It’s a strange thing in ways, recognizing superlative play amid a demoralizing loss. While it’s true that most of the time many Buffalo Bills players or even an entire unit performs well in defeat, it wasn’t the case this past Sunday. I was considering two things ahead of writing this: That the Bills didn’t suffer any injuries; and what a welcome sight it was when time expired. But injuries and time—they’re not players.
Buffalo was painfully outmatched on Sunday, and it’s not entirely clear if they weren’t prepared, didn’t execute well, or were simply overmatched against the likes of yet another physical opponent. To say that a 41-15 loss is demoralizing seems unnecessary. But for a team that was the odds-on-favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl until the end of the weekend—it IS a terrible loss. Dropping from second in conference playoff seeding to seventh, falling behind the New England Patriots, and taking yet another loss against a playoff-focused AFC opponent—it all stinks. The lack of big plays on offense, the special teams issues, and the defense playing black hole to the Colts’ rushing game. Stink. Stank. Stunk.
The defense wasn’t all doom and gloom. Matt Warren rightfully mentioned Ed Oliver in his postgame takeaways, and Oliver deserves to be recognized. In Matt’s piece, he wrote:
I’ve written his name so many times in my takeaways. I already said he was playing his way to the fifth-year option. He’s adding splash plays to go with his every-down plays and he’s doing it with and without Star Lotulelei. Today, with the Colts in the red zone holding a seven-point lead, Oliver got his arm on the third-down pass to force an incompletion and a field goal. He had a third-down sack taken off the board in the third quarter and pressured Wentz on a third-down throwaway with 11 minutes left. He even had a tackle for a loss in garbage time.
I believe Ed Oliver receives a lot of unfair criticism from the fanbase. Some point to his smaller size being a detriment to the position, while others think he should be a sack machine every down. True, he isn’t a 1-tech defensive tackle, but he is that unit’s best player. Whether you notice him or not, Oliver shows up and balls out game after game. He may never have the flashy stats of an Aaron Donald, but he’s proven his worth to the Bills, and drafting him was not a mistake despite anyone’s hindsight telling them otherwise.
Ed Oliver defended that pass on the same drive Mario Addison was flagged for a low hit on Carson Wentz. That penalty took a likely punt off the board, and gave a very determined team a great shot at scoring another touchdown. Without Oliver’s great individual effort, the Bills could have found themselves down another touchdown to the Colts. While the stats against Buffalo’s defense won’t allow us to think fondly of this season’s Week 11, it’s important to take a second and notice that, yes—Ed Oliver is turning into the player the Bills need. That’s why he’s our player of the game.