The Buffalo Bills found themselves in a great football game against the Philadelphia Eagles. As they've done against great teams in the past, the Bills went toe-to-toe with the defending NFC champs, outplaying them for much of the evening. And then, well, the Bills went Billsy, the Eagles did what they’ve done all year, and Buffalo wound up on the wrong end of a 37-34 final.
If you looked at all the stats without the final score, you’d have assumed that the Bills won the game. Of course, that’s not how it went, and Buffalo once again finds itself in a position where they need to figure out what went wrong at the end of a game they should have been able to win. There were some really strong performances from some of the team’s biggest players, a small positive to come from a negative outcome.
Here’s how our five players to watch performed this week.
QB Josh Allen
I think that the dividing line between people whose opinions I care about and people who spew hot air for a living can easily be summed up by this game. For the people who told me that the Bills lost because of Allen (and yes, there were plenty who I dealt with at work — but, my clientele is made up of high school freshmen, so that’s their excuse), they either didn’t watch the game or can’t comprehend what they saw. In a driving rain, Allen threw the ball 51 times, turned it over once, ran it nine times, and scored four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing). He passed for 337 yards and ran for 81 more. He led what should have been two game-winning drives had the defense been able to do anything to stop Philadelphia in the second half. Alas, they couldn’t, so those drives will go down as forgotten moments in another epic game. His final pass of the night was a sure touchdown pass, but wide receiver Gabe Davis broke for the corner while Allen threw for the post. Both routes were wide open, and had both men picked the same option in either combination, the result would have been a Bills victory. Instead, the ball landed harmlessly in the end zone, Tyler Bass hit a 40-yard field goal, and then Allen watched as his defense allowed the Eagles to go 75 yards over nine plays in just over three minutes for the win.
RB James Cook
The Eagles bottled up Buffalo’s running backs, as Cook, Latavius Murray, and Ty Johnson combined for just 92 yards on 31 carries. Much of that success came on the Bills’ final drive of regulation, as the Bills found a matchup that worked and exploited it. Cook carried 16 times in total for 43 yards, but he had three carries for 24 yards on that final drive. He caught five passes on six targets in the game, totaling 57 yards to give him an even 100 yards from scrimmage on the night. His biggest play was a 29-yard catch and run after Allen evaded pressure to find him on a check-down. Cook has come alive in the passing game over the last two weeks, as interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady seems to want to emphasize using the backs in the passing game.
RT Spencer Brown
The Bills protected Allen well, and Brown did a nice job for the most part on the evening. There were a few mishaps or times where some pressure came in — the intentional grounding that should have been a horse-collar, for example — but that play really was the result of a naked-boot call more than it was a missed assignment on Brown’s end. Gone are the days where Bills fans need to worry about a play being blown up by a faulty right tackle, as the big man on the right side has come into his own this season. He was called for one penalty, a false start that was followed by another false start by center Mitch Morse on the next play.
LB Terrel Bernard
Of all the bad things that are happening on defense, it’s hard to find many flaws in the second-year middle linebacker’s game. Bernard has been a revelation on defense this season, and he was stellar again this week. He had five tackles on the day, one of the rare games where he wasn't the team’s leader in the category. He also corralled a tipped pass for his third interception of the season, picking it off after edge rusher Leonard Floyd tipped it in the air in the first half. Bernard also had a pass breakup on the evening. What’s crazy for the Bills is that they’re probably going to end up with a compensatory pick for having lost Tremaine Edmunds last offseason, and they’ll be able to use that pick knowing that the player they replaced Edmunds with is better than he was.
S Jordan Poyer
So on the positive front, Poyer was able to make it home on a blitz in the second quarter, blowing up a read-option play and causing a fumble that Buffalo recovered and turned into seven points before the break. The negative is that it’s painfully obvious Poyer has lost a step, and when that’s combined with Micah Hyde, who has also lost a step in the back end, the Bills’ defense looks to be in need of a refresh entering next season. Hyde and Poyer were both near wideout Olamide Zaccheus when he secured a go-ahead touchdown pass in the fourth quarter on a long third down, but neither could manage to make a play on the ball. That feels like a play that either Poyer or Hyde makes a year or two ago. Poyer’s guts and leadership are unmatched, but the cracks in his play thanks to age are starting to show. He had six tackles and one pass breakup on the night, with the latter coming on Philly’s final play from scrimmage in regulation. I know it’s easier said than done, but I almost wish Poyer would have let A.J. Brown secure the catch on that pass and then tackled him. Of course, there’s no guarantee that he’d have made the tackle, but it’s another in a series of “what-ifs” from a game loaded with them.