The Buffalo Bills went to Ford Field for the second time in five days on Thursday, but this time, they were the road team, facing the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. While the Bills were heavy favorites in the game, the Lions stayed hot, and they nearly pulled off the upset. However, some late-game heroics from Buffalo’s best players set up kicker Tyler Bass with an opportunity to make a last-second field goal to win. Bass obliged, and Buffalo escaped Detroit with a 28-25 win.
Given that three of our five players to watch this week either literally didn’t play in the game (center Mitch Morse) or were featured mostly on special teams, we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about some of the other guys mentioned in last week’s writeup. That makes this a slightly different recap than the normal, but we’re giving it a go anyway.
Here’s how our five (or so) players to watch fared this week.
QB Josh Allen
It wasn’t an efficient game by any means, but it was a gusty one. Think of the context: Allen is playing through an elbow injury. He just played a game on Sunday. He has to recuperate, prepare, and throw 42 times on Thursday. He’s the team’s leading rusher. And he had, truthfully, one actual practice combined over the week leading up to the game against the Cleveland Browns and this game against Detroit.
That’s a lot to overcome, but through sheer force of will, Allen drove the Bills to do it. He threw two touchdown passes—one a gorgeous ball on third down to Isaiah McKenzie in the first quarter, and another a dart to Stefon Diggs in the fourth—and rushed for another on a botched snap that turned into a playground shuffle. Allen just flat dropped the snap from center Ryan Bates, who was starting in place of Mitch Morse (more on that below), and as the play broke down around him, he just calmly shuffled into the end zone to give the Bills the lead.
The most impressive bit of the game for Allen, though, was in the fourth quarter. After the offense struggled for most of the second half to do anything at all, Allen just flat-out took over on the Bills’ last two drives. Trailing 22-19 with just under nine minutes left, Allen led Buffalo on a 14-play, 90-yard drive to take the lead. In that series, Allen completed 7-of-9 passes for 49 yards and the go-ahead touchdown. He also ran it twice for 17 more yards. On the final drive, though, Allen just made a ridiculous throw, threading the needle and hitting Diggs 36 yards downfield to move the ball from Buffalo’s 25-yard line to Detroit’s 39. That put the Bills in field goal range with just 16 seconds remaining. The play started with 23 seconds to go. The next two plays were both Allen runs—a designed quarterback draw for three yards, and a designed quarterback sweep for nine more—that set Bass up for the game-winning kick.
It wasn’t Allen’s most eye-popping day statistically, but it’s a testament to just how good he is that we can say he played a good, not great, game in which he completed 24-of-42 passes for 253 yards, two touchdowns, and a red zone interception (courtesy of a very athletic deflection by Lions linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez), adding 10 carries, 78 rushing yards, and one touchdown to his day.
Allen has now quarterbacked a Bills victory in all three Thanksgiving Day time slots. He is the only quarterback to achieve such a feat. Bruce Nolan might tell us that wins aren’t a quarterback stat (and I agree with him), but let’s take a minute to appreciate just how great Allen has been on Thanksgiving Day in his three attempts.
RB Nyheim Hines
This is the last time I let my son pick a player to put on the list. I kid, I kid—but seriously, the Bills just aren’t using Hines on offense at all. He’s immediately became Buffalo’s primary return guy, but he only had one chance to make a return last week. He did return that one kickoff 26 yards, but he didn’t do much of anything on offense. Hines lined up for just four offensive snaps. He had one carry for three yards. Devin Singletary, on the other hand, continued his hot streak, rushing 14 times for 72 yards, adding one eight-yard reception to his ledger. Motor is on pace for 853 rushing yards and career-highs in catches (48) and receiving yards (349).
C Ryan Bates
Since Mitch Morse missed the game with an injury, it was Bates sliding over to center. Greg Van Roten was the starter at right guard. Some of us in the lead-up to the game had hoped that David Quessenberry would start at guard given his flexibility combined with Van Roten’s less-than-stellar play at center earlier this year, but the team ended up needing Quessenberry at left tackle in the game after starter Dion Dawkins injured his ankle. Allen was pressured some in this one, but given the patchwork nature of the line after the first half, it’s hard to pinpoint any one player for it. There were some snaps that weren’t quite as on target with Bates, but that’s expected when you slide over from a guard spot. Hopefully, the Bills can count on Morse playing this week against the New England Patriots, giving Bates the chance to move back to his right guard spot.
LB Tyrel Dodson
I speculated that veteran A.J. Klein might start in his place, and that’s exactly what happened. After Dodson struggled mightily against the Cleveland Browns, the Bills not only gave Klein the start, but they played him on every defensive snap in the game while also giving him the “green dot” on his helmet. That means that Klein was the guy calling the checks on defense, and Klein was the guy hearing defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier on the headset. Dodson did appear on 10 defensive snaps when Buffalo went to a 4-3 look, and he made one tackle. Klein, for his part, looked very good, and he was second on the team in tackles with nine. He also dropped a gift-wrapped interception that could have given all of us some blood pressure relief.
CB Dane Jackson
This has been a really tough stretch for Jackson, and it’s not like it’s been against easy competition. He’s had to face Justin Jefferson, Amari Cooper, and Amon-Ra St. Brown over the last three weeks. The problem is that all three of those guys have absolutely smoked him over that time—but more troubling is that it hasn’t only been those guys. Jackson consistently finds himself in position to make plays, which speaks to his instincts and his ability within this defensive system; however, he finds himself just a little late or a little out of position, so he can’t actually make the play. He was the closest man in coverage on D.J. Chark’s one-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to give Detroit the lead, but he was also the closest man in coverage on an awful lot of passes that kept the chains moving for the Lions. He had seven tackles and a pass breakup on the game, but I wonder how quickly the Bills will start to move to a cornerback duo of White and Kaiir Elam as those two work their way back from injury.