The Buffalo Bills entered Sunday night’s matchup with the New York Giants a 15.5-point favorite to win. While the Bills did win, they didn’t come close to covering that spread — and they failed to score as many points themselves as the spread was, coming up with an ugly 14-9 victory that literally came down to the final play.
In continuing an NFL tradition of teams coming back from London, not having their bye, and playing poorly for much of the game, the Bills allowed a spirited Giants team to hang on all night. Buffalo squandered some opportunities through turnovers on offense as well as through missed kicks, but they ultimately were able to do just enough to come out on top.
Here’s how our five players to watch performed in this week’s ugly win.
RB James Cook
One week after the Jacksonville Jaguars completely shut him down, Cook was back to looking like an electric force when running the football. While he was announced as the game’s starting running back, it was actually Latavius Murray in for the first handful of snaps. With veteran running back Damien Harris needing to be medically assistant and loaded into an ambulance after suffering a neck injury (he has been released from the hospital, according to head coach Sean McDermott), Cook and Murray actually split snaps 50/50, with each player earning 30 snaps. Cook had 14 rushes for 71 yards, and he was able to find creases for some big plays. Unfortunately, he wasn’t targeted once in the passing game, as the team and quarterback Josh Allen focused big on wideout Stefon Diggs (16 targets of Allen’s 30 passes; 10 catches, 100 yards). Feeding Diggs is a smart move, but someone else has to do something in the passing game, and Sunday night was yet another time where nobody else stepped up to make a play for long stretches of the game. Cook is not only a dynamic rusher, but he’s also an excellent receiver. Scheming more looks for him in that phase is definitely something to consider moving forward.
C Mitch Morse
Buffalo did run more plays under center in this one — it was noticeable to me, at least, from my perch in Section 315. However, after I spent all week telling my Giants-fan friends that the Bills were much more effective with Allen under center, this week, they just weren’t effective on offense at all for most of the game. The Bills did find success on the ground, as their running backs carried 27 times for 117 yards, and Allen was once again not sacked in the game. He did take a shot and landed awkwardly on his throwing shoulder, something that he dealt with and played through for the rest of the game except for two snaps when he was checked for a concussion. Morse did a nice job up front dealing with the Giants’ two-headed monster of Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams.
DT Poona Ford
Ford played 19 snaps, a quarter of the overall total for the Bills this week, and he made one tackle on the night. I can’t honestly say I noticed him that much, but that’s not necessarily a surprise given the nature of the “dirty work” the one-tech does in head coach Sean McDermott’s defense. The defensive tackle I did notice, though, was big No. 97, Jordan Phillips. He was the man who started in place of DaQuan Jones, who suffered a torn pectoral muscle in London. Phillips played on 48% of the snaps, and he also accounted for just one tackle, but he was a constant presence trying to hype up the crowd. Phillips has always been great for the vibes, and he did it again on Sunday night. Ford, meanwhile, figures to continue to rotate in to be that space-eater, but given his lack of ability as a pass-rusher, his role definitely won’t be as expansive as Jones’ was.
LB Dorian Williams
I’ll tell you what: Williams was impressive Sunday night. Sure, he made a few mistakes here and there (he was beaten in coverage on at least one longer throw over the middle, and he was the guy who missed the run fit when running back Saquon Barkley went for a 34-yard jaunt in the fourth quarter), but for a young man making his first start in a crazy atmosphere, I thought he acquitted himself quite well. Williams was third on the team in tackles, notching 10 overall, also adding a quarterback hit on the night. The future is now at linebacker, and as Terrel Bernard (12 tackles, three tackles for loss) continues to impress, that future looks pretty good for the Bills.
CB Kaiir Elam
Well, speaking of young players stepping into larger roles, Elam didn’t look impressive again this week. He was burned long when covering wide receiver Darius Slayton on New York’s first scoring drive, allowing the first of two 20-plus-yard completions to Slayton on the night (Christian Benford was the guy Slayton beat on the other). Elam also committed a pass-interference penalty in the end zone right before halftime that should have given the Giants easy points. Instead, the Giants somehow bungled the clock when quarterback Tyrod Taylor checked out of a passing play to a running play when the Giants had no timeouts and 14 seconds remaining. Elam hasn’t played well in either of his two starts. He had three tackles and no pass breakups on the night.