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Bills 23, Ravens 20: how Buffalo improved to 3-1

Mr. B’s Breakdown

NFL: OCT 02 Bills at Ravens Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills managed to pull victory from the jaws of wet and windy defeat, despite giving up 20 first-half points and gifting the Baltimore Ravens two turnovers in the first three drives. Quarterback Josh Allen and the team’s defense ultimately found that all-important conference win, lifting their overall record to 3-1. With wind gusts of 25-35 mph making the rain fall sideways, the game was set to be a gritty, nasty, slugfest from the start. “Those are the games you love winning” Allen said after the game while speaking to the media. A hard-fought battle both ways left the quarterback proud of his teammates for gutting out a win.

“I’ll tell you what, it would be very difficult if we didn’t have the guys in the locker room that we did. Guys that just love each other, want to play for each other, aren’t going to stress in frantic situations.”

As a team, the Bills stayed composed despite the uphill battle staring them down due to their 17-point first-half deficit. Head coach Sean McDerment and the other coaches deserve praise, considering the game-changing plays made by a number of players who were thrust into action due to injury. In this week’s edition of Mr. B’s breakdown, we’ll explore all three phases of the game in what was the essence of a true team victory.

Bass Bounces Back

On Sunday, kicker Tyler Bass nailed the first game-winning field goal of his career splitting the uprights from 21 yards out. He’s earned the confidence of Bills fans throughout his three seasons in Buffalo. He’s automatic from inside the 30-yard line, going 26-for-26. After missing a crucial kick against the Miami Dolphins, Bass redeemed himself against the Ravens by kicking three field goals—building on his career field goal percentage of 85.1%. All told, Bass has now converted seven of eight kicks through the first four games this season. With 11 points in the game, he also moved to ninth on the team’s all-time scoring list with 310 points.

Punter Sam Martin and the offensive line deserve credit for great holds on the kicks and good protection from the pass rush. During the game-winning kick, Baltimore came dangerously close to getting a block, but the line held up just enough for Bass to get the kick off and up. Much was said about the importance of the holder this offseason and Buffalo appears to have transitioned seamlessly with Martin taking over the job.

Run Josh, Run

Allen led the Bills in rushing for the third time this season, managing 70 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Even if this sort of production isn’t sustainable throughout a 17-game season, his talent and the importance of Allen’s running is undeniable. In his career, when Allen has at least one rushing TD, the Bills hold a record of 28-5. The Bills continue to bring in running backs, looking to find a more efficient way of rushing the ball. But Allen is a unicorn at his position. His legs are a deadly weapon that cannot be replicated through a traditional running attack. His size and speed make him a mismatch even against the best linebackers, corners, or safeties in the league—which we saw on display in Baltimore during Allen’s 11-yard touchdown run. With a 2nd & 3 at the Ravens’ 11-yard line, offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey diled up a bootleg run. The play action to running back Devin Singletary froze linebacker Patrick Queen just enough to give Allen the opening on the edge he needed. From there, he turned the corner into the second level of the defense. With wide receiver Gabe Davis blocking ahead, Allen made a cut-move right, diving into the end zone for the tying score. Allen’s dual-threat ability has created dozens of vintage moments such as this one from Sunday. Bills Mafia knows well that time and again, Allen is capable of willing the Bills to victory.

Goal Line Stand

McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frasier have fielded fierce defenses throughout their tenure in Buffalo. Their roster makes teams grind for every offensive yard and fight on every down no matter the situation. Last season the Bills finished second overall in total red zone offense allowed, smothering opponents as they inched toward Buffalo’s end zone.

Looking to sustain this success, the Bills were pushed to the brink on Sunday. Baltimore had Buffalo by the proverbial throat during what would end up being their last offensive possession. A 12-play, 93-yard drive left quarterbak Lamar Jackson with a 2nd & Goal at the Buffalo two-yard line. Linebacker Matt Milano made a Pro Bowl-caliber play, flying into the backfield and tackling running back J.K. Dobbins for a loss. Safety Damar Hamlin, starting in place of All-Pro Micah Hyde, then made his own big-time play by stepping up on a scrambling Jackson to bring him down short of the goal line. Jackson had gashed the defense for 73 yards on the ground leading up to this sequence. Hamlin’s tackle, in my opinion, is the runner-up for play of the game. Hamlin had the presence of mind to keep his eyes on the receiver running at him, but also on Jackson. He saw the middle of the field open up and reacted instantly by churning his feet upfield to meet Jackson, before he could burn the defense with the open field. This sort of instinctive play shows the awareness and high IQ of Hamlin, lending to a game-saving play.

The All-22 view from the back of the endzone shows just much space Jackson actually had as the middle of the field parted open like the Red Sea.

Hamlin’s stop of Jackson is my runner-up moment due to what happened on the very next play, On 4th & Goal fom the three-yard line, head coach John Harbaugh decided to go for the touchdown instead of taking a three-point lead with a field goal. Making a decision like this is not always popular as we saw with cornerback Marcus Peters’s outburst at Harbaugh. “Emotions run high. We’re on the same page,” Harbaugh said of the interaction with Peters via Audacy’s WGR 550. ”We’ve got a great relationship, we’ve got an honest relationship. I love him, hope he still loves me, we’ll see.”

Coach Harbaugh’s decision was made because he knew who was on the other sideline. In its simplest form, this was all about respect towards Josh Allen.

“There’s nothing less safe in the National Football League than a three-point lead, a four-point lead, a five-point lead or a six-point lead,” Harbaugh said. “That’s kind of been proven, and I trust our defense to get a stop with three points; I trust our defense to get a stop with three, seven or a tie game. Any one of those scenarios, I trust our defense to get the job done, and we were close to getting off the field, especially on that third down. So, we can do it that way, but the options were, now we’re in a situation where, if we score—and we’re right down there to score, we’re moving the football—now it’s a seven-point lead.”

In the NFL where conservative coaches actively make decisions that hurt their teams week after week, Harbaugh tried to stay aggressive knowing Allen was on the other sideline. You can’t help but notice the contradiction in his comments. Had he really trusted his defense he would have kicked the field goal, taken a lead late in the fourth quarter, and let his defense get one stop to win the game. Instead, with the game on the line and a 4th & Goal, safety Jordan Poyer showed everyone watching why he’s an All Pro.

The Bills rushed four d-linemen, had Milano and Edmunds spy Lamar Jackson, and had the secondary drop into zone coverage. Wide receiver Devin Duvernay ran a great route to the corner of the endzone uncovered, waving his hands trying to get Jackson to notice. With the lack of a pass rush, Jackson had 4.74 seconds to throw—giving him ample opportunity to make a play. Poyer saw how wide open Duvernay was and sprinted to him. He timed it perfectly, jumped for the ball and intercepted Jackson for the second time—a truly back-breaking pick. The turnover also produced a 17-yard swing as the touchback set the Bills up for a final drive from the 20-yard line instead of getting the ball at their own three. The Bills missed Poyer and his big-play ability dearly against the Dolphins. With Hyde out for the season, I have no doubt Poyer will continue to step up and ball out for this defense.

Four-Minute Offense

After the goal line stand, Allen and co. marched down the field with a chance to win the game on a field goal. Allen, wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Khalil Shakir, tight end Dawson Knox, and running back Devin Singletary all had crucial big-play leading up to the game-winning kick. Shakir, who came in after wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie suffered a concussion, made a clutch toe-touching grab on the sideline to move the chains. The rookie who flashed all training camp and preseason looked like a savvy veteran on the drive. The play was classic Allen scrambling with his feet to buy time, then putting a dart right in the chest of the wide receiver. Shakir’s focus to get his feet in bounds at top-end speed is ridiculous. The “Madden camera” view of the All-22 shows how fast everything actually happened on the field.

Even though Shakir only finished the game with two catches for 23 yards, it’s easy to get excited about the thought of another weapon injecting more life into this offense for the remainder of the season.

Final Thoughts

If you told me prior to the game that the Bills would start the game down 17 points before half time, only muster 23 total points, and commit two turnovers, I’d be sure a winning celebration wasn’t in the works. At the end of the day though, a win in a sloppy game like this counts the same as impressive blow outs. Sometimes you have to be lucky to be good, and winning isn’t always pretty. A roughing-the-passer call was a lucky moment for Buffalo on that final drive. It’s a call that many have said was a terrible—and rightfully so, in truth. But that is football and the victors write the story of the game. Instead of the putrid first half, the story of this game is a gutsy, come-from-behind win, Josh Allen’s largest come-back bid to date in his career. Young players like Shakir and Hamlin are showing off the accumulated depth, ultimately important to Sunday’s victory.

With the first four games behind us, the Bills need to begin rounding into midseason form. The cobwebs should be cleared. Bills Mafia will hear no excuses for bad turnovers, miscommunication, and poor execution Buffalo is to live up to all the lofty preseason hype. Mediocre teams also make these crushing mistakes, but this is where contenders separate from pretenders.

I expect the Bills’ coaches to take what they learned last Sunday and use it as fuel next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Look for Buffalo to come out and dominate an inferior opponent on Sunday and get some revenge after Pittsburgh spoiled last season’s home opener.

What was your favorite play from the Bills’ gritty come-from-behind-win against the Ravens? Leave a comment and let me know! As always, you can also catch our show: Not Another Buffalo Podcast with my co-hosts Jon and Pat every Wednesday and Friday as we cover the Bills and talk sports betting for the football weekend ahead.