The Buffalo Bills entered their Week 17 match-up against the New York Jets with ten wins and a playoff berth already in hand. Since the team was already locked into the fifth seed in the AFC, the Bills decided to play it safe and rest most of their key starters. While they still played some (Josh Allen started, for example), the day was ruled mostly by backups.
The reserves we chose to watch all had a tremendous impact on this week’s game—for better or for worse.
QB Matt Barkley
Josh Allen’s backup took over with 2:20 minutes remaining in the first quarter, which marked the start of Buffalo’s fourth offensive possession. Barkley certainly looked like a guy who hasn’t had many meaningful reps either in games or in practice, and it became especially apparent as more offensive players worked into the game who were in a similar position. Barkley completed 18-of-35 passes for 232 yards, which isn’t a terrible ratio given the awful, rainy weather conditions yesterday. It was Barkley’s two interceptions and two fumbles, one of which he lost, that turned the tide of the game in the Jets’ favor. Barkley also appeared to fumble on his first play of the game, but it was overturned and called an incomplete pass (on what appeared to be a bad overturn, I might add). Barkley struggled with the QB-C exchange when Ike Boettger rotated in at center, but that was to be expected. Overall, Barkley’s performance left plenty to be desired, though one wouldn’t be blamed for giving him a pass given the fact that Buffalo’s second- and third-string players populated his supporting cast.
RB T.J. Yeldon
Yeldon look explosive at times, showing off his speed and quickness to the edge on a few runs and catches. However, whether due to his own hesitance to hit holes or poor blocking by Buffalo’s reserve offensive linemen, Yeldon ended up taking a few too many negative runs overall, including a seven-yard loss on an ill-advised toss play in the third quarter. Yeldon played 41 offensive snaps, finishing with seven carries for 18 yards and three receptions (on four targets) for 24 yards. The numbers may not look like anything special, but Yeldon’s athleticism was intriguing enough where we may at least wonder about his status for this week’s Wild Card Playoff game against the Houston Texans.
WR Duke Williams
Okay, I haven’t been a big #freeduke guy this year. I assumed that the coaching staff must see something we don’t, which is why he has been kept an inactive member of the 53-man roster for much of the season. However, after watching Williams haul in six passes for 108 yards with Matt Barkley throwing to him in a driving rain? Yeah, it’s time this man is freed for good. Sure, Williams had two drops, one of which cost the team a first down near midfield in the fourth quarter that could have extended a drive when the team desperately needed it. He was also the clear best receiver on the field, and the Jets covered him accordingly. Williams is a better player than Robert Foster, and he is a more complete NFL receiver than Isaiah McKenzie, who is excellent for a jet-sweep, jack-of-all-trades role. Williams made a strong case for himself on Sunday, and I hope the coaches plan to use him in Houston.
DE Darryl Johnson Jr.
This dude is some athlete. The first play of the game ended with Johnson making a big hit on special teams, wrapping up kick-return man Vyncint Smith at the 16-yard line. Johnson was on the field for darn near the entire contest, as he played on 62 defensive snaps and 23 special teams snaps. He finished with five total tackles (including the one on special teams) and one tackle for loss. He still has plenty to learn in terms of edge-setting and gap integrity (the Jets ran a reverse-toss play on their only touchdown drive where Johnson was tricked into over-pursuing the play), but he looked athletic and strong on the day. Fun fact: When head coach Sean McDermott called timeout early in the first quarter to send Johnson on to the field, I assumed that the rookie had forgotten he was playing defense. It took me a moment to realize that it was a way to ensure that veteran linebacker Lorenzo Alexander could be acknowledged by Bills fans one last time in what figures to be his final home game with the team.
S Jaquan Johnson
Johnson played 53 defensive snaps on Sunday. Those are the only defensive snaps he played all year, and the rookie from the University of Miami acquitted himself well. He had three tackles and looked aggressive in making them. He also showed off good hands, intercepting a Sam Darnold pass along the sideline early in the second quarter. The play was nullified by a boneheaded personal foul penalty on veteran Kurt Coleman, who had launched head-first into Le’Veon Bell for absolutely no reason, but Johnson showed great footwork to stay in-bounds while making the interception. He remained a major player on special teams, as well. It looks like the Bills found two solid players on Day Three of the NFL Draft last April.