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Bills 28, Lions 25: Five things we learned

The Bills found a way to win a game they were widely expected to win on Thanksgiving Day, and end a trying November with two straight victories

Buffalo Bills v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

A trying month of November for the Buffalo Bills has come to a merciful conclusion, and as fate would have it, on a high note. Buffalo made some last-second plays offensively to set up a game-winning field goal to knock off the Detroit Lions, 28-25, at Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day. It was their second win at that venue in five days, a trying stretch that helped the Bills salvage a 2-2 record in what has turned out to be a crazy month for the Super Bowl hopefuls.

There’s plenty to like about the resilience and big-moment play of this team, but as has been the case for them all month, not all of the news coming out of this game was of the good variety. Here are five things we learned from this win.

Injured Josh Allen is still Josh Allen

CBS color analyst Tony Romo kept talking about Josh Allen’s elbow in this game. Over and over, as Allen threw inaccurate passes and continued to work through his mid-season funk, Romo’s refrain was consistent: Allen’s elbow is bothering him. He’s working through it. In another week or two, he’ll be back to his normal self.

If that’s true—and there’s some evidence that it is, even if the injury is not the root cause of all of Allen’s struggles over the past month—then an injured Allen is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

Allen’s stat line won’t blow you away: 57.1% completions (24-for-42), 6.0 yards per pass attempt (253 yards), two touchdowns, and yet another red zone interception. The Bills struggled in particular early in the second half, when Allen’s passes were flying all over the map, and Romo’s rhetoric hit a fever pitch.

And then the end of the game happened. On Buffalo’s go-ahead scoring drive that put them ahead 25-22 with just under three minutes remaining, Allen completed 7-of-8 passes for 49 yards and a five-yard touchdown toss to Stefon Diggs, adding two carries for 17 yards on the possession to keep the chains moving.

Then, after Detroit tied the game up, he threw a 36-yard dart to Diggs between three Lions defenders to immediately get the Bills into field goal range. He added 12 rushing yards on two carries to make it a manageable-distance field goal for Tyler Bass, who hit it for the win.

The guy is a great player.

That Allen-to-Stefon Diggs play was special

We need to chat a bit more about that aforementioned missile from Allen that set up the winning score.

Yes, context matters, and yes, the Lions were missing multiple key members of their secondary, and are not a great defense to begin with. But we’re still talking about professional athletes here, and more to the point, the Bills had been dealing with their own problems throwing the ball all game long.

Even more to the point: just look at this thing.

That’s a dude with a bum elbow throwing a 40-yard rocket in between three defenders to set up a game-winning field goal on a pro football field. It’s also a great route and catch on the other end. Do not take this for granted, ever. Allen to Diggs is special.

Ed Oliver, Matt Milano make enough plays defensively

The Bills have been struggling a bit defensively as they work through a mountain of injuries—more on that in a moment—and that continued in Detroit. But they’re managing to get by while waiting for several key players to return, thanks predominantly to the continued excellent contributions of defensive tackle Ed Oliver and linebacker Matt Milano.

We’ll start with Milano, the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week who didn’t have quite the same level of success as he did on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, but was still a star. Milano finished this game with seven tackles, a tackle for a loss, a quarterback hit, and a defended pass, and was his usual all-over-the-field self.

Oliver, for my money, has been Buffalo’s best defender for the past three weeks. He continued his recent tear against a Lions offensive line missing both of its starting guards, recording six tackles, two tackles for a loss, a sack of quarterback Jared Goff in the end zone that resulted in a safety, two quarterback hits, and a fumble that he both forced and recovered. So robust was his stat line that I nearly forgot the fumble bit while assembling this post.

It was not a perfect outing for Buffalo’s defense, though it was also an improved one. They surrendered only 326 yards of total offense, scored two points themselves (Oliver’s safety), and held Detroit to a late field goal that kept the game in play for Allen. But they also allowed yet another 100-yard receiver (Amon-Ra St. Brown had nine receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown), and gave up double-digit points in the fourth quarter for a third straight game.

Injuries are becoming difficult to surmount

Buffalo has been bitten by the injury bug this season, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better, it seems. The team went into this game missing their starters at center (Mitch Morse), defensive end (Greg Rousseau), middle linebacker (Tremaine Edmunds), and safety (Micah Hyde), and by the time the final whistle blew had added their left tackle and their star edge rusher to the mix.

Dion Dawkins was injured in the first half at some point, and when the second half began, he was spotted on the sideline in a ball cap. He was labeled as questionable to return with an ankle injury, but David Quessenberry finished out the game at left tackle.

The news is perhaps worse for Von Miller, whose ankle was caught in the Ford Field turf as his knee got jacked out of position. It looked bad. He was down on the field for quite a while, spent a lot of time in the blue medical tent, and then was very quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game.

There are mixed reports on how serious Miller’s injury might be, and the team probably doesn’t even know the true extent of it yet. The question seems to be whether Miller will miss only several weeks, or the remainder of the season.

Tre’Davious White on a pitch count

On the same day that the Bills lost Miller to a potentially devastating knee injury, they got a player back from a knee injury of his own: cornerback Tre’Davious White played in this contest, his first appearance since an ACL tear last Thanksgiving.

If you were wondering where White was for most of the game, you weren’t alone, and it turns out that the Bills had White on a pitch count. White played 15 snaps throughout Buffalo’s first two defensive drives, and then didn’t appear on the field for the rest of the game. Functionally, Buffalo treated this almost like a preseason game for White.

Dane Jackson played every snap at cornerback in this contest, and White was the low man on a platoon on the other side, as he split those reps with Christian Benford (47.8% of snaps) and Kaiir Elam (28.4%), per ESPN’s Alaina Getzenberg. Bills head coach Sean McDermott said that the plan is to ramp White up from there going forward. With Miller’s injury lingering and several other key defenders missing, Buffalo could use every boost it can get on that side of the ball.