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Bills 23, Ravens 20: five things we learned in Week 4

Buffalo found a way to grind out a tough win on the road

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills are now 3-1 after erasing a 20-3 second-quarter deficit and scoring 20 unanswered points to beat the Baltimore Ravens on the road, 23-20.

In a game that was thematically similar to the team’s come-from-behind overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season—but which ended with a much happier result for the good guys this time—the Bills weathered a 25-minute game stretch where just about everything that could go wrong, did. Then they collected themselves, changed the momentum with a pre-halftime touchdown, and flipped the script with a narrow victory.

Here are five things we learned from this important Bills win.

The Bills are perfectly capable of being terrible

Let’s quickly recap everything that went wrong for the Bills in the first quarter and a half of this game:

  • Quarterback Josh Allen had a pass tipped at the line that was intercepted on the opening drive.
  • Two drives later, running back Devin Singletary fumbled on a short run and the Ravens recovered.
  • The offense was out of sync and couldn’t move the ball, even when it didn’t turn it over.
  • Buffalo was losing trench matchups handily on both sides of the ball.
  • The defensive back seven could not tackle consistently well.
  • Probably more things that I’m not immediately remembering.

To cap off the early Ravens rally, quarterback Lamar Jackson escaped a would-be Von Miller sack, evaded additional pressure, and threw up a prayer of a toss to tight end Mark Andrews that was tip-drilled and pulled in by wide receiver Devin Duvernay for a sizable gain. At that moment, it felt like the Bills were playing both the Ravens and the universe.

Buffalo looked terrible. They were playing worse than terribly, if we’re being honest. And late in the second quarter, they found themselves down 20-3. That version of the Bills wasn’t going to beat anyone, much less a quality opponent in their own stadium.

These coaches can adjust

Late in the second quarter, Allen rallied the Bills by engineering a 12-play, 74-yard drive that ended with an easy touchdown toss to wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie. Baltimore kneeled out the remaining handful of seconds, and despite playing as poorly as they played at any point in the past two seasons (and certainly this year), they only trailed by ten points.

Then they ground out 13 more points offensively against a decent, turnover-happy defense in poor-weather conditions. More importantly, they forced two turnovers defensively—both turned in by veteran safety Jordan Poyer in his return to game action—which aided in the team holding the Ravens scoreless for the entirety of the second half.

Regarding that tremendous defensive turnaround, cornerback Taron Johnson mentioned post-game that the big adjustment the team made was to disguise their looks better.

There will be more opportunities to further dissect how, precisely, the Bills figured Baltimore’s offense out. Two turnovers—one of the fluke variety (more on that in a moment)—certainly helps in that effort. The rainy weather certainly didn’t hurt. But whatever the means, holding an offense spearheaded by Lamar Jackson to zero points in an entire half of football is a major accomplishment.

Offensively, some adjustments were made—a great play call from offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey that yielded a 16-yard reception for Devin Singletary, and effectively set up the Bills’ ability to run out the clock should get its due lip service—but mostly, the team just settled down. Allen started using his legs, ending the game with 70 rushing yards and a score, and plenty of evaded pressures. They found ways to move the ball when they needed to—which proved difficult later in the game as the injury bug bit again.

Buffalo’s depth really is exceptional

After McKenzie exited in the third quarter with a concussion, the Bills were down to three healthy receivers—Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, and fifth-round rookie Khalil Shakir. You might as well call it two and a half healthy receivers, really, with Davis clearly hampered as he played through an ankle sprain, having already dropped multiple throws.

Shakir’s first NFL reception? A key 2nd & 10 conversion on the drive that ended with an Allen touchdown run to tie the game.

Shakir’s second NFL reception? A toe-tapping catch to convert a 2nd & SHORT just before the two-minute warning on Buffalo’s game-winning drive.

Practice squad call-up defensive tackle Prince Emili, an undrafted rookie, also tipped the Jackson pass that Poyer pulled down as Buffalo’s defense started its ascent.

There are probably more examples. These are not players that the Bills want to be relying on consistently this year, but the fact that their depth players made key plays in a gritty road win against a playoff-caliber opponent bodes exceptionally well for this squad as the season progresses.

Contract-year Bills are showing out

Poyer’s return to the lineup couldn’t have timed out better. Buffalo’s secondary played better today than it did a week ago in Miami without one of their elite safeties in the lineup, particularly in the second half, and his two back-breaking interceptions are a primary reason the Bills emerged victorious.

On the first play, a Jackson pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, and Poyer—who was blitzing off the right side of the offensive line on the play—saw the throw and the tip, then out-rebounded a crowd for the ball. On the second, Poyer reacted just in time in noticing a wide-open Ravens receiver in the corner of the end zone on a late 4th & GOAL, then beat the receiver to the ball as Jackson delivered late.

Everyone is aware that this is Poyer’s contract year, and that he’s been seeking a new deal. If he keeps making plays like this, he’ll certainly make his money somewhere.

Poyer wasn’t the only contract-year Bills defender making plays all over the field. He was outshone a bit by Matt Milano at the position—more will assuredly be written about his big day over the next 24 hours—but Tremaine Edmunds was also tremendous, even if it doesn’t show up as prominently in the stat sheet. He was a huge factor in the Bills’ efforts to corral Jackson’s rushing efforts, and he (along with Milano) made some plays in space in both phases to prevent scoring plays and big gains. For anyone who re-watches these games, keep your eyes on No. 49 this week. You’re in for a treat.

Narratives die

Buffalo won its first game decided by one score since January 9, 2021, so now we can all stop talking about that for a hot minute.

In his post-game interview with CBS, Allen casually mentioned that the Bills were now 1-7 in their last eight one-score games. Miller had a better quote.

It’s going to be fun talking about something else this week.