Two years ago, the Chiefs’ turnaround started with defense. In a winning streak that would reach 10, the first four victories were defined by a stinginess that yielded just four touchdowns.
During that stretch, the Chiefs picked off the Broncos’ Peyton Manning four times, chasing him from the game, and kept Philip Rivers’ Chargers’ offense out of the end zone.
But a quarterback finally broke through against the Chiefs, and it’s one they’ll see Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Bills’ Tyrod Taylor didn’t lead his team to a victory that day in 2015, but he put up 291 passing yards and three touchdowns along with 46 rushing yards. Those figures were career bests at the time, and he’s topped that passing total only twice in his career.
As the Chiefs, losers of four of five, look to regain their footing, muscle memory suggests the mobile Taylor is a real threat.
“Tyrod is a dynamic player with great make-a-play ability,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He presents a lot of problems.”
Taylor is a seventh year pro in his third season as a starter, a status that was interrupted last week when Bills coach Sean McDermott decided to start rookie Nathan Peterman as a nod to the franchise’s future, and to perhaps shake things up with the Bills on a two-game losing streak.
But Peterman’s performance against the Chargers was abysmal. His five interceptions (all in the first half) tied for the most by any player in his first career start since 1991. Taylor returned for the second half of what became a 54-24 loss and on Wednesday was named this week’s starter. He is completing 63.8 percent of his passes this season, with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Bills’ playoff aspirations prompted the change. Only five teams in the AFC, including the Chiefs (6-4), own winning records. The Bills join the Ravens as the lone 5-5 teams in the conference.
Buffalo owns the NFL’s longest playoff drought, at 17 years. Even the Cleveland Browns have been to the postseason more recently than the Bills, whose last appearance was a 1999 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the game remembered as the Music City Miracle.
“You look around the league, and there are a lot of teams in the hunt,” McDermott said. “We’re in the hunt. You sit here and say, ‘Hey, Thanksgiving, close to the end of November, and we’re in the hunt.’
“There’s a lot of teams that wish they were in the hunt. Well, we’re in the hunt.”
And Taylor gives the Bills a better chance to win than Peterman, especially if he plays like he did at Arrowhead in 2015. That day, the Bills jumped to leads of 10-0 and 16-7. But the Chiefs were on a roll at the time — Alex Smith tossed a pair of touchdown passes and the Chiefs won 30-22.
Nevertheless, Taylor, who worked with Andy Reid and the Chiefs’ assistant coaches in the Pro Bowl after that season, left an impression.
“He’s one of those guys who can be standing this close but you can’t get him down,” said Sutton who gestured to a spot about two feet away. “Any time you have a quarterback who can extend plays and make plays, it makes it really difficult because it stresses the defense.”
What hasn’t stressed the Chiefs lately? Defensively, they were good enough to win last week, holding the Giants to nine points in regulation before falling 12-9 in overtime. But they didn’t sack Eli Manning and have recorded just two sacks in their five losses.
In the 2015 game, the Chiefs got to Taylor once, with Tamba Hali recording a sack. Hali, who returned to action for the first time this season against the Cowboys but sat out the Giants game, returned to practice on Wednesday.