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Buffalo Bills out of their element in London

Bills Mafia hopes for the best for LB Matt Milano, DT DaQuan Jones — and the rest of Bills’ lengthy list of injured players

Jacksonville Jaguars v Buffalo Bills Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills lost a game by five points to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, England today. Five points is close, but when you consider that the bulk of their points came during some of the game’s most desperate moments, you realize that their game plan was flawed, their preparation deficient, and their ability to rebound limited due to a non-existent run game, an unacceptable amount of penalties, and an incredible amount of injuries on defense. But is that a suitable place to begin in dissecting this loss? There’s certainly other ideas to consider, as I’ll get to further below.

The Bills are now 3-2, with two losses coming in the AFC. That could prove troublesome at season’s end, if tie breakers are necessary.

Before I continue, a fair warning: This may end up a meandering reflection on what was a terrible game in far too many ways. In a game that also featured far too much camera time for the officials, it was clear Bills Mafia and the rest of NFL fans were in for an incredibly frustrating, easily forgettable, largely regrettable effort in Europe.

Consider the Bills’ mash unit...

Out indefinitely

  • linebacker Matt Milano
  • defensive tackle DaQuan Jones

Returned to play

  • cornerback Taron Johnson
  • edge rusher Kingsley Jonathan
  • defensive tackle Ed Oliver
  • offensive tackle Dion Dawkins
  • edge rusher Leonard Floyd
  • tight end Dalton Kincaid

Six defensive starters or key depth players among the eight injured. Plus the team entered Week 5 without defensive end Shaq Lawson, edge rusher Greg Rousseau and cornerback Christian Benford, plus cornerback Tre’Davious White. It’s going to be near impossible to continue playing elite defense with so many players losing snaps, games, or full seasons.

The good news concerning injuries was of course the return of edge rusher Von Miller. It’s perhaps frustrating that the team blew his snap count too early (mid third quarter), with Miller relegated to the bench late in the game. At that point, the Jaguars were able to ramp back up their offensive attack.

Just as this loss isn’t on any official’s call, neither is it due the losses on defense. But it’s fair to guess things play out differently with a more complete roster.

The Bills last played in London eight seasons ago, and I’d bet most fans hope it’s at least that long before they head there again — and likely in a venue other than Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Injuries are part of the game, but when commercials from major companies tout elite stats that help minimize injury league-wide, you might find yourself questioning what sort of snake oil they’re pumping. The NFL is not an institution outside of the United States, and major stadiums outside the US don’t regularly maintain field suitable and required to play NFL games. That has to play into what transpired on Sunday.

Most professional sports teams that use artificial field surfaces opt for something known as FieldTurf or something very identical — the stuff full of the micro-sized tire bits. That’s apparently not what’s used in Hotspur, where the synthetic field is installed on a separate, movable surface that’s brought in and out as needed — and, at least from the broadcast view, appears more like old-fashioned astroturf. One has to wonder if the only need for it is during an NFL game. Either way, there’s a fair bit of controversy over its implementation and continued use. As originally reported by several outlets including Pro Football Talk and NBC Sports, last season the field passed inspection despite numerous concerns about seams in the turf.

While we don’t know that the playing surface caused the injuries, expect the microscope to be further focused in on prior reports.

Make of this what you will, but to say the Bills weren’t affected by the travel in Week 5 might be unwise.

So, what else? Well, as I stated above, there are other reasons to believe the Buffalo Bills lost on Sunday.

A troubling regression by the offensive line

Edge rusher Josh Allen is a handful, but no matter who was tasked with blocking him, it failed. All those penalties, pushing the offense back to begin a series, and allowing Allen to pin his ears back and go.

A lack of a running game

Josh Allen led the team with 14 yards. That’s pathetic, whether due to the O-line or the guys running with the ball. James Cook carried five times for minus-four yards.

Wide receivers not named Stefon Diggs and tight ends disappearing for long stretches

There’s a problem, and yes I know it seems bizarre to complain about Gabe Davis when his stat line was impressive (6-of-8 catches for 100 yards with a touchdown). Davis still disappears far too often when the team could use him in the middle of games. A more complete, consistent game by Davis likely helps avoiding the need to make magic happen at the end of each half. Davis does seem to operate best when the chips are down, and when he’s faced with the most pressure. Knox and Kincaid combined for five catches and 36 yards. Something needs to change to bring better consistency to the passing game.

Time of Possession struggles

Terrible. The offense couldn’t stay on the field, and the defense couldn’t get off it. A recipe for failure. The Bills converted 5-of-12 first downs, while holding the ball a total of 21:48.

Play calling, game management

I remain in offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey’s corner, and it’s clear he’s helped with Josh Allen’s development. Still, he called a bad game in many ways. Where was the screen game to counter what the Jaguars were doing? What’s happened to the creative use of Dawson Knox and Dalton Kincaid? That two-point try was the wrong call, no matter if it was the call or the execution. The wrong time and place to rely on beating the defense outside the end zone — by a guy who’s hardly involved on offense in receiver Khalil Shakir.

As head coach Sean McDermott seemed to struggle this week. Too many blown time outs, too many players dragging their feet and void of energy. While we can and will continue to “blame” the time zone and travel hurdles, it’s the head coach’s job to account for it all, and to find a way to rise above those challenges. Also, why are they fielding a punt inside the five ahead of a last-gasp drive? Let it go. Even if it’s down at the one, that’s better than what could have happened due to Deonte Harty misjudging the catch.

What in the world happened to Kaiir Elam?

I said on social media that it’s quite possible we’ve seen the last of cornerback Kaiir Elam in a Bills uniform. While that’s an admittedly hot take, is it unreasonable to think he’s fallen way further out of favor after a suspect showing in London? Is it fair to wonder if leadership has failed Elam, who showed well last season, especially after returning and enduring a healthy scratch on Thanksgiving against the Detroit Lions as a rookie? Most point to his successes during the 2022 in man coverage on Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill. His performances during the postseason showed a player continuing to gain confidence, play well as an aggressive man-cover defender, and avoid putting the defense in bad situations. That all appears out the window now. A clear lack of confidence has entered Elam’s game, and the original concerns about him seem like an afterthought following the roast he was part of in London. Time will tell us what Elam and McDermott do to try and repair this damage.