The Buffalo Bills began their 2023 season with a frustrating 22-16 overtime loss to the New York Jets. When future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers ruptured his Achilles tendon just four plays into his tenure with New York, there was no way that the Bills should have allowed the game to slip away. However, a phenomenal Jets defense combined with boneheaded play from quarterback Josh Allen led to exactly that.
One game does not a season make, so there’s no sense in overreacting. While there are definitely lessons to learn from this one — and things that need to be corrected quickly — there were certainly some bright spots in the contest. Some of those bright spots even involved players we highlighted in our five to watch this week.
Here’s how our five Bills to watch performed in the season opener.
RB James Cook
Cook saw right around the number of touches I figured he would, rushing 12 times and hauling in four passes for a total of 16 touches. However, the Jets didn’t allow him to hit that gaudy six-yards-per-carry number that he attained as a rookie. Cook totaled just 46 yards rushing and 17 yards receiving on the day. He was able to break a big run on one of the many shotgun draw plays dialed up by offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, but most of them went for little or no gain. He also sprung free on a toss-sweep out of a more traditional formation. We’ll talk a bit about that down below, but the traditional, under-center look is something I think might benefit this team moving forward. Cook showed some real burst at times, but he was held in check by one of the league’s top stop units. That’s not necessarily a cause for concern. Cook’s breakout second season is still a good bet to happen, and if his earning 59% of the snaps is any indication, the Bills have faith in him to achieve it, as well.
G O’Cyrus Torrence
About the best thing I can say about Torrence’s debut is that I didn’t notice him standing out throughout the evening against one of the best defensive lines he’ll see. The offensive line wasn’t perfect as a whole, but it was really the usual suspect — right tackle Spencer Brown — whose struggles were more obvious. I even saw one big pressure where center Mitch Morse was beaten badly by All-Pro defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, hitting Josh Allen on what ended up being his second interception of the day. As far as debuts go, Torrence acquitted himself well, even earning the top grade among Bills linemen from Pro Football Focus (69.7). On the whole, Allen was pressured on only 26% of his passes (10th-lowest figure, per Warren Sharp), yet he was sacked on 11% of his drop backs, which was the fifth-highest figure in the league. The offensive line definitely had some problems, but they weren’t the tire-fire that they’ve been made out to be in some circles. Torrence was a bright spot Monday night.
TE Dalton Kincaid
The rookie caught all four of his targets, gaining 26 yards in his regular-season debut. There were other times where he was open, too (the third interception, in particular, stands out) where Allen just didn’t find him. Hopefully, Allen starts finding him in those situations where a few yards and a big target is all the Bills need to keep the chains moving and keep the ball in their possession. Kincaid played on 80% of the Bills’ offensive snaps, as he joined Dawson Knox, Stefon Diggs, and Gabe Davis as the skill position guys to appear on at least 80% of the team’s plays. There will be games where he sees more chances, I’m sure, but it was a little surprising that offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey didn’t try to use him a little more in this one.
LB Terrel Bernard
There was good and bad here, and his play seemed to improve as the night wore on. That could possibly be attributed to two things: for starters, the Jets’ offense started to resemble Nathaniel Hackett’s EJ Manuel playbooks from the 2013 Bills after Zach Wilson threw an interception, so Bernard had far less worry about being burned in play-action as the night progressed. We also have to remember that this was his first live action against another team this season, as he missed all of Buffalo’s preseason contests while dealing with a hamstring injury. Once he knocked off the rust, Bernard performed acceptably. He made a game-high 11 stops on the night, tying with New York’s D.J. Reed for that honor. There were some plays where the Jets’ blockers were able to completely neutralize him, which led to some longer runs for Breece Hall early on, but he seemed to trust his keys more as he settled into the game. I expect he’ll be even better next week.
CB Christian Benford
Dane Jackson didn’t play a single snap on defense, and Kaiir Elam was a healthy scratch, so it was all Benford on the outside. He was lined up in single-coverage more than once with Garrett Wilson, almost as if the Bills were daring Zach Wilson to throw it. Benford wasn’t on Wilson when he made that absurd touchdown catch — that was Tre’Davious White, who was in great position for the awful throw before the circus-catch — but he was the man who chased down Breece Hall to stop him after an 83-yard scamper. That tackle kept the Jets out of the end zone, and for a while looked like it could be a huge reason Buffalo would emerge with a victory. Unfortunately for the Bills, that’s not what happened. Benford finished with four tackles and a pass breakup on the night.