KANSAS CITY, Mo. – 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, was cleared to play Friday after he practiced all week.
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
Mahomes was hurt in the third quarter of the Chiefs’ divisional-round win over Cleveland. He returned to take the majority of snaps in a light workout Wednesday, then did the same during the longest practice of the week Thursday, before team doctors and an independent neurologist gave him the green light following Friday’s workout.
“The week has been a bunch of testing, a bunch of different things, to make sure I’m good to go and there’s no lingering effects and things like that,” Mahomes said. “Everything has been good. I went through everything; three or four different doctors have said everything is looking good.”
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.
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 that who we are.”
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.
“You can’t make a wrong decision in this thing,” said White, who 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.”
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 were trying to accomplish.”
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.