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Buffalo Bills 28, Detroit Lions 25: Rapid recap and notes

The Bills escaped Detroit with their second win in four days.

The Buffalo Bills had to overcome the jetlag of two round trips to Detroit in four days, as well as a feisty Detroit Lions team riding a three-game winning streak, but they survived the game with a 28-25 victory on a last-second field goal by Tyler Bass. Although the team seemed like they ran out of gas in the third quarter, when they punted three times in a row and yielded the lead to the Lions, the Bills found a second wind when it counted the most and came out on top.

Although both teams started the game with consecutive three-and-out drives, the two vaunted offenses warmed up from there. For the Lions, a 12-play, 61-yard drive took up nearly six and a half minutes of the first quarter, mixing runs and short passes before Jamaal Williams rushed off the left tackle for a two-yard touchdown run. The Bills responded with their own TD drive, set up by a 21-yard scramble from quarterback Josh Allen that put them into the red zone. Allen hit wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie on a deep crosser to tie the game at seven apiece.

On Detroit’s next drive, the Bills forced a turnover: Ed Oliver was part of a crew of defenders who tackled Williams in the backfield, and as the ball flew free, Oliver dove onto the fumble and recovered it for Buffalo. The Bills mixed six runs and four short passes on another touchdown drive, which ended with a bit of an accident—Allen fumbled the snap, but as he recovered the ball, the unexpected fumble pulled enough defenders out of position to open up a scramble lane up the middle into the end zone.

Trailing 14-7, the Lions aggressively attacked the Bills in the second quarter. Dan Campbell kept his offense on the field on 4th & 1 from his own 33-yard line, and the gamble paid off with a first-down conversion. The Lions carried that momentum down to the goalline, where they faced another fourth and one. Campbell dialed up a quick pass play that scored a game-tying touchdown.

Detroit left enough time on the clock for a Bills two-minute drill, and while Allen had some early success hitting some deep sideline throws, the Lions locked him up once the team made it to the red zone. The teams went into halftime with Buffalo leading 17-14 after Tyler Bass’s field goal kick.

After halftime, the Bills’ offense ran out of gas in yet another pathetic third quarter. Though their first drive made it to Detroit’s 10-yard line, Allen threw an interception when his pass was tipped at the line, killing the drive.

Buffalo’s defense made a huge stop on the ensuing possession: a tackle for a loss, an incomplete pass, and a sack-safety by Oliver that gave them a 19-14 lead. But none of that excitement carried forward to the Bills’ offense, which would punt on three consecutive drives—with a total of 32 yards gained across those three drives. The Lions weren’t able to avoid their own blunders, with a long drive ending with a shanked field goal attempt, but in the final minute of the third quarter, Kalif Raymond had a 41-yard punt return to spark his team’s offense. One pass interference penalty later, the Lions were at the 22-yard line, and it didn’t take them much more effort to pound through the Bills and take the lead right back.

Finally, the Bills figured out their troubles well enough to put together another scoring drive in the fourth quarter. It was an impressive 14-play, 80-yard drive that featured highlight runs and the re-emergence of wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who’d been almost invisible all game as Allen worked through accuracy issues and exceptional pressure through three quarters. Diggs caught the touchdown pass to give the Bills a 25-22 lead, but as Tyler Bass aimed to make it 26-22, his extra point kick hooked too far to the left, and that left the game at a three-point differential.

With a full 2:40 and three timeouts remaining, the Lions had plenty of time to take the win (or force overtime). They moved 22 yards over their first three plays, and even when the Bills had a tackle for a loss on the next play, the Lions were able to gain enough yardage to set up a pivotal 4th & 1. Campbell made a great playcall with a receiver handoff that gained seven yards, but the Lions ultimately couldn’t execute the remaining steps to lock up a win. They had a chance when D.J. Chark broke open deep, but he and Jared Goff weren’t on the same page on the throw. Lions kicker Michael Badgley redeemed his earlier miss with a 51-yard make to tie the game, but the Bills had 23 seconds and three timeouts of their own to try and re-take the lead.

Allen came out and ripped a 36-yard frozen rope to (who else but) Diggs, which immediately put the Bills at the cusp of field goal range. Strategic use of timeouts, along with two QB runs that gained 12 yards, set up Bass for his own redemption arc. He nailed the 45-yard field goal to seal the win for the Bills.

The Bills, at 8-3, are temporarily back into sole possession of first place of the AFC East. The stage is set for the final third of their season: Win their divisional games, and they’re in the playoffs (and likely with a very high seed).

Injury report

  • Von Miller left the game in the second quarter after a Lions defender landed on the back of his right leg and rolled up it. It was classified a knee injury, and the early projections were that it might be a sprained MCL, but Miller will undergo an MRI to confirm the severity.
  • Dion Dawkins injured his right ankle early in the third quarter. David Quessenberry stepped in at left tackle, and Dawkins was listed as questionable to return to the game.

Quick hits

  • Josh Allen became the first quarterback to win in all three time slots on Thanksgiving with today’s win. He beat the Cowboys in 2019, then crushing the Saints last year.
  • In the third quarter, Ed Oliver sacked Jared Goff for a safety to put the Bills up 19-14. It was Buffalo’s first safety since 2019, when Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield was sacked in his own end zone. For Detroit, it was their first safety since 2014.
  • Oliver didn’t get chosen as one of the stars of the game, but he deserved the honor. He had six tackles, a sack that caused a safety, two TFLs, two QB hits, and a fumble recovery. He stepped up in a huge way when Miller couldn’t play.
  • Somehow, Isaiah McKenzie ended up as a key focal point today, targeted ten times and catching six for 96 yards and a touchdown. He gave the Bills some early life on offense.
  • Stefon Diggs finished the first half with two catches for 15 yards on five targets. But he and Allen made it back onto the same page by the end of the game, as Diggs finished with a team-high eight catches on 15 targets, stacking up 77 yards and a touchdown.
  • The Bills’ defense did surrender a 27-yard run to Jamaal Williams, but overall locked Detroit down to 96 yards gained on 28 rush attempts.
  • The passing game, on the other hand, was still problematic. Amon-Ra St. Brown caught nine of 10 targets for 122 yards and a touchdown. Jared Goff had a 98.9 passer rating on the day.
  • Jim Nantz did his best to ward off a jinx, but to no avail: In the third quarter, with the Lions lined up for a chip-shot field goal, he shared how the Lions kicker hadn’t missed any kicks this season. So of course, Michael Badgley shanked his field goal attempt wide left.
  • Badgley wasn’t the only kicker to suffer the commentator’s curse today. It was delayed, but after Nantz had mentioned Tyler Bass’ perfect streak of extra points, Bass botched an extra-point kick that would’ve given the Bills a four-point lead late in the fourth quarter.

Next week

It’s time for the first of two Bills-Patriots games on the schedule! The Patriots will host the Bills on Thursday Night Football, and in a weird schedule quirk, both teams will have seven days of rest, because both teams are playing today. The Patriots are 6-4 as of press time, having scraped out a 10-3 win against the New York Jets on Sunday from a last-minute punt-return touchdown.