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Buffalo Bills ride dominant defense to win in Minnesota

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Pass rush and stout run defense fuel Buffalo’s upset win

The Buffalo Bills looked like a lost football team for much of the first two games of the 2018 season, getting outscored 75-9 through the first six quarters of two lackluster performances.

But in the Bills’ locker room, the players knew they had turned a corner in the second half of Week 2’s 31-20 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. The unit held the high-flying Chargers to only three points and only 61 total yards of offense (including only three rushing yards when the Chargers were in an obvious run the ball and kill the clock mode) after halftime.

Head coach Sean McDermott assumed the play-calling duties in the second half of that game, but for Week 3’s road game with the Minnesota Vikings, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier re-claimed play-calling duties, and the unit responded with a thoroughly dominant performance.

The Bills (1-2) were flying across the U.S. Bank Stadium field on defense, swarming quarterback Kirk Cousins and coming away with three sacks while clamping down on a high-octane offense. The Bills brought the heat from the get-go and never let Cousins feel comfortable in the pocket.

While the offense struck early and often for 17 first-quarter points en route to a 27-0 halftime lead, the defense limited Minnesota to only 46 first-half yards, forcing two fumbles that led to 10 points.

The 46 first-half yards were the fewest a Bills’ defense had allowed in the first half since the Cleveland Browns managed two first-half yards in 2004.

Jerry Hughes returned to his dominant pass-rushing self, registering 15 pressures against the Vikings, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That figure represents the most pressures in a game over the last three seasons.

Linebacker Matt Milano enjoyed one of the finest games of his career, finishing with a sack, a fumble recovery, and an interception, becoming the first member of the Bills to accomplish that feat since Troy Vincent in 2004.

The Vikings, who exploded for 22 fourth-quarter points in a Week 2 tie against the Green Bay Packers, didn’t enter the red zone until there was 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Buffalo also re-discovered its stout run defense, allowing the Dalvin Cook-less Vikings ground game to run for only 14 yards (and only 12 in the first half).

Minnesota’s talented wide receiver duo of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, who ran wild against the Packers for a combined 21 catches for 259 and three touchdowns, were held to 22 yards on six catches in the first half. Much of the credit goes to second-year pro Tre’Davious White, who has emerged as an up-and-coming lock-down cornerback, and Ryan Lewis, who earlier in the week was elevated from the practice squad.

Were it not for a late touchdown once the game was well out of hand, Buffalo was poised to pitch the first shutout of the Vikings on their field in more than 50 years (since the 1962 season).

All-told, an impressive bounce-back effort for a Bills defense that ranked at or near the bottom of the league in almost every category heading into Week 3.

Week 4’s showdown with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Field will serve as another test of whether or not this Bills defense has truly turned a corner.