They were 13 of the worst seconds in the history of the Buffalo Bills, and there is nothing anyone in the organization can do to change what happened six months ago in Kansas City.
What’s done is done, and those ignominious moments at Arrowhead Stadium will forever be part of the Bills’ story, just like the two AFL championships in the mid-1960s, the back-to-back 2-14 seasons of the mid-1980s, and the unprecedented winning of four straight AFC championships coupled with the loss of four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier would love to go back in time and erase those two passes Patrick Mahomes completed to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce against his defense’s way-too-soft coverage, which positioned the Chiefs for an inexplicable game-tying field goal that forced overtime.
Same thing for the lost coin toss, and the winning TD drive Mahomes engineered that didn’t even allow the red-hot Josh Allen to touch the ball in OT, an event so jarring that the league was moved to alter the playoff overtime rules to guarantee each team possesses the ball at least once.
But history doesn’t offer mulligans, and as the Bills get ready to start training camp at St. John Fisher University on Sunday morning, the focus has to be on the here and now if they hope to truly move past one of the most mortifying losses in not only Bills history, but NFL history.
“You have to be able to learn from the situation,” Frazier said. “You have to be able to flush it and move on. If you don’t, then it carries over to the next season. You’ve got to be locked in on what can help us to be the best in 2022, and you’ve got to approach it that way. I think our guys are doing that. I think we’ve moved on from that.”
NFL’s 22 greatest playoff games: Where does Bills-Chiefs classic rank?
Sign up for our NFL newsletter: All the NFL news you need to know delivered right to you!
Throughout the spring OTAs, it did seem as if the Bills had put behind them their latest nicknamed defeat – “13 Seconds” ranking right up there with “Wide Right” and the “Music City Miracle.”
General manager Brandon Beane attacked free agency and the draft with vigor in an inspired effort to augment an already strong roster with players who could ultimately push the Bills to the glory that has eluded them throughout the Super Bowl era.
Coach Sean McDermott retooled his coaching staff in the wake of the departure of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who in turn pulled several Bills coaches along with him to the New York Giants.
And Allen, team leader that he is, has gone to great lengths to remind his teammates that the same goal they’ve always had remains right in front of them in 2022.
“Everybody wants to talk about (13 seconds) and it is what it is, it happened, there’s no going back,” Allen said. “We’ve completely turned our focus towards this next season and trying to figure out how do we take that next step? How do we win that Super Bowl?”
There was a consensus in the NFL stratosphere that if the Bills hadn’t blown it against Kansas City – and let’s be blunt about it, they blew it – they may have come back to Fisher after a two-year hiatus as the defending league champion.
They would have hosted the Bengals in the AFC championship game and been favored to win, and while the Rams proved to be a worthy champion, they barely beat Cincinnati playing in their home stadium in Los Angeles.
We’ll never know what might have been because the Bills didn’t finish the job against the Chiefs and now, rather than hosting the Rams in the traditional NFL season opener on Sept. 8 as the champs, they have to head west as the visitor to play the champs.
“We always talk about it, you go through adversity and various things happen during each season,” Beane said. “At the end of the day we didn’t get it done. And we’ve talked about it, Sean and I have talked about it at length, talked about it with ownership and there’s nothing I can say that’s going to fix that. I’d love to re-tee it and Sean would as well, our players would, our coaches. I’ve thought about it a million times.”
One thing the Bills must guard against is paying too much attention to what is being said about them. Almost everywhere you turn, they are considered to have the best team in the league and are the betting favorite to win it all.
As such, expectations in the fan base are soaring like they once did back in the days of Marv Levy, Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, and Andre Reed. Of course, none of it means anything because this team has to actually go out and win games, and the Bills understand that.
“Just because we made it as far as we made it last year, that has nothing to do with this year,” said left tackle Dion Dawkins. “All those wins from last year disappear. Our record is 0-0.”
Said Allen: “We’ve got the highest expectations out of anybody. I know you can look at the media and you can hear different word after different word, and different thought after different thought, but we’re here for one goal and that’s to win a world championship.
“We’re trying to do everything we can do, and again, we’re not putting too much pressure on us because we know what to expect. In terms of going out there and executing, we’re just trying to get better and play the best football that we can play.”
They take the first step on that journey Sunday at Fisher.
“How we handle distractions, the commitment level that we all commit to one another as a team and how this thing comes together ultimately will will govern where we go,” McDermott said.