© Jamie Germano-USA TODAY Sports
The Bills aren’t playing like the best team in the NFL, but guess what? The best team in the league, whoever it is, isn’t playing like the best team either. Week after week, last week’s presumptive best team is this week’s pile of old rags. The Bengals are great, no they aren’t. Wow, look at the Chargers, well, maybe not. The Chiefs? Yes, for a while, then no, then yes again. The Packers, this week’s darlings. The Cowboys. Wait, no, the Patriots. The Ravens. Sunday, the Cardinals were taken out behind the woodshed by the Lions. Yes, those Lions. The Bucs were shut out by the Saints. The Colts definitely get some votes. Maybe the Dolphins are the best team in the league.
So, no, the Bills aren’t playing like the best team in the NFL, They’re trying to figure it out from week to week, just like every other team. The NFL is a total dogfight, with most teams scratching and clawing, trying to get into the playoffs. With three weeks left in the season (plus some teams playing Monday and Tuesday), 13 of 16 AFC teams still have a shot at the playoffs, and an amazing 15 of 16 NFC teams are in the hunt. Yes, if only Jake Fromm can get it together, the Giants can make it to the postseason.
The Bills beat the Panthers 31-14 on Sunday in Orchard Park. The game was closer than the score might indicate. Take away a garbage-time TD and give the Panthers a couple of field goals they probably would have had if they had a kicker, and the game is 24-20. That’s more in line with the game stats, which were more even than the actual final.
What are we to take away from the game? One thing, and one thing only: W. Take the win and move on to the next game.
The Bills weren’t world-beaters against the Panthers, but they didn’t have to be. Christian McAffrey, probably 50% of the Panthers’ offense, didn’t make the trip. He’s out for the season. Cam New still can make plays at quarterback, but not enough to carry a team. Their placekicker was a game-time scratch. Carolina’s defense is pretty stingy when it comes to giving up yardage, but they give away points like candy on Halloween. The Bills took advantage of all the Panthers had and didn’t have and rolled to the win.
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A few observations:
1. If you need to expose a rookie left tackle to life in the NFL, it’s great if he doesn’t cost you the game. Spencer Brown sure seems to have a lot of fun running around the football field, but sooner or later he needs to realize he isn’t at Chucky Cheese any more. Four penalties, inconsistent play. Give him a bath, read him a story, put him to bed, and hope Dion Dawkins is back for the Patriots game.
2. Dawkins’ absence weakened the line terribly. Brown’s follies moved into the left tackle spot, Daryl Williams moved from right guard, where he’s been pretty good, to right tackle, where he’s less consistent, and Cody Ford returned to the lineup at right guard. The result was some pretty awful pass protection for Josh Allen. He was sacked four times, and he was on the run a lot, unloading the ball before he had time to find an open receiver. It was brutal.
3. Whether credit goes to the line or to the scheme, the Bills’ running game came alive on Sunday. Devin Singletary had enough running room to put his skills to work, and it showed. Motor was slipping arm tackles and cutting to space in the open field, squeezing extra yards out of every opportunity, carrying the ball the way he did so often his rookie year. On a big third down, Brian Daboll shifted into the wildcat, and pulling offensive linemen led McKenzie around the right side for a first down. All in all, the Bills showed the kind of running game they need to complement their passing attack.
4. When Josh Allen stops making the occasional total head-scratching plays, he’s going to be nearly unstoppable. The Bills were rolling along comfortably, up 14-0 and looking for one more score before the half ended. Then Allen missed Diggs badly, the ball was intercepted, and minutes later the Panthers were in the game, 14-8. Allen and Diggs probably miscommunicated, because Allen doesn’t usually miss by that much. Diggs turned out when Allen probably expected him to turn in. It looked like Diggs made the right move for what should have been an easy completion. In any case, the play changed the whole feel of the game, leaving the Panthers in striking distance for most of the second half. Allen’s passer rating dropped 20 points on one play.
© Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
To his credit, Allen led the Bills right back down the field for a field goal to end the half.
Allen’s greatness was on display often, particularly when the offensive line gave him time to see the field. The best was the Bills’ third touchdown, the first of two TD passes to Gabriel Davis. Allen settled into the pocket behind good protection, quickly looked right, then looked left, then checked out a possible slant route before looking down the center of the field. Allen found Davis, and the Bills had a comfortable 24-8 lead.
One replay in the stadium, shot from the closed end of the stadium directly behind Allen showed just how great the throw and catch were. Davis started on the left side of the line and headed upfield toward the goalpost. When Allen found Davis, he was running toward the back of the end zone with his back turned to Allen and with a defender trailing him. In other words, when he released the ball, Allen couldn’t see Davis, and Davis couldn’t see Allen. Fearless, Allen ripped a dart, a laser, a rocket, a, well, whatever you want to call of of those balls that we see Allen throw every week. Knowing the ball would be on its way, Davis hooked to his left and cradled it in his belly for the score. Davis’s cut and reception happened so fast, the defender had no time to turn or make any kind of play.
The thing about that throw was that it was just one of several picture-perfect throws to Gabriel, and Knox, and Beasley, and Diggs throughout the afternoon. As we’ve seen so often this season, down at the goal line, on Sunday the Bills trusted Diggs to create a window, trusted Allen to put it there, and trusted Diggs to catch it. Touchdown. Allen is simply a magnificent thrower.
© Jamie Germano / USA TODAY Sports
5. Harrison Phillips continued his dominant play in the middle of the defensive line. He’s really come alive. The Bills’ big-down defensive line is Phillips and Oliver at the tackles and Hughes and Addison at the ends. That’s who we see on third and six. The defensive line rotation gives the others – Basham, Obada, Rousseau, Butler, and Lotulelei – opportunities, too. The defensive line doesn’t dominate, but they all make plays.
6. Edmunds was a playmaker Sunday, too. He stopped several runs in the hole and had assists all over the field. On Newton’s touchdown run, he looked like he maintained his gap discipline when he should have reacted better to the flow of the play and met Newton on the edge. There probably was no stopping the biq quarterback, but it would have been nice to see Edmunds get there to give it a try.
7. Ever since McKenzie’s fumble against the Colts, all I want on every kickoff and punt is for the return man to hold onto the ball. Still, it’s hard not to get excited seeing Marquez Stevenson on the move. McKenzie is more of a one-cut speed guy; Stevenson is a waterbug, stop-and-go, change-of-direction guy. He looks like a video-game character working his way through a maze, and he’s good at it. The Bills haven’t had one of those guys since Roscoe Parrish.
8. The Bills seem to have upgraded their in-stadium video capabilities. They’re showing plenty of replays after most plays, sometimes from multiple angles, like the end zone view of the touchdown pass to Davis. The Shout song has new graphics. All around it’s more professional and makes the game more enjoyable.
Before the game they showed highlights of the Bucs’ game. They didn’t show the interference against Diggs in the end zone.
The Patriots next week. ‘Nuf said.
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