The Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots played one of the stranger games of one of the stranger NFL seasons I can remember. In the game’s first quarter, the teams combined to complete three passes for 10 yards. There were also two interceptions and a lost fumble, yet the score was 13-7 Buffalo.
The back-and-forth affair didn’t gain much normalcy as the day went on, but in the end, the Bills prevailed with a 27-21 victory that puts them squarely in the discussion for the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Thanks to pulling out a second consecutive ugly win against a sub-.500 team, the Bills can win their fourth straight division title with a victory over the Miami Dolphins this week.
Before we move on to discuss that game, though, we’re looking back at the weekend’s victory. Here’s how our five Bills to watch performed in the second game against New England.
QB Josh Allen
I don’t think I’ve seen Allen look as lost as a passer as he did on Sunday since his rookie year. He was hesitant, he had happy feet, he was under pressure, and he was inaccurate during a dreadful first half of football. Allen was just 7-of-20 for 46 yards with a boneheaded interception before intermission. He was actually so bad that Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe, who threw three interceptions in the first half, had a higher quarterback rating (34.3) than Allen (22.9) in the first half. Allen rebounded beautifully in the second half, though, completing 8-of-10 passes for 123 yards after the break. Each pass in the second half was on time and accurate, and he hit a few really nice ones, including a big third-down conversion to wide receiver Khalil Shakir on a trail/clear-out concept that was popular with offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, but often failed thanks to spacing and timing issues. Allen’s real value was as a runner, as he carried 11 times for 44 yards and two scores on the day. Shakir was credited with a 10-yard run on a carry where Allen did much of the work, as the quarterback kept it on a read-option and pitched back to Shakir once Allen had run for almost six yards. It wasn’t a banner day, and it likely took his long-shot odds at the NFL MVP award entirely out of the conversation; however, Allen did enough to win at the end of the day.
RB James Cook
Had Cook managed to catch all three of his targets, he’d have fallen one short of the 20-touch threshold I’d assumed we’d see him hit this week. However, Cook was only able to catch one of the three passes thrown his way, so he instead settled for a 17-touch day where he managed just 44 total yards. He rushed for just 48 yards on his 16 carries, averaging only three yards per carry. After a pair of games where he totaled 249 yards on 45 carries, Sunday’s showing against an admittedly stout Patriots run defense was disappointing. Throw in that Cook lost four yards on his only reception, and it was a much less than stellar day for the second-year running back. His longest rush of the day was only eight yards as the Bills struggled to find much rhythm in the run game. Ty Johnson actually led the running backs in yards per carry, totaling 22 yards on five carries. Latavius Murray carried just once, failing to gain a yard on a 3rd & 1 where the smarter play call almost certainly would have been a sneak by Josh Allen. Overall, Buffalo ran 37 times for 127 yards on the day.
TE Dalton Kincaid
The rookie tight end entered the team’s record books, breaking wide receiver Sammy Watkins’ record for the most receptions in a rookie season. Watkins caught 65 passes in 2014, and with his four-catch afternoon on Sunday, Kincaid now has 66 catches on the season. He now trails Pete Metzelaars for the most catches in a single season by a tight end in Bills’ history, as the 6’8” mountain man from Wabash College caught 68 passes for the Bills in 1993. On Sunday, Kincaid tied wide receiver Stefon Diggs for the team lead in targets with seven, and he tied both Diggs and wide receiver Khalil Shakir in caches with four. Kincaid was the leader in receiving yards, though, notching 87 on the day. Most of that total came thanks to a beautiful 51-yard catch on Buffalo’s first possession of the second half. Kincaid has shown flashes of being an excellent second option for the Bills in the passing game, and if he starts to develop some downfield chemistry with Josh Allen, then it will open things up for the Bills that will allow their offense to take the proverbial next step towards greatness.
LB Terrel Bernard
This guy is good. I mean, really, really good. Bernard has been an absolute revelation here in his second season, and on Sunday, the full range of his talents was on display. Not only did Bernard tally a game-high ten tackles, but he also had two sacks, three tackles for loss, and three quarterback hits on the day. He was all over the field against both the run and the pass, continuing not only to make Bills Mafia forget about former first-round pick Tremaine Edmunds, but also make them happy that the Bills and general manager Brandon Beane decided to let him walk after his contract expired last year. Bernard became the first player since linebacker Seth Joyner of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1991 to have a season with six or more sacks, three or more interceptions, and three or more fumble recoveries. He’s also 12th in the entire league in tackles this year with 134 so far. Sunday was just the latest excellent Sunday in a long list of them this year for Bernard.
CB Christian Benford
We were able to see both the good and the bad of Benford in this one, and the “bad” really should come with an asterisk. The “good” came in the first quarter, as Benford stripped tight end Pharaoh Brown on what was the first completed pass of the game, creating a takeaway to gift the Bills excellent field position. That forced fumble and fumble recovery led to a field goal that gave Buffalo a 13-7 lead. Benford also was the man in coverage when wideout Jalen Reagor caught a 39-yard pass to put the Patriots deep into Bills territory in the fourth quarter. Benford was in good position, but he just never turned or put his hands up as Reagor hauled in what was a beautiful deep pass from quarterback Bailey Zappe. Benford is limited athletically, and he definitely can struggle with speedier players, especially when he’s in man-to-man situations. I don’t expect many of those this week against the Miami Dolphins and their speed-demons outside. In addition to his forced fumble and fumble recovery, Benford had four tackles.
Bonus Player: DT DaQuan Jones
Jones was able to log over half the team’s defensive snaps at DT, playing more than anyone at the position other than Ed Oliver. In his 28 snaps, Jones had two assisted tackles, but his presence alone was worth much more. He looked explosive on stunts, as he was able to collapse the pocket and clear space regardless of which interior lineman he worked against. The entire defensive tackle group popped on Sunday, as Oliver notched his first career interception, Poona Ford continued to look spry in his pursuit, and Tim Settle Jr. was involved in a pair of sacks on Zappe that were ultimately credited to Bernard alone. This Buffalo defensive front is a formidable group, and with Jones back in the fold, it’s as strong as it’s been all year.