The “Welcome Back” Award
The Bills offense has looked fine for most of the season, given their focus on the running game and the general effectiveness of the offensive line at giving the backs room to work. Still, the team has desperately missed the potent deep threat that is Watkins, if only to keep opposing defenses stretched out enough that they can’t stuff the box and shut down the run (as Jacksonville did for most of the first half).
Watkins saw the field for 25 of the Bills’ 55 offensive plays. He finished with only three catches. He still made a huge difference. The 62-yard bomb he caught in the middle of the third quarter was the same kind of play that the Bills’ offense thrived on last year, and it’s one that nobody was entirely sure they’d see from Sammy so soon. Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey had great coverage, but Tyrod Taylor still pushed the ball far enough for Sammy to take advantage of the separation he was able to create
by pushing off the defender.
This game seemed to be something of a dress rehearsal for the remainder of the season. Given the importance of the team’s next game, we should hope that the main event is just around the corner.
The “Necessary Spark” Award
For most of the first half, the Bills’ offense could have been politely described as a “tire fire.” The offense had a net output of five yards in the first quarter. The biggest play they came up with was a defensive pass interference that only happened because Taylor waited until Charles Clay ran into coverage to throw the pass. LeSean McCoy, one of the best running backs in the league, had minus-two yards on seven carries.
Nothing was going right...until Lerentee McCray ran into Brad Nortman.
Former Bill and current CBS broadcaster Steve Tasker, a man who could probably write a comprehensive guide to NFL special teams play, pointed out that Jacksonville’s coverage team was going to be exhausted after running down the field to cover the first punt, and asking them to do it twice in a row was a huge mistake.
Tate proved him right, fielding the line-drive punt and tight-roping the sideline all the way to Jacksonville’s 27 (an illegal formation on the Jaguars tacked on an extra five yards). Five plays (and one fourth-down conversion) later, a series that included an eight-yard reception from Tate himself, the Bills found the end zone for the first time on the day.
Considering he wasn’t on the roster until just before the season opened, Tate has been a revelation in the return game. He ranks sixth in the league in punt return average, and seventh in kick returns. He hasn’t run anything back yet, but he’s put the Bills in great position several times this year, including yesterday.
The “One Play Makes All the Difference” Award
As I just mentioned, McCoy was under zero yards rushing until the final series of the first half. He went into the locker room with five rushing yards on eight carries. In fact, if you take away his longest gain of the day, Shady finished with 18 carries for 38 yards (a 2.1 average) and a touchdown.
Of course, if you take away his longest gain of the day, the game would’ve gone to overtime, and the Bills might’ve lost. Shady isn’t going to be Shady every game, but he’s always capable of a knockout punch. If the Jags defense lost some respect for him over the course of the first half, he certainly made them pay.
I can overlook a fairly poor performance from a guy like Shady, because he’s going to come back at some point. He can be contained for thirty minutes and come right out of the gate by making two defenders miss and outrunning two others while carrying the ball like a lunchbox. Plays like that are how the Bills win games they could easily lose.
Least Valuable Player
Tyrod Taylor (first half)
Through two quarters, Taylor was 7-for-11 through the air, with 48 yards. He didn’t turn the ball over, but he didn’t throw a touchdown pass and was sacked four times. He might’ve had a touchdown pass on the first play of the final series, but he couldn’t hit Nick O’Leary in the end zone. His biggest contribution to the offense was staring down Charles Clay long enough for Tashaun Gipson to run over and mug Clay when the ball finally arrived.
He wasn’t making plays with his legs, either. He only had 14 rushing yards on two carries, and couldn’t use his vaunted elusiveness to avoid the Jaguar pass rushers. He looked like the worst version of Tyrod, the one that is barely functional as a passer and non-committal as a runner. It was the kind of performance that makes me think that Tyrod will never lead the Bills to the playoffs, if he even lasts past this season as a member of the team.
Most Valuable Player
Tyrod Taylor (second half)
It wasn’t quite to the level that he displayed against the Seahawks on Monday Night Football a few weeks ago, but it was the kind of performance that the team needs from him. He completed five of his seven passes for 118 yards and a touchdown, while running for 24 yards on five carries with another score.
This touchdown throw to Justin Hunter might be the best throw I’ve seen him make as a Bill:
Yes, I’m aware that Nick O’Leary was wide open at the top of the field and might’ve scored on his own there, but Taylor still made an absolutely perfect throw that only Hunter could make a play on.
That really hits on Taylor’s biggest limitation as a quarterback. A 300-yard passing day might never come from him, but that’s fine when you consider that he works best in a run-first offense that he can supplement with his legs. At the same time, though, he needs to be able to keep defenses honest with his arm. A big part of that is putting the ball in spots where his receivers at least have a chance to make plays, something he’s struggled with to a great extent in his career and especially this season. If he doesn’t do that, defenses can stack the box all day because they know he’ll never beat them with his arm.
Hopefully, the return of Watkins to the offense gives him a chance to do that more often. Of course, he also needs to give his other receivers chances to make plays. If they don’t, that’s on them and they’ll find themselves unemployed soon enough, but too often it’s hard to judge them because the ball is thrown to the point where they can’t even try to make a play.
The Bills improved to 12-2 when Taylor throws for less than 200 yards, and they remain 3-9 when he goes over that mark. A high-volume passing offense doesn’t necessarily equate to a high-quality one, but the Bills need the latter if they want to beat teams like Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Miami in the coming weeks. If Taylor plays like did in the second half against Jacksonville, they’ll have that.