The Buffalo Bills handled their business in Week 16, defeating the Chicago Bears, 35-13, to secure their sixth straight win. In doing so, the Bills improved to 12-3, clinched their third straight AFC East division championship, and kept pace ahead of the also-victorious Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff picture.
And yet, the game was quite irritating to watch, despite the lopsided outcome. Three careless turnovers, nine penalties for 72 yards (Chicago was flagged just twice by comparison), and more struggles from Buffalo’s passing attack and special teams unit kept Chicago in the game for far longer than they should have been. Buffalo righted the ship by the final whistle, but with the playoffs now less than a month away, the continued stretches of sloppy play are growing more concerning each week.
Here are three things we learned from Buffalo’s win in the Windy City — one for each consecutive division title the Bills have won.
Bills’ defense saves the day
Bears quarterback Justin Fields, one of the most dynamic athletes in the NFL, came into this game with 1,000 rushing yards. He had not been held under 50 rushing yards since October 9. On this day, Fields carried the ball seven times for 11 yards. It was Fields’ lowest single-game rushing output since an October 10, 2021 matchup with Las Vegas in his rookie season.
With Fields held in check — he also only threw for 119 yards, and was sacked twice — Chicago’s offense had very little in the tank to keep pace with Buffalo, even as the Bills repeatedly shot themselves in the foot. The Bears gained 89 yards of offense in the first quarter, and then were held to just 120 yards combined in the final three quarters.
It was not a perfect outing from Buffalo defensively. They left some plays to be made on the field, and sprung some first-quarter leaks in the running game before tightening up. But the job they did defending Fields, as well as in forcing a turnover that set up the Bills’ third touchdown of the game, was the catalyst to the team coming away with their sixth road win of the season.
Bills’ running game keeps offense from flaming out
Quarterback Josh Allen and Buffalo’s passing attack struggled in this one. Allen threw two ugly interceptions that, against a better opponent, could have been much more detrimental to Buffalo’s win probability. He only took one sack, but the offensive line struggled to protect Allen for stretches — against a banged-up Bears defense not exactly known for its ability to generate pressure. The team also couldn’t find ways to involve wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who caught just two passes for 26 yards; it was Diggs’ third straight game with 60 or fewer receiving yards.
They didn’t really need their passing attack, though. As a team, Buffalo ran for a whopping 254 yards in this contest; that’s their highest single-game team rushing total since December 24, 2016. They added three rushing touchdowns, as well.
Running back Devin Singletary paced the team with 106 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. James Cook added 99 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. And Allen chipped in with 41 yards and a touchdown of his own on six totes. As ever, Buffalo’s rushing attack was a group effort, and all members of the group had an excellent day.
The Bills have two weeks to ramp up their struggling passing attack, but if they can continue to run it effectively — and avoid the turnovers — they’re still a very difficult offense to defend against.
Bills’ special teams continue to flounder
Buffalo’s special teams units have been on a cold streak of late, and that continued in Chicago. They came into this game having struggled against both the New York Jets (highlighted by a Jets blocked punt that cut Buffalo’s lead to one score) and the Miami Dolphins (highlighted by a roughing-the-punter penalty that set up a go-ahead score for the Dolphins), and the struggles continued against the Bears.
This time around, the struggles were slightly less pronounced. Tyler Bass missed two early kicks — an extra point, and then a short field goal — in high winds, before eventually solving the elements and nailing his last three extra-point tries. Bears kick returner Velus Jones, Jr. averaged 28.3 yards per kick return, contributing to some first-quarter field positioning issues for Buffalo. Running back Nyheim Hines dropped a fourth-quarter kickoff at the goal line and scrambled to recover it, giving the Bills poor starting field position once again. (Buffalo went three-and-out on the ensuing possession.)
The third phase in Buffalo has not passed the eye test for much of this season, but their issues are becoming more pronounced at a non-ideal time. The Bills famously had a special teams gaffe in their most recent playoff game, as well, so their performance here should be very closely monitored over the final two weeks of the season.