The Buffalo Bills beat the New England Patriots on Sunday, clinching the No. 2 seed in the AFC Playoffs while also ending the playoff hopes of a bitter rival. Buffalo played a solid game in all three phases, which is wild to say considering that, at points, it felt as if the team was stuck in the mud throughout the afternoon. As Buffalo overcame the emotional hurdles they experienced throughout the afternoon, the Bills were able to pull away.
Some of our players to watch had strong games, and some other players we left off the list this week shined even brighter (thank you, Nyheim Hines). While it wasn’t always pretty, it was a good, complete win for a 13-3 Buffalo team.
Here’s how our five players to watch in the season finale performed.
QB Josh Allen
Looking at Allen’s play on the day, it felt like he was struggling throughout to find open receivers. He wasn’t rushing his progressions — quite the opposite, in fact, as he was patient in the pocket all afternoon — but he wasn’t able to find deep shots or quick options in the early going. Through the end of the first half, Allen was just 12-of-20 for 96 yards with a touchdown and an interception, his fifth such turnover in the red zone this year. In the second half, though, Allen and the offense found its groove by going back to the big play. He rolled right, directed traffic, and hit his old friend John Brown on a gorgeous 42-yard touchdown towards the end of the third quarter. That score gave the Bills a 28-17 lead. After New England answered back, Allen found Stefon Diggs on another beautiful deep ball — this time a 49-yard strike up the left sideline, to finish the scoring for the afternoon. Allen wound up completing 19-of-31 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns, adding nine carries for just 16 yards in the process.
WR Isaiah McKenzie
Three targets, two catches, 19 yards, and another dropped pass. That’s McKenzie’s line for the day. I wonder what the offense would look like with a healthy Jamison Crowder taking the majority of the snaps in the slot as I assume they had initially intended. For all our consternation, Buffalo still has an alien at quarterback and plenty of talent on offense. However, the duo of McKenzie and Gabe Davis have struggled mightily in larger roles this year. If Sunday’s game was a microcosm of the season, consider this: Allen was just 5-of-13 for 58 yards when he targeted those two on the day. He was 14-for-18 for 196 yards and three touchdowns targeting everyone else. McKenzie caught just 64.6% of his targets this season, and Davis hauled in just 51.6% of his. If ever there was a time to step up, this next month is definitely it; however, McKenzie ended the regular season much the same as the the rest of his year went.
LT Dion Dawkins
The pass protection wasn’t great on Sunday, but I’m not going to pin that on Dawkins. Much of the pressure Allen faced came on games and stunts, and it also came right up the middle, so I’d say that it was more the interior line than the tackles letting him down this time around. Allen was only sacked twice in this one, and neither Matt Judon nor Josh Uche had one. In fact, Uche didn’t register so much as a tackle, hit, pass knockdown, or anything over the course of his 24 snaps. Judon had just three tackles on the day. In all, it was a good day for the Schnowman.,
CB Dane Jackson
Buffalo’s embattled CB2 was just fine on the day. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he played well, as most of Buffalo’s secondary looked a bit out of sorts for most of the game. That’s understandable, of course, as they were the group most closely affected by what happened to their teammate and positional group mate, Damar Hamlin. Jackson had just one tackle, which came early on after he allowed DeVante Parker to make a catch on a deep in-cut. It wasn’t Jackson in coverage on either of Parker’s touchdowns, however. On the first, it was Tre’Davious White, who looked like he passed Parker off after a crosser entered his path, but no one picked Parker up on the other side. On his second score, Parker went up and beat Kaiir Elam with a great catch.
S Dean Marlowe
The recently re-acquired veteran acquitted himself well in place of both Micah Hyde and Damar Hamlin, making three tackles and playing his zone in a soft, “bend-but-don’t-break” way. After having been inactive for the last few weeks, Marlowe was one of six Buffalo defenders to play all 68 snaps on defense this week. Unless Hyde is able to return at some point in the next few weeks, this is probably Marlowe’s show for the playoffs, and they could do much worse than a savvy veteran who knows this defense inside and out.