The “2015 Preseason Flashback” Award
Remember the 2015 preseason? Darby looked like he was headed for one of the worst rookie campaigns in recent memory. When Leodis McKelvin went down, and Darby was forced into a starting role, fans were prepared for the worst. Instead, Darby went on to have a phenomenal rookie campaign, and earned some consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
For the first half of yesterday’s game, at least, the 2015 preseason Darby came back. While he was far from the least-effective player on the field (more on that later), he was continually burned over the top by both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. While he did improve as the game went on, the Bills defense needs him to play about ten times better than he did to be successful.
The “I No Longer Have a Role on the Team” Award
After an inconspicuous first week in which he was a factor in neither the offense nor the return game, many fans wanted to give Bush his walking papers, especially when a certain former Bill with a similar skill set hit the market. I figured that wouldn’t be necessary, since the team already has several players who can do what Bush was brought in to do.
After yesterday, it seems that Rex had the same idea. Brandon Tate took a firm grasp of the returner role with a solid game fielding both kickoffs and punts. Mike Gillislee was finally given his shot as the backup running back and responded with an 18-yard touchdown scamper to close the scoring, as well as a nice reception earlier in the game that was called back on a holding penalty.
Bush, for his part, was on the field for two plays. I’ve suggested that he’d be a good candidate for release when Marcell Dareus and Seantrel Henderson return to the team after Week 4, and I’m even more confident in that assessment after yesterday.
The “Way to Tell If Someone Actually Watched the Game” Award
You know how sometimes there will be people who say a player had a good game just by looking at the box score? If anybody tells you Taylor had a good game, they're one of those people.
Taylor's stat line looks fine. He completed 18 of 30 passes for a career-high 297 yards with three touchdowns and a pick. If I hadn't watched the game, I would think he played one of his better games.
He really didn't, though. The first touchdown felt like a fluke, and the third touchdown was all about Gillislee. The interception, on the other hand, was an underthrown ball that could have been a fourth touchdown if he had put a little more juice on the ball.
The second touchdown pass was a work of art. It's the reason that Taylor has a starting job in the first place, and why he has a chance at earning almost $30 million next season. Unfortunately, plays like that are few and far between, and in the interim he's an average quarterback at best.
The “Somebody Actually Did Their Job” Award
Gene Steratore’s crew from last Thursday’s Broncos vs. Panthers game took a metaphorical beating for not properly responding to the literal beating that Cam Newton took. The same cannot be said for Hochuli last night.
When Taylor took a big hit near the end of the third quarter, Hochuli and his crew made sure to pull him off the field to administer the required concussion testing. Taylor is the kind of player who would never take himself out of a game, and spent his two plays on the bench arguing with the medical staff to go back into the game. That’s one of the reasons why the protocol is necessary, and after several high-profile instances of its failure it saw some success last night.
Least Valuable Player
Before I begin: I know the offense did the defense no favors by being completely unable to sustain a drive for most of the first half. That said, there was no excuse for that performance, especially in the second half when the offense began actually holding on to the ball.
I’ll put this bluntly: this was Gilmore’s worst performance as a pro. For a man who is angling to be paid as one of the top corners in the league, he sure didn’t look the part. I’ll concede that Quincy Enunwa is a better player than most people realize, but he should not have been able to do what he did against Gilmore, especially in the first quarter.
Things didn’t improve as the game went on. His facemask penalty that took Brandon Marshall out of the game for a few minutes seemed borne of desperation, and as soon as Marshall returned to the field he burned Gilmore again.
When a cornerback makes three tackles more than 20 yards away from the line of scrimmage, something is wrong. Gilmore is a good player, and he is more than capable of turning things around, but Doug Whaley will be able to use this game as leverage when Gilmore’s agent starts asking for Josh Norman money.
Most Valuable Player
I gave serious consideration to giving this nod to Bruce Smith, to the point where I actually wrote two paragraphs with his name on this award. The fact that the team scored two touchdowns in the five minutes after his number-retirement ceremony seemed to have a bigger impact on the game than any player on the Bills.
That said, I really don’t want to diminish Brown’s performance. The second of those touchdowns came on a fumble that Brown forced, and he finished with 16 total tackles. Aside from Jerry Hughes, who more or less disappeared after the first two drives, Brown was the only defender who seemed to be able to do his job.
Matt Forte may have finished the game with 100 yards and three touchdowns, but he wasn’t as good as that line makes him seem, and that had a lot to do with Brown bottling him up at almost every turn. He recorded 11 of his 16 tackles within three yards of the line of scrimmage, and was the main reason that Forte had a 2.2 yards-per-carry average at halftime.