For the second consecutive week, the Buffalo Bills faced a team that, on paper, was inferior to them. For the second consecutive game, Buffalo’s offense sputtered for most of the contest. For the second consecutive game, the Bills’ defense allowed an offense that hasn’t done much against anyone else — and in need of a win — to drive to the one-yard line with less than 20 seconds remaining in the game.
Unlike the New York Giants, the New England Patriots were able to capitalize on their opportunity, turning what could have been a Josh Allen-led game-winning touchdown drive into an afterthought, as quarterback Mac Jones drove the Patriots 75 yards in 1:46 to give New England a 29-25 victory. Along the way, we were reminded yet again that the old adage “Any Given Sunday” holds true.
How did our five Bills to watch perform? Well, if you’re looking for some positive... I don’t have much. But, there was at least one bright spot on the day.
QB Josh Allen
The first pass of the game was just horrendous. Allen stared down Dawson Knox, leading safety Jabril Peppers right to the throwing lane, then lofted a perfectly-placed ball right into the safety’s hands. A quick shoulder-shimmy towards Knox would have given him plenty of room to hit rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid, who was open for a short gain in the flat. Instead, a 3-0 deficit that was no big deal turned into a first-play turnover and a touchdown drive for New England that put Buffalo in a 10-0 hole early. It was another brutal first half for Allen, who completed 9-of-16 throws for just 99 yards and that interception. The Bills had just three points. Allen was much better in the second half, and he finished the game 27-of-41 for 265 yards, two touchdowns, and that lone interception. He was credited with a fumble on the game’s last play when he was trying to lateral desperately after having crossed the line-of-scrimmage on what could have been a hook-and-lateral play. The pass prior to that one, however, was a 50-yard dot that was dropped by a diving Stefon Diggs that would have set Buffalo up with a first down from New England’s 30. That would have upped the chances of their prayers being answered, but it still would have been just that: a prayer. The fact that Buffalo’s offense hasn’t been able to wake up until having its proverbial teeth kicked in for three straight weeks is concerning. The fact that their quarterback has been a dud for all three first halves before turning into a stud in the second halves of each game is also concerning. Allen and the Bills don’t have much time to lick their wounds with a quick turnaround this week, but they’d better figure it out before it’s too late.
A Pass Catcher Not Named Stefon Diggs
Well, here’s some good news: Dalton Kincaid had himself a day, making eight catches on eight targets for 75 yards. He displayed fantastic hands, securing some tight-window throws and some big grabs in tough situations. He also displayed great field awareness, like when he converted a fourth down and slid while still in-bounds late in the fourth quarter. Running back James Cook looked like he was a viable weapon in the passing game, as well, making one long grab early in the game when he was one-on-one with Ja’Whaun Bentley, and then he made a great move to score on an eight-yard touchdown to open the scoring in the third quarter. Cook finished with three grabs for 46 yards and the touchdown. Even wide receiver Khalil Shakir found some openings, as he made four catches on four targets for 35 yards. Really, there were two big outliers on the day: one was wide receiver Gabe Davis who caught just one pass for five yards on five targets. The other was tight end Dawson Knox, who had just one catch for 10 yards on three targets, including a dropped pass that would have led to a first down with just under 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Bills on New England’s 33-yard line. If there’s any good news from the loss, it’s this: Allen was 19-of-19 for 191 yards and a touchdown when he didn’t throw to Diggs, Davis, and Knox. That shows both a willingness to use other options and a great deal of success doing so. Hopefully, they build on that this Thursday.
DT Jordan Phillips
Without defensive tackles Ed Oliver (toe) and DaQuan Jones (Torn Pectoral), Buffalo’s defense suddenly looked like the narrator in Paul Simon’s 1986 hit You Can Call Me Al: soft in the middle while asking why life is so hard. The numbers don’t necessarily bear out the way it felt, as New England’s running backs rushed 20 times for a combined 65 yards and a touchdown. But that doesn’t change the fact that nearly every time the Patriots needed something short on the ground, they found room in the middle. As for the pass rush, much of the Patriots’ offensive design focused on making sure that quarterback Mac Jones threw it quickly, and they decimated Buffalo’s defense following that pattern right from the jump. Jones had a fantastic day (25-of-30, 272 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers), and he was sacked just once. The interior defensive line didn’t put much heat on Jones, and it allowed New England to do what they wanted on offense for most of the day. Phillips, for his part, didn’t appear in the statistical register for anything other than snaps. He didn’t make a tackle, but he was called offside while trying to jump the snap count on a two-point try. The Bills stuffed Jones on a QB keeper on the next play.
DE Von Miller
The future Hall of Fame pass rusher was pretty invisible yet again this week, his third such low-impact performance upon his return from ACL surgery. Like Phillips, Miller didn’t appear in the stat sheet this week, going without so much as a tackle in his time on the field. Given the tight turnaround for Thursday’s game, I’m writing this without the benefit of snap-count data coming out yet, but I don’t remember one play from the game where I noticed him out there. That doesn’t necessarily mean that his snap count didn’t increase, and it’s also not necessarily cause for alarm quite yet — rust is to be expected when returning from an injury of this nature — however, given Buffalo’s injury situation on defense, it definitely isn't helping things that their top edge player isn’t close to being an impactful player at all, let alone the impactful player that he was before the injury.
(Morning addendum: Miller’s snap count, in fact, did not increase. He actually played only six snaps in a game where one more defensive play really could have helped. Perhaps it was some additional load management given that they have two games this week? If he plays somewhere between 20 and 25 snaps on Thursday, it would mean that his total for the week of play increased. Miller said he wasn’t injured after the game, and he added that he felt good, so his participation on Thursday will be well worth watching once again).
CB Taron Johnson
Just call me Mr. Mush. Johnson was flagged twice in this one, once for illegal contact and another time for pass interference, and he also was the man in coverage who Mike Gesicki burned for the game-winning touchdown. Asking Johnson to cover a much larger tight end in a game-deciding goal-to-go situation for the second consecutive week was a tall task, and this time, Johnson came up short. He made some big tackles, as usual, and he also dropped what would have been that interception I predicted on a ball that was batted at the line of scrimmage. He was also the player closest to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne on Mac Jones’ first touchdown pass, but that came after a switch on a pick play where tight end Hunter Henry had thrown linebacker Tyrel Dodson off the coverage. Johnson finished the game with four tackles and a pass breakup.