive tackle's decision to opt out because of COVID-19 concerns. Fellow Bills cornerback E.J. Gaines, a Fort Osage High School graduate and former Mizzou star, also opted out in August because of concerns over the virus.

"You can't make a wrong decision in this thing," said White, who also contemplated opting out before signing a $70 million, four-year extension in September and earning second-team All-Pro honors. "Obviously he chose his family over a game and the things that he had going on. I don't think that he's necessarily missing out on anything."

SLEEPING ON BIENIEMY

One of the hottest names on the coaching carousel was Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who interviewed with just about every team with an opening. But the only job left after the Eagles hired Nick Sirianni on Thursday was with the Houston Texans, where the Bills' Leslie Frazier is also among the front-runners for the job.

"It's always good to be mentioned and have an opportunity to pursue your dreams," Bieniemy said. "I want to be a head coach, but when it's said and done, I have to make sure I'm not taking away from the goals we’re trying to accomplish."

AP Sports Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.

AFC title shot

WHAT — Buffalo Bills (15-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (15-2) in AFC Championship

WHEN/WHERE — Sunday, 5:40 p.m., Arrowhead Stadium

TV/RADIO — CBS (KCTV 5, Comcast Cable channel 3, HD 803)/Chiefs broadcast: WDAF-FM (The Wolf) (106.5 FM); national broadcast: WHB (810 AM)

OPENING LINE — Chiefs by 3

RECORD VS. SPREAD — Bills 12-6; Chiefs 7-10

SERIES RECORD — Bills lead 26-22-1

LAST MEETING — Chiefs beat Bills 26-17 on Oct. 19, 2020 in Buffalo

LAST WEEK — Bills beat Ravens 17-3; Chiefs beat Browns 22-17

AP PRO32 RANKING — Bills No. 3, Chiefs No. 1

BILLS OFFENSE — OVERALL (3), RUSH (20), PASS (3)

BILLS DEFENSE — OVERALL (14), RUSH (17), PASS (13)

CHIEFS OFFENSE — OVERALL (1), RUSH (16), PASS (1)

CHIEFS DEFENSE — OVERALL (16), RUSH (21), PASS (14)

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — The Bills are making their first AFC championship game appearance since a 30-13 home win over Kansas City on Jan. 23, 1994. Buffalo followed it with its fourth straight Super Bowl loss. The Chiefs and Bills also met in 1967 for the AFL title and a berth in the first Super Bowl. ... The Bills are 2-1 against Kansas City in the playoffs with all three games occurring in Buffalo. ... Buffalo is 4-2 in the conference title game. ... The Bills won their first AFC East title in 25 years and matched a season record for wins set in 1990 and '91. Their 27-24 win over Indianapolis in the wild-card round was their first playoff victory since beating Miami 37-22 on Dec. 30, 1995, and ended a six-game playoff skid. ... Buffalo has won 11 of 12 since losing to the Chiefs. That includes eight straight, one off the team record set in 1964. ... QB Josh Allen set Bills records with 4,544 yards passing, 37 TDs passing, 46 TDs combined (including one receiving) and 396 completions. He finished fourth in the NFL in completing 69.2% of his passes, marking a 10.4% jump from last year. ... Allen is 2-1 in the postseason, and has yet to throw an interception in 118 attempts. ... All-Pro WR Stefon Diggs became Buffalo's first player to lead the NFL in yards receiving and catches. He had eight catches for 106 yards against the Ravens, joining Hall of Famer James Lofton in becoming the second Bills player to top 100 yards receiving in consecutive postseason games. ... The Bills have won their past two playoff games with a time of possession of less than 26 minutes. ... Buffalo managed a season-low 32 yards rushing against the Ravens, the team's lowest total in a win since finishing with 31 in a 45-39 overtime victory at Minnesota on Sept. 15, 2002. ... CB Taron Johnson's 101-yard interception return for a touchdown against Baltimore matched the longest in NFL playoff history. It was the fifth touchdown return for the Bills in the past six games. ... With two sacks against the Ravens, DE Jerry Hughes has five in three career playoff games with Buffalo. ... The Bills allowed 273 points in their first 10 games. They have allowed 137 points since, including two playoff games. ... Buffalo is playing on a Sunday for just the fourth time in nine weeks. The Bills are 10-1 on Sunday this season. ... The Chiefs are the second team in NFL history to host three straight conference title games, and the first AFC team. The other was Philadelphia, coached by current Chiefs coach Andy Reid. ... Reid is making his eighth conference championship game appearance as a head coach. He would extend his franchise record with his seventh playoff win in Kansas City and tie Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs (17) for the fourth-most playoff wins overall in NFL history. ... Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes was second in the NFL with 4,740 yards passing, third with a 108.2 rating and fourth with 38 TD passes. He became the third player in NFL history with at least 4,000 yards passing in three of his first four seasons. ... Mahomes has 15 TDs (12 passing, three rushing) without an interception in five postseason starts at home. He had 255 yards passing with TDs rushing and throwing last week against Cleveland before leaving in the third quarter with a concussion. But he returned to practice this week. ... Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire was fourth among all rookies with 1,100 yards from scrimmage this season. He has not played since Week 15 because of a high ankle sprain. ... RB Darrel Williams ran for 78 yards against the Browns. He had a TD run against the Bills in Week 6. ... Chiefs All-Pro WR Tyreek Hill was second among wide receivers with a career-best 17 TDs (15 catches, 2 runs). He had eight catches for 110 yards against Cleveland. ... The Chiefs' Travis Kelce set a record for TEs with 1,416 yards receiving this season. The unanimous All-Pro had eight catches for 109 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland, his fifth straight game with a TD catch. ... Chiefs All-Pro FS Tyrann Mathieu had six interceptions in the regular season and another against the Browns. ... Fantasy tip: The Chiefs' defense held the Browns to just 17 points last week, continuing a trend of being quietly tough. They held Allen to a season-worst 122 yards passing and the Bills to season-lows of 206 yards and 17 points in Week 6. On the flip side, the Bills' defense allowed the Chiefs to run for a season-best 245 yards.

– The Associated Press