The Buffalo Bills came ready for primetime on Monday night, downing the San Francisco 49ers 34-24. Only ten points separated the two teams, and Buffalo outgained San Francisco by a mere 47 yards on the night. However, the Bills held the ball for 34:58 and led 34-17 with less than ten minutes left in the game. It was a much more dominant effort than the stats would suggest.
In order to complete such a game, a team’s top players must have played well. This was absolutely the case for the Bills, as their stars shined brightly in Glendale, AZ. Here’s how our five players to watch fared on Monday Night Football.
QB Josh Allen
Buffalo’s signal caller continued his MVP-caliber season, throwing for four more touchdowns while completing 80 percent of his passes (32-of-40) for 375 yards. Entering the game, the 49ers were the No. 6 defense in the league in terms of yards allowed, and the No. 9 unit in terms of passing yardage allowed. Allen shredded the San Francisco secondary, beating them regardless of what they threw at him. Blitz? No problem, as Allen rolled out and launched gorgeous downfield bombs to Cole Beasley. Zone? Allen found Beasley underneath. Man to man? Allen hit Stefon Diggs whenever he wanted. It was an absolute clinic from a rising star player.
WR Gabriel Davis
The rookie caught his fifth touchdown pass of the season, breaking his tie with Stefon Diggs to put Davis in sole possession of the team lead in receiving touchdowns this year. He made two great catches in the first half, the first of which involved an amazing throw from Allen. The second was a beautiful crossing pattern that immediately preceded Tyler Bass’s field goal at the end of the first half. Davis caught his touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, and while the ball was underthrown, he was so wide open that it didn’t matter. Davis wasn’t the team’s leading receiver, as Cole Beasley set a career-high with nine catches, 135 yards and a touchdown on his 11 targets, but Davis continued to show that he belongs in an NFL offense. He’s looking like a steal of a fourth-round draft pick.
TE Lee Smith
The big-bodied blocker appeared on a season-high 25 offensive snaps, continuing a trend the team began last week. Smith was unable to secure a touchdown catch on 4th-and-goal of Buffalo’s first possession, but when your options are Smith, Dawson Knox, and Ryan Bates with a quarterback who excels at fighting for rushing touchdowns, I’m not mad at the tight end whose main job is to block (and yes, I’m nit-picking the one play call that I didn’t like in what was an otherwise amazing game from offensive coordinator Brian Daboll). Smith only saw that one target, but his impact is rarely seen in his own personal stats. The Bills protected Allen well, and Smith helped clear the way for Devin Singletary (18 carries, 61 yards) to make an impact.
DT Ed Oliver
Speaking of players whose impact isn’t always seen in the stats, Oliver logged one tackle and one quarterback hit on the evening. He didn’t make a big hit (that honor went to Vernon Butler, who straight-up destroyed a 49ers running back in a goal line situation) or make a huge, touchdown-saving tackle (Tremaine Edmunds did in the first quarter, though, right behind Oliver), but Oliver continued to play an unselfish role in keeping Buffalo’s linebackers clean. San Francisco ran 21 times for 86 yards on the day. Of those carries and yards, 44 of those yards and ten of those carries came on the first drive of the game. Buffalo certainly clamped down after that, and Oliver was a big part of the reason why.
LB A.J. Klein
So it wasn’t a “sexy” way to follow up his other-worldly performance against the Los Angeles Chargers, but with a reduction in snaps thanks to the return of Matt Milano, Klein still managed to positively impact the game. He made four tackles and had an interception right in his grasp that instead went as a pass breakup. Klein’s 42 defensive snaps was still second to Edmunds among linebackers, but it’s his lowest output since Week 7 against the New York Jets. As Milano regains his football shape, Klein may see a further reduction in his time. His improved play has been a luxury for a Buffalo defense that is hitting its stride at the right time.