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Buffalo Bills 30, Minnesota Vikings 33: Rapid recap and notes

It’s hard to summarize this game in words. Excruciating, maybe?

The Buffalo Bills were on the losing end of an insane, back-and-forth heavyweight bout against the Minnesota Vikings, that ended 33-30 in favor of Skol. The lead changed four times, and despite the Bills building a 17-point lead late in the third quarter, they couldn’t close out the victory. Minnesota’s a great team, as their 8-1 record suggests, but Buffalo had them on the ropes and couldn’t find a way to finish the fight.

The Bills carried a 24-10 lead into halftime after two eventful quarters. The game started in favor of the Vikings, with Josh Allen nearly throwing a pick on the opening drive, and Kirk Cousins hooking up with Justin Jefferson to take a 7-0 lead. A big kickoff return by Duke Johnson, followed by a short pass with a horse collar penalty, and a 21-yard run by Devin Singletary, had the Bills in perfect position to equalize the score only two minutes later. Singletary scored his first rushing TD of the year to close out the drive. The Bills forced a quick punt, then drove for another touchdown with a mixture of runs and short passes.

Only two plays later, Kirk Cousins threw an interception, an off-target deep throw that landed in the arms of rookie Christian Benford. That set the Bills up with great field position, and though they couldn’t capitalize with a touchdown, it still gave them a field goal and a 17-7 lead.

Minnesota responded with a field goal drive, and with the Bills leading by seven late in the second quarter, it looked like they were driving to take a two-score lead. But Devin Singletary coughed up the football as he was tackled to the ground, and it was returned all the way to Buffalo territory. Suddenly it seemed like the Vikings might tie before halftime.

But the Bills’ defense held firm, even as the Vikings tried converting a 4th & 1 rather than settling for the field goal, and that set up Allen to lead the team on a successful touchdown drive in the closing seconds of the half. That set up the 24-10 scoring margin as both teams entered the locker room.

Minnesota’s second half started poorly, with Cousins pressured into his second interception on their opening drive. But neither team could get their offense going, as they traded punts from there. The Bills then scored a field goal late in the third quarter, extending their lead to 27-10, and it seemed like the game might be on its way to wrapping up.

That’s when the tides began to turn. The next Vikings drive lasted exactly one play: an 81-yard touchdown by Dalvin Cook, who broke free to the second level and ran untouched to the end zone. Buffalo responded with a 12-play, 67-yard drive that took them all the way to 4th & 2 at the Minnesota seven yard line. But rather than opt for a field goal, which would take a 10-point lead to a 13-point lead, they tried for the touchdown, and Allen’s pass was intercepted.

That set up the Vikings for the next stage of their comeback. A 13-play, 66-yard drive required them to convert two fourth downs, and it required Cousins to dodge pressure on numerous equations, and they dodged every attack the Bills threw at them. With a surprise fullback run at the goalline, they scored another touchdown, but crucially, they missed the extra point. That left the Bills with a 27-23 lead and four and a half minutes remaining.

The Bills still had a chance to seal their win, but their next drive went nowhere—a run for no gain, a false-start penalty, and two incomplete passes.

And so now the Vikings had a chance to win the game. A touchdown would do it, and nothing less. Over an excruciating 12-play, 75-yard drive, Justin Jefferson went Super Saiyan. The Vikings converted a 4th & 18 with a 32-yard one-handed catch by Jefferson, then Jefferson caught another pass, absorbed a brutal hit, and landed at the three-yard line.

Kirk Cousins tripped over his own teammate on 1st & Goal, and a second-down throw to Jefferson was incomplete. But then Jefferson appeared to catch a touchdown pass on the next play—but a replay official confirmed that Christian Benford tackled him at the one-yard line. Jordan Phillips was called offsides on the next play, which essentially caused a do-over, with the Vikings moving one foot closer to the end zone.

With the Vikings one foot away from taking the lead, the Bills’ defense absorbed their QB sneak attempt and turned it aside. It seemed like, with less than a minute remaining, Buffalo might have saved their win.

But there was still time left, and the Bills still had to play from scrimmage. And that’s where things went haywire—Josh Allen fumbled his snap from Mitch Morse, no doubt facing immense pressure on his QB sneak attempt, and Eric Kendricks dove on the ball in the end zone.

Turns out there was a Vikings TD, after all.

Facing a 30-27 deficit and 30 seconds left without any timeouts, of course, Josh Allen did not let his team go quietly. He and his teammates played almost perfectly, driving the Bills down to set up the game-tying field goal. They were, maybe, a pass interference away from scoring a game-winning touchdown outright. Instead, the team headed to overtime, and it was Vikings ball.

The Vikings, once again, looked like they could overcome anything to take a win. Their opening possession of overtime took 12 plays and lasted more than six minutes. Jefferson (who else) drew a pass interference penalty then caught a pass for 24 yards, landing at the Buffalo two-yard line.

Buffalo’s defense finally woke up from there, with a tackle for a loss on Dalvin Cook, a 10-yard sack, and an incompletion. The Vikings settled for a 33-30 lead with a field goal, but it still left room for Allen to work.

He tried doing it all himself, but Allen gambled too aggressively in the end. Two runs gained 38 yards, then two short passes earned 14 and set the team up at the 20-yard line with two minutes remaining. Allen tried a deep pass to Dawson Knox, but it was broken up in the end zone. He then tried another shot to the end zone, but he didn’t see Patrick Peterson lurking underneath. Peterson picked off the pass, and that was the end of the roller coaster afternoon—Vikings win, 33-30.

Now with a 6-3 record, the Bills aren’t leading the AFC anymore. In fact, they’re in third place in the AFC East, with the 7-3 Dolphins in the driver’s seat and the Jets leading them on divisional record.

This team has three losses by a combined eight points, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. If they want to keep their Super Bowl hopes alive, they need to get healthy, get on the same page, and start a long winning streak in the AFC.

Injury report

  • Huge scare in the fourth quarter when Josh Allen, after throwing a pick and tackling the returner, stayed on the ground, clearly agitated. Allen went right back to the bench after that, so he clearly was just upset (or maybe feeling some pain from making the tackle).
  • Tremaine Edmunds, who barely practiced this week with a groin injury, aggravated the injury in the third quarter. He was questionable to return to the game, and Tyrel Dodson played in his place in the lineup after that.
  • Jake Kumerow left the game with an ankle injury, and after initially thinking he was likely to return to the game, the Bills later ruled him out.
  • Devin Singletary doubled over in pain after a third-quarter running play, but he just had the wind knocked out of him. He was back in action very quickly.

Quick hits

  • After he played nearly three full seasons without a single red zone turnover, it’s astonishing to think that Josh Allen has four of them in the last two weeks.
  • To underscore what an epic loss this turned out to be, the last time the Bills blew a 14 point halftime lead at home was, as the broadcast noted, in 1968.
  • The Bills led by 17 points with 17 minutes left in the game. They led by ten points, and had the ball at the Minnesota seven yard line, with 10:27 remaining. They possessed the ball, with a four point lead, with first and ten and 0:48 remaining. And they still lost this one.
  • The Vikings and the Bills handled third down about as effectively today, but the crucial difference was on fourth down: The Bills failed their only attempt, while the Vikings were 3-for-5.
  • On the one hand, the Bills held the Vikings to 66 yards on 24 carries for 99% of the game. On the other hand, they gave up an 81 yard touchdown run with some of the worst timing possible.
  • Similarly, Justin Jefferson was mostly bottled up for “only” around a hundred yards and change. Then he racked up another five catches for nearly a hundred more yards exactly when the Vikings needed it.
  • That Bills-Vikings trade had to be the win-winningest trade this century, right? Jefferson is a superstar for his team, and Stefon Diggs added another 12 catches for 128 yards to his impressive ledger today.
  • Credit goes to Gabriel Davis (6 catches, 93 yards, 1 TD) and Dawson Knox (4 catches, 57 yards) for getting open and catching passes when the Bills needed them to, after some lousy performances the last few weeks. Except, well, the last drive of the game, when both failed to come up with a TD in the clutch.
  • Von Miller deserves much better from the Bills. For the second week in a row he had (what looked like) a game changing play, only for the Bills to barf that success right back to the other team.
  • With Greg Rousseau sidelined, kudos to A.J. Epenesa and Boogie Basham, who each had a sack today. Epenesa added two pass breakups.
  • Christian Benford had the ultimate hot and cold day. His first career pick, and three pass breakups, were great strides for the rookie. But he was also beaten time and again by Justin Jefferson.
  • Congrats to Ed Oliver for finally getting his first (half) sack of the season, shared with Shaq Lawson. Oliver’s been playing well, but seems to have inherited the “King of the Almost Sack” mantle now that Jerry Hughes left the building.

Next week

The Bills host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at 1 p.m. EST, then fly out to Michigan to play the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving afternoon. The Browns dropped to 3-6 on the season with a loss to the Miami Dolphins today. Their controversial, expensive quarterback, Deshaun Watson, still hasn’t finished serving his personal conduct suspension.