Full disclosure: I am not in the right headspace to write this recap yet. A mere 24 hours after watching the Houston Texans erase a 16-point deficit, handing our Buffalo Bills a 22-19 overtime loss in the Wild Card round of the playoffs is still a little too soon. However, deadlines are deadlines, and here we are.
Revisiting our five players to watch this week was painful, especially given the tale-of-two-halves nature of the game. For all of Buffalo’s success during the opening 30 minutes of game play, they met it with equal amounts of failure in the game’s final two-plus periods of play.
Here’s how our five players to watch fared on Saturday.
QB Josh Allen
Saturday’s game felt like a microcosm of what it’s like to have Josh Allen as your favorite team’s starting quarterback. He is capable of making a play that forces you to exclaim, “Wow, I can’t believe he did that!” Then, just one play later, he’ll make another play and you’ll say, “Wow, I can’t believe he did that!”
Yes, I know those statements are exactly the same thing. Now try saying them with different inflection and intonation, and that’s exactly what it’s like to watch Allen, who is capable of such eye-popping brilliance and jaw-dropping stupidity that it’s hard to believe that the same guy is playing from down-to-down, let alone drive-to-drive.
In the first half, Allen made plenty of those “wow” plays. He had a 42-yard run on the first drive that he nearly broke for a touchdown. He delivered a laser to Duke Williams on the team’s second drive to convert a third down. To close out the first drive of the game, he caught a touchdown pass on a perfectly executed trick play (great call by @YardsPerPass on Twitter, by the way, who predicted that well in advance of the game). In all, Allen closed the first half having completed 13-of-21 passes for 131 yards, adding three rushes for 52 yards and a 15-yard touchdown reception to his yardage total. He had a shot at a touchdown pass to close the first half, but Gareon Conley was able to knock the ball out of Williams’s hands in the end zone. He dropped a beautiful pass on John Brown earlier in the half, but Brown couldn’t keep his feet in bounds. Some analysts wanted to blame Allen for throwing the ball late; I think an NFL receiver needs to drag his feet in that situation.
As efficient, composed, and confident as Allen looked in the first half, he was equally disastrous, erratic, and shell-shocked in the second half. From intermission onward, Allen completed 11-of-25 passes for 133 yards, adding six rushes for 39 yards and a costly fumble that gave the Texans prime field position for a field goal early in the fourth quarter. The intentional grounding penalty on the penultimate drive of regulation was bad. The sack on the next play was bad. The lateral was wild (and it ultimately worked, somehow, but that doesn’t make it a good decision). With all of this, the Bills still had a shot at winning the game in overtime, and they called a play that had worked all day—a quarterback sweep. They had the blockers. Allen hit the edge. Neither Dawson Knox nor Cody Ford blocked linebacker Zach Cunningham—a guy with 137 tackles on the year—and Allen was shellacked. After a bad second-down miss, Allen scrambled for some yardage on third down, only for it to be negated by the blindside block call. Allen then missed Duke Williams badly on what was probably intended to be a quick toss into Buffalo’s most physical receiver to recoup enough yardage to potentially try a field goal.
Josh made strides this year. He was better in terms of his completion rate, his touchdowns (both passing and rushing), his interception percentage, yards per game, quarterback rating—nearly everything. However, he still has a long way to go in order to jump to the echelon of quarterbacks he was drafted to join. For much of the season, Allen rose to the occasion in big moments. In his first playoff start, the moment proved to be too big for the second-year man.
WR Isaiah McKenzie
I went out on a limb, and while the gadget receiver wasn’t a huge part of the plan in terms of touches, it was clear early that the Bills wanted to use him to misdirect the Texans’ defense. McKenzie was in motion often in the first half, and his presence seemed to allow creases for Devin Singletary, who just had a brilliant game (13 carries, 58 yards, six receptions, 76 yards). McKenzie caught four passes on five targets for a total of 23 yards. He ceded snaps to Williams, playing 27 snaps to Duke’s 56 on the day, but McKenzie’s presence was felt every time he went in motion.
LT Dion Dawkins
The big man didn’t really allow a sack, even though Whitney Mercilus strip-sacked Allen from the left side. Mercilus made the play while Allen looked as if he had already committed to run, so I don’t blame Dawkins, who had done enough to give Allen time to step up in the pocket and throw on the play. On a day where Houston moved Mercilus and J.J. Watt around a lot, Dawkins more than held his own.
DE Shaq Lawson
For most of the season, writing about Lawson as Buffalo’s top defensive end would have been the right call. The fourth-year man out of Clemson had his best professional season, as he had 6.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, and 18 quarterback hits while playing on 46.2% of the team’s defensive snaps, third-most among the team’s defensive ends. On Saturday, Lawson only had two tackles and one quarterback hit, but his teammates (Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy) played out of their minds in the game. Hughes had four tackles, three sacks, three tackles for loss, and four quarterback hits on the day, while Murphy had six tackles, two sacks, one tackle for loss, and two quarterback hits. Lawson may have been hampered by the hamstring injury he suffered in Week 16, but it’s also possible that the Texans devoted more attention to him thanks to the success he had overall. An impending free agent, his status will be worth monitoring as the offseason unfolds.
CB Tre’Davious White
Through two quarters, White was handily winning his battle with Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins saw two targets in the first half, and he didn’t catch either. When he finally did make a catch in the third quarter, it was White who forced him to fumble. From that point on, however, it was Hopkins who dominated the match-up. The man they call Nuk finished with a game-high 90 receiving yards and six catches. He added a grab on a two-point conversion that pushed Houston’s lead to 19-16 with just over four minutes to go in the fourth quarter. White was beaten on a beautifully thrown deep pass to set up the go-ahead touchdown, and he allowed a third-down catch on Houston’s first touchdown drive by giving Hopkins around 12 yards of cushion when they needed to gain eight yards for a first down. White’s day mirrored that of his team’s, as it was great for stretches, yet it was not nearly good enough to maintain the lead.