The Buffalo Bills found another insane way to lose a football game on Monday night, dropping a 24-22 contest to the Denver Broncos that defied belief for most of the evening. In spite of four turnovers, putrid offensive play, and a defense held together by sticky notes and chewed bubble gum, Buffalo found a 22-21 lead with under two minutes to play. Then, well, they did what they’ve done to us so many times: they found a way to lose that was so absurd it felt like Leslie Nielsen was a character involved in the proceedings.
It shouldn’t come as a much of a surprise that our players to watch had quite a big hand in the outcome — and it’s possible that at least one of those players could have had an even larger hand in it had he been allowed to play more. Here’s how our five players to watch fared on Monday night.
RB James Cook
Excuse me the soap box here, but I might rant for a minute. James Cook fumbled on his first touch of the evening. That also happened to be the first play from scrimmage. That fumble led to three Denver points. That fumble was James Cook’s first fumble since Week 1 of the 2022 season. James Cook had touched the football 246 consecutive times without fumbling. That includes his 17 playoff touches last season. And yet, after James Cook fumbled the football, head coach Sean McDermott decided that he had to make an example out of the second-year back by benching him until the seven-minute mark of the second quarter. In the time that Cook was off the field, Latavius Murray made some plays as a runner. He also dropped a pass and was unable to elude a 300-pound nose tackle in space on a swing pass. Cook returned to the game and carried 12 times for 109 yards. He also fumbled on a long run and somehow recovered it as it bounced right back to him in what was one of the only things to go Buffalo’s way all night. Cook is one of the three most dynamic play makers that quarterback Josh Allen has in this offense. Making some sort of statement with him on what was a physical mistake, not a mental one, is asinine judgment from the head football coach. Cook was fighting for extra yardage. He had the ball wrapped. The defender made a play. Stuff happens. McDermott said in his press conference after the game that “fumbling isn’t in a running back’s job description.” Well, why didn’t Cook find the bench after his second fumble then? Was it because he recovered it — or because he was producing? If the process of the decision is to eliminate the fumble, why does the result of the play seem to dictate the coach’s action? Don’t even get me started on the inconsistencies that Matt Byham pointed out beautifully yesterday in McDermott’s schtick. Benching Cook for a football play was a JV move. He needs more touches, not less, and on a night where he averaged damn near a first down per rush, he absolutely could have helped the offense to establish some of that rhythm and consistency that McDermott wanted so badly in the second quarter. I’m interested to see how interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady uses Cook this week. Hopefully the head coach doesn’t tether one of the new offensive boss’ top weapons to the bench in the name of a good dog-and-pony show.
TE Dalton Kincaid
The rookie was Buffalo’s leader in receptions with five, and he tied with wide receiver Gabe Davis in total targets with six. Davis was actually Buffalo’s receiving yardage leader, as he had 56 yards on two grabs — one of which went for 38 yards. Kincaid had 51 receiving yards, including a 22-yard touchdown grab on a beautiful route combination and throw from Josh Allen. The Bills used Stefon Diggs as a decoy on that one, hoping that they could make Denver’s defense bite on his in-cut while Kincaid ran an out-and-up wheel behind it. Allen held the defense with his eyes, Diggs drew three defenders, and Kincaid was wide open for the score. Without tight end Dawson Knox in the fold, Kincaid is flourishing, which sets up an interesting issue for the team upon Knox’s return. Buffalo seems to operate better in 11 personnel, though everything is out the window now. As it stands, though, Kincaid has grown into his role beautifully as the season has progressed.
DE Greg Rousseau
Groot looked good this week, as he was able to do some damage against a weak right tackle in Mike McGlinchey. That was a sight for sore eyes, as he has been limited by a foot injury of late, so watching Rousseau break up plays in an opposing backfield was a welcome change. He finished the game with six tackles, one tackle for loss, two quarterback hits, and his first sack since October 1. If he’s starting to feel good, it will only help the team’s pass rush, which has stalled under the weight of injury and schematic changes happening in the wake of those injuries.
LB Terrel Bernard
What a bright spot he’s been in an otherwise depressing season. Bernard was questionable entering the game thanks to a concussion, but he played and was all over the field as per usual. He finished with a team-high 13 tackles, adding a sack and a quarterback hit, as well. He actually led all players in the game in tackles, as well, beating out Broncos linebacker Alex Singleton for the honor. Whether it’s in coverage, stopping the run, or rushing the passer, Bernard has been a serious upgrade over the departed Tremaine Edmunds. That bodes well for the team moving forward.
S Taylor Rapp
The veteran backup started in place of Micah Hyde, who was out thanks to a stinger. Rapp played fairly well overall, as he showcased both his hard-hitting ways in the box and his athleticism in preventing deep throws when the Bills played coverage. He finished the night with seven tackles, one quarterback hit, and half a sack on the night. Rapp did give himself a bit of a dead arm on one of his tackles, as it seemed like he might have been a little numb in his right arm after taking a shot from running back Javonte Williams late in the game. However, he had a teammate help him on the field, and he never left the game.