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Buffalo Bills 30, Arizona Cardinals 32: Rapid recap and notes

The Bills lost this one in heartbreaking fashion.

What a ridiculous game. What an incredible, bittersweet ending. Viewers of the Buffalo Bills versus the Arizona Cardinals hoped to witness two rising teams and two young quarterbacks in a dynamic showdown. Well, it manifested. Mere moments after Stefon Diggs’s miraculous touchdown catch gave the Bills a 30-26 lead over the Cardinals, Kyler Murray rolled left, threw a rainbow into a sea of Bills defenders, and DeAndre Hopkins iced the game with a comeback touchdown of his own. By a score of 32-30, the Cardinals sealed the deal and beat Bufalo. For Bills fans, it was a journey from ecstasy to agony.

For nearly the entire game, the Bills’ defense did everything they could to contribute to a win. The Cardinals got theirs—two rushing touchdowns from Kyler Murray, a whopping 217 rushing yards—but Buffalo shut them down in the clutch. They generated two turnovers. They forced two field goals at the goal line. But Murray-to-Hopkins, the 43-yard touchdown that closed out the game, will sadly be the cover photo to memorialize this game. Tre’Davious White, Jordan Poyer, and Micah Hyde were all there to try a stop—but it didn’t matter in the end. The defense deserves a lot of credit for their efforts to contain Murray as a running threat, and they mostly contained him as a passer, too. Sacking him isn’t easy, but they did it three times—and swatted away six passes. As the broadcasters mentioned often in this game, defending the Cardinals’ offense is like balancing on a razor’s edge. You play with utmost concentration, knowing you’re one step away from giving up a touchdown. For the Bills, that one play came at the very end of the game.

Special teams was a mixed bag. First of all, we have to give a shoutout to Tyler Bass for having an incredible day. The rookie was perfect hitting on a 54-, 55-, and 58-yard field goal in the first half. Perfect on extra points. He’s a huge factor in the final score. For Andre Roberts, it was an up-and-down day. His first kickoff return, for 40 yards, gave the Bills great field position to start the game. His other three returns were all tackled in minus territory. Corey Bojorquez is going to regret his poor performance in an otherwise great season. He shanked a 12-yard punt in Buffalo territory to set up Arizona’s first touchdown. He kicked a touchback when the Bills could’ve used the field position, and another long punt outkicked the coverage and led to a 23-yard return.

But a major story of this game was how Josh Allen struggled, as did the Bills running game, and that Allen’s play mainly improved thanks to his receivers bailing him out. Through three field goal drives in the first half, and only a single score on the first six drives of the second half, Allen wasn’t able to open up Buffalo’s lead wide enough to secure the win. Yes, Allen gets credit for his final drive, especially his clutch throw to Diggs with the clock winding down. But Allen only threw for 5.8 yards per attempt, and had two picks to go along with his two touchdown scores—and he could’ve easily had two more interceptions.

As nice as it was to see four drives for four scores in the first half, the offense wilted in the second half. Four punts, two turnovers, and a single touchdown before their final drive started. Zack Moss and Devin Singletary were total non-factors in this game: 13 touches, 27 yards. Singletary deserves to be called out for two negative plays: a dropped screen pass that could’ve bailed the Bills out of a sputtering drive, and an unnecessary roughness penalty when Allen was just looking to throw the ball away at him. The offensive line deserves credit for leaving Allen without a single sack tonight, but they could not sync up a run for the life of them.

The main reason the Bills’ offense stayed alive so long in this game? Their trio of receivers. Cole Beasley was there every time the Bills needed him, pacing the group with 11 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. Stefon Diggs had 10 for 93 and a would-be game winning touchdown. John Brown had 6 for 72, and another nice catch was negated by penalty. When Allen was struggling for answers, his receivers were earning tough yards after the catch.

Speaking of tough, it’s going to be an uncomfortable flight home for the Bills. Now 7-3 heading into their bye week, the team is bruised and feeling down, but they’re still leading the AFC East. From here, they just need to do their job down the stretch and they’ll have the division crown for the first time since 1995.

Injury Report

A.J. Epenesa suffered a concussion in the closing minutes of the first half, and didn’t return to the game after that. The Bills adjusted their defensive line rotation accordingly with more Darryl Johnson and Trent Murphy.

Rookie cornerback Dane Jackson suffered a right knee injury in the third quarter. The Bills were already thin at cornerback, with Josh Norman and Levi Wallace on COVID-19 reserve. So Daryl Worley, promoted from the practice squad, took over from there. Jackson later returned to the game.

John Brown, making a desperate catch in the fourth quarter, fell awkwardly and needed help getting to the sideline. With a right ankle injury, he didn’t come back in the game.

Miscellaneous

  • Tyler Bass is the MVP of this game, no question. The difference between a Bills lead and a Cardinals lead at halftime was Bass’s three field goals, all from 54+ yards out, and his extra point on the opening touchdown.
  • Bass is only the second player in NFL history to nail three 54+ yard field goals in a game, according to the CBS broadcast.
  • Big play day for rookie Dane Jackson. In the first quarter, he matched up toe-to-toe with star receiver DeAndre Hopkins and expertly knocked the ball away in the end zone. In the third quarter, he recovered a fumble to give the Bills the ball in Cardinals territory.
  • On the negative front, today was a serious “Welcome to the NFL” day for rookie Gabriel Davis. Three targets, zero catches, and Dre Kirkpatrick ran his route for him to undercut and intercept a pass in the second half.
  • Josh Allen played with fire, and eventually got burned. He had three throws hit Patrick Peterson in the hands, and the third one was an interception. Peterson’s interception set up Kyler Murray’s go-ahead touchdown at the close of the third quarter. He threw another one to Dre Kirkpatrick in the fourth quarter.
  • Cole Beasley had another incredible day—11 catches, 109 yards, and a touchdown. He also climbed the ladder for a beautiful one-handed sideline grab to earn the Bills a first down in the fourth quarter.
  • With ten catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, Stefon Diggs is almost assuredly the league’s leading receiver for another week.
  • This game had so much going on I almost forgot to mention, but Allen started out his day by scoring a touchdown reception on a trick play from Isaiah McKenzie. This kind of rare play set Allen up to be the fourth-ever player with a pass, run, and receiving touchdown in a game, but he didn’t end up with a rushing touchdown.
  • A.J. Klein showed up on the stat sheet again this week: led the team in tackles, and had a sack. This blitz-heavy role the Bills carved out for him might be doing the trick.
  • Also having a great day: Taron Johnson, who had a sack, two tackles-for-loss, and forced a fumble.
  • You hate to see it happen to a legendary receiver like Larry Fitzgerald, but Bills fans were still thrilled to see how a ball he couldn’t haul in bounced right into Jordan Poyer’s arms for a pick.
  • The Cardinals were 0-55-1 since 2009 in games where they’d trailed by 14 points. They fell behind 23-9 against the Bills in the third quarter. We all know how that ended up.