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Bills vs. Vikings recap: Key moments in win probability swings

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

After a heartbreaking Week 9 loss to the New York Jets, it was expected that the Buffalo Bills would handle the Minnesota Vikings to prove they still belong atop the AFC.

Instead, the Bills lost 33-30 in overtime after quarterback Josh Allen threw a red zone interception on the final drive—his second of the game—to finish things off. The Vikings were 7-1 entering this matchup, so earning a win wasn’t expected to be an easy feat, but to see the Bills lose yet another “game of the year” candidate is gut-wrenching.

The win probability metrics usually favor the Bills early in the game, because they tend to take the lead quickly, but after an opening drive three-and-out for the second straight week, the odds immediately favored the Vikings. The defense was expected to struggle yet again due to a hefty injury report, and that showed early when the Vikings scored on their first drive, beginning wide receiver Justin Jefferson’s dominant performance.

Despite the ugly start, Buffalo still walked into halftime with a 24-10 lead, and the defense was noticeably flustering Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Allen’s second-half woes surfaced for the third straight week, completely derailing any sort of momentum built throughout the game. He threw two red zone interceptions and fumbled a center exchange on his own one-yard line, essentially gifting the Vikings 14 free points. Despite all this, while the Bills’ defense did struggle at times, they also made some huge stops and forced turnovers to keep the win probability metrics consistently all over them.

Let’s take a look at some notable win probability changes from ESPN Analytics, and where the Bills’ chances started going the wrong direction.

1st quarter, 8:10 remaining — BUF with a 55.3% win probability: After going three-and-out on the opening drive, the switch was flipped. Running back Duke Johnson had a huge 40-plus yard return on the kickoff, and then Devin Singletary found the end zone, capping off a quick four-play, 47-yard drive to tie the game, 7-7. Despite the game being tied, the metrics favored Buffalo slightly—and they would stay in Buffalo’s favor, to varying degrees, until very late in the fourth quarter.

Halftime — BUF with a 88.8% win probability: The Bills were up 24-10 going into the half after Allen found wide receiver Gabe Davis for a touchdown with just 26 seconds left in the second quarter. The defense was on point, holding the Vikings to just a field goal on their next five possessions following the opening-drive touchdown. It was clear at this point that all Cousins was looking for was Jefferson, but the weakened secondary simply couldn’t stop him once the second half began.

3rd quarter, 1:51 remaining — BUF with a 96.8% win probability: The defense kept playing at a high level, picking off Cousins and forcing a turnover on downs. The Bills couldn’t get much going on offense, however, but managed to get a field goal from the interception, increasing the lead to 27-10. There were 16 minutes and 51 seconds left in regulation, and the Bills were up by three possessions. They absolutely imploded from this moment on. As soon as Buffalo kicked it off, the Vikings scored on a 81-yard touchdown from running back Dalvin Cook.

4th quarter, 0:50 remaining — BUF with a 75.8% win probability: The Bills’ offense was self-destructing after Singletary fumbled, and then Allen threw an interception on a 4th & Goal play. The Vikings were slowly getting back into it, but Buffalo’s defense came through yet again, successfully completing the goal line stand with just 50 seconds remaining. This seemed like it would end the game, as the Vikings had just one timeout remaining—but the Bills did Bills things.

4th quarter, 0:35 remaining — MIN with a 89.4% win probability: The Bills had the game all the way up until 35 seconds left in regulation. This was an absolute disaster of a play, and inexcusable from Allen. Allen fumbled the snap when the Bills were backed up on their own one-yard line following the defense’s goal line stand, and the Vikings fell on top of it in the end zone. This felt eerily similar to the Hail Murray play, where you sit there in silence trying to fathom what just happened.

End of regulation tied 30-30 — BUF with a 51.1% win probability: Following the game-tying field goal from kicker Tyler Bass, the win probability metrics favored the Bills once the score was even again. But of course, Buffalo lost the overtime coin toss, and the odds immediately switched back to Minnesota.

Overtime, 1:12 remaining — MIN with a 100% win probability: Minnesota had no problem moving the ball down the field in overtime, but the defense came up big once again, holding them to just a field goal and finally giving Allen an opportunity to touch the ball in overtime. Up to this point, Allen had already fumbled on his goal line and threw a red zone interception. He looked unstoppable early in this drive, however, and the Bills moved down the field with ease. But in unfortunately typical Allen fashion, he tried to do too much, forcing a throw into a tight window that wasn’t open. Patrick Peterson picked it off, and the game ended.

Last week’s loss stung, but didn't have too much effect on the playoff picture for Buffalo. Things certainly look bleaker now. The Bills are no longer either the conference or the division leader, having dropped down to third place in the AFC East behind the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. They’ve lost back-to-back games to teams they absolutely should be beating 9-out-of-10 times given the talent and depth of the roster. Allen’s slump is costing the Bills games at this point, and if he doesn’t figure it out soon, the outcome of the season won't be similar to previous seasons. Aside from the defense folding when it came to covering Jefferson, this loss is on Allen and his decision-making. He leads the league in turnovers today, and has thrown two interceptions in three straight games.