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Bills 20, Jets 12: Five things we learned

The Bills aren’t playing their best, but they’ve won four straight, including two in the division

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills defeated the New York Jets, 20-12, on Sunday to improve to 10-3 overall, even their divisional record at 2-2, and put themselves on the cusp of clinching their fourth consecutive playoff berth. They’ve now won four straight games, and regardless of the rest of the week’s outcomes, will maintain their position as leaders of the AFC East, and holders of the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff picture.

It was a less-than-thrilling game to watch, but the biggest objective was to win, and they did. Here are five things we learned from Buffalo’s latest victory.

Winning is still the most important thing

As the Bills have ascended over the past few seasons and established themselves as a top-tier outfit, style points have carried increasing importance week to week — perhaps to a fault, on occasion.

Buffalo will earn very few style points with this win. Their performance offensively, which we’ll talk about in a moment, left an awful lot to be desired. The defense and special teams had longer stretches of competence, certainly, but this was not a pretty game to watch. Inclement weather certainly did not help either team play their best football.

And yet, the Bills won. They entered the game as the top team in the conference, and they exit it with their position unchanged. There’s still time to work on the style points. There’s not time to overcome a loss, and the Bills avoided that outcome today.

Bills’ offense continues to rely on hot stretches

The Bills started this game with punts on their first five offensive possessions. They ended the game with punts on their final three possessions (excluding the kneel-down after the defense clinched the win), one of which was blocked out of the end zone for a safety.

Sandwiched in between those long stretches of frustrating, bad play were four drives in which the Bills gained 190 of their 232 total yards on the day, and scored 20 points — a Josh Allen to Dawson Knox throw to close out the first half, an Allen run to give the Bills the lead for good, and two Tyler Bass field goals.

This was Buffalo’s worst offensive performance of the season by a considerable margin in terms of their ability to move the ball; it’s the first time they’ve failed to produce 300 yards of offense not just this season, but since their 2021 home loss to the New England Patriots in what is unaffectionately referred to as “the wind game” by those who remember it.

But they were still able to find their groove for long enough to squeak out 20 points, which on this day proved to be enough. They need to be better. They need to be more consistent, and to avoid costly penalties, dropped passes, and untimely play calls. But even when they’re bad, they’re still going to get hot for a spell.

Situational yips need to be erased

This was not an impressive performance for the Bills from the angle of sound situational football, either. There was plenty to be annoyed by for fans watching, including, but not limited to:

  • A first-half punt on 4th & Short in a situation the team would otherwise not hesitate to go for it;
  • Poor third-down performance on both sides of the ball; Buffalo’s offense was 2-for-13 on third-down conversion tries, while the defense struggled on 3rd & Long again in allowing 8-of-17 conversions for the Jets;
  • Head coach Sean McDermott had another of his patented ill-fated challenges that did not change the play’s outcome and cost his team a timeout;
  • Buffalo’s usually-stout special teams left a Jets rusher unblocked on a late punt; it was blocked for a safety, cutting Buffalo’s lead from 13 points to 11;
  • The Bills took a calculated risk on their final possession and attempted a first-down pass to try and ice the game, but Allen and Knox couldn’t connect, leaving a timeout in the Jets’ possession after the ensuing punt.

Really, Buffalo’s only saving grace here was that they won the turnover battle. They didn’t turn it over themselves, and recovered two fumbles — one on a sack of Joe Flacco, the other on a Damar Hamlin punch-out late in the game as the Jets were driving — and that, if we’re being honest, was the biggest difference in the game.

Buffalo’s defensive line dominates again

This was the Bills’ second game in a row playing without their top edge rusher, Von Miller, and for a second straight game, Buffalo’s defensive line was dominant. As a group, the defensive linemen registered seven quarterback hits, four sacks, four tackles for a loss, and forced and recovered a fumble. They also held a solid Jets rushing attack to just 76 total yards at 3.5 yards per carry, as the Jets opted to dial up the pass over 50 times on a rainy day.

Greg Rousseau recorded two of the sacks and the forced fumble, which was recovered by DaQuan Jones. Shaq Lawson and A.J. Epenesa also recorded sacks. Jones and Ed Oliver both flashed on the interior, but it was the group of ends who carried the day defensively for Buffalo. That will need to continue with Buffalo’s secondary continuing to struggle as the stretch run begins.

The Bills still control their own destiny

Next up on Buffalo’s schedule is a Saturday night matchup with the Miami Dolphins. As the Bills are guaranteed to have a three-game cushion on both the Jets and the New England Patriots with four games left to be played, it’s fairly easy to surmise that the Dolphins are the Bills’ biggest remaining threat for the AFC East title.

Buffalo’s Week 13 game against the Patriots felt like a must-win, as did today’s game against the Jets. That feeling won’t go away in six days’ time, particularly if Miami is able to beat the Los Angeles Chargers in L.A. on Sunday Night Football this week.

But if they keep winning, they’ll stay exactly where they are right now — looking at playing all of their playoff games, however many that may be, at Highmark Stadium. A few style points along the way might help the team’s confidence as the postseason draws near, but nothing tops winning, regardless of how it looks.