Thanks to the upcoming Thanksgiving day tilt against the Cowboys, the Bills will wind up playing five games in the month of November. With a 3-1 record through the first four and an 8-3 overall record (their best since 1996!), the Bills have made this a November to remember. There is a lot to discuss about Sunday’s enormous win over the Broncos, so let’s get to it!
1.) Opponent’s record be damned, that was an ENORMOUS win. Taking a quick look at a 7-3 football team defeating a 3-7 football team at home, one might surmise that nothing too extraordinary happened. But something extraordinary DID happen.
The Bills’ win against the Broncos saved their season and kept their playoff hopes alive. A quick look at fivethirtyeight.com’s playoff odds showed that the win over Denver pushed the Bills to an 82% chance to make the playoffs. Not bad!
A LOSS against the Broncos would have dropped the Bills to just a 43% chance! That means that result of Sunday’s game against the lowly Broncos accounted for a near 40% swing in the Bills’ chances of making the postseason dance! Rarely is one regular season game so critical in determining a team’s fate. For that reason, Sunday’s win was the biggest of the season.
The upcoming slate of games sets Bills fans up for the most exciting December in recent memory. None of it would have mattered, though, if they hadn’t won on Sunday. So that Bills’ performance against a so-so Broncos squad in a game that Buffalo was “supposed to” win? Enormous.
2.) “We’re not in Foxborough any more, Toto” redux. After two straight months of offensive ineptitude, culminating in a loss at Cleveland that arguably should have been a win, I was begging offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to forget the “tailored weekly game plan” approach he brought over from New England and to simplify things for his young offense. Thankfully — mercifully, even — he did.
Beginning in the Miami Dolphins game, the Bills decided to try something different on offense. They eschewed the constant shuttling in and out of different offensive personnel. They decided to stick with the the same 11 personnel grouping (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) of Singletary, Knox, Brown, Beasley, and McKenzie for most of the game.
This allowed them to quicken the pace of their offensive attack. By moving to a no-huddle, the Bills offense was able to get to the line with 25 to 30 seconds still on the play clock. This, in turn, allowed offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to talk to Josh Allen through the radio headset for a full 10 to 15 seconds before communication shut off… sharing with the young QB what he was seeing from the coaching box and allowing Allen more time to diagnose the defense.
This approach isn’t revolutionary, of course — Sean McVay’s Rams rode it all the way to the Super Bowl last season. It’s new in Buffalo, though, and it has paid immediate dividends.
The Bills’ opponent on Sunday, the Denver Broncos, may not have had a great record, but they DID roll into Buffalo boasting an elite defense. With Von Miller attacking the edges, Chris Harris and Justin Simmons patrolling the secondary, and defensive genius Vic Fangio calling plays, there was every reason to believe that the Bills offense would struggle against Denver.
It didn’t struggle, though — it thrived. Once again the no-huddle attack kept the opposing defense off balance and didn’t allow them to employ exotic looks and disguised blitzes in the way they would have liked.
The Bills offense moved the ball, controlled the clock, ran for over 200 yards, and converted multiple key third downs. They piled up over 400 yards total and scored 20 points — great accomplishments, both — against a great defense. Brian Daboll deserves credit for re-thinking his X’s and O’s, and we must also give credit to the improved execution by the Willies and Joes.
3.) Three cheers for Bobby Johnson and Brandon Beane. Anyone who watched the Bills offensive line in action last season knows that it was, well…offensive. It was less a wall of protection and more a collection of turnstyles, “Toro!”s, and thoroughly thwarted third-stringers.
Knowing this, Bills general manager Brandon Beane signed approximately 684 offensive linemen this offseason. The resulting makeover of the offensive line left just one 2018 starter in place. Gone, too, was offensive line coach Juan Castillo.
In his place was Sal Capaccio look-alike Bobby Johnson. Both factors — the wholesale changeover of personnel and the coaching switch — have resulted in a drastic improvement in performance from the most crucial non-QB room of the Bills offense. The latest evidence of this improvement was on full display on Sunday against Denver.
Sporting the likes of Shelby Harris, Derek Wolfe, and Von Miller, the Broncos front seven is no joke. With Bills right tackle Ty Nsekhe out with injury, much of Bills Mafia dreaded Sunday’s matchup and anticipated a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for rookie right tackle Cody Ford and, therefore, for Josh Allen.
Instead, Bills fans were treated to as dominant an offensive line performance by Bobby Johnson’s unit as they’re likely to see all year. Free agents Quinton Spain, Mitch Morse, and Jon Feliciano all performed excellently, to the tune of a over 200 yards rushing and only one sack allowed.
Starting center Mitch Morse missed much of the game due to a hand injury, but right guard John Feliciano stepped into the role more than capably, bringing ANOTHER free agent, Spencer Long, off the bench. He, too, performed well. And the oft beleaguered rookie, Cody Ford? He more than held his own against one of the all time great pass rushers in Von Miller.
On Sunday, the Bills offensive line not only was not a liability against the Broncos, it was an outright strength. Thank you, Brandon Beane. Thank you, Bobby Johnson.
4.) A tale of two Allens. As the CBS graphics department showed, Sunday’s game marked only the third time in the past 35 years that two quarterbacks sharing the same last name, but who were not related to each other, squared off against each other.
Brandon Allen vs Josh Allen (and there was a third Allen starting at quarterback elsewhere in the league on Sunday, for good measure).To the joy of Bills fans everywhere, Buffalo’s offense featured the better Allen.
To wit: Josh Allen’s passes again and again carved through the wicked winds of November like a knife through butter, dropping into the waiting hands of receivers and breaking the wills of the opposing defenders.
Brandon Allen’s passes, well…didn’t. Josh Allen again and again spun out of harm’s way, evaded oncoming marauders and thrilling the Orchard Park faithful, delivering 1st down conversions and, eventually, victory.
Brandon Allen, well…didn’t. Making matters even sweeter for Bills fans is the fact that the surprisingly over-confident Broncos fans had to be sitting on their couches wondering whether their general manager, John Elway, did the right thing by passing on the GOOD Allen, and that his doing so left them in the hands on Sunday of the not-so-good Allen.
I suppose when it comes to scouting quarterbacks, there’s no accounting for taste (*cough* Siemian, Osweiler, Lynch, Keenum, Flacco, Brandon Allen *cough*).
5.) Defensive dominance defies description. What do you say about the performance of the Bills defense on Sunday? I could have written this entire article solely about the defense’s performance. I could go on and on about Shaq Lawson’s two sacks, Ed Oliver awakening from his rookie slumber, Tre’Davious White further cementing himself as an elite corner, or Matt Milano’s second straight great game. Instead, I’ll just quote WGR’s Sal Capaccio in summarizing the defensive dominance:
On Sunday, the Denver Broncos:
- Had 49 net passing yards
- Had 85 total rushing yards
- Had 134 total yards
- Went 2-for-11 (18%) on third down
- Averaged only 2.9 yards per play (The fourth lowest total for any team in any NFL game this season)
- Went 3-and-out on five straight possessions to end the game
- Did not take a single snap inside the Bills red zone.
- Had 7 of their 10 possessions finish on their own side of midfield
There’s one word for all of that: Domination.
6.) Bills fans get the last laugh, show their mettle once again. Leading up to Sunday’s game, Broncos fans were weirdly confident. They also said quite a few defamatory things about the Bills.
The SBNation Broncos website, The Mile High Report, featured an article detailing how great a chance the Broncos had of “exposing a Super Bowl pretender”. Naturally, fans all over the NFL are confident in their favorite teams. No one should expect any different. The particular brand of confidence exhibited by Broncos fans, though, highlighted by dismissive and derogatory takes about the Bills and their quarterback, left a bad taste in the mouths of much of Bills Mafia.
How perfect then, that after the game, the Broncos’ fans were the ones with the bad taste in their mouths, courtesy of the medicine they’d just been force-fed by the “Super Bowl pretender” Buffalo Bills.
The Buffalo faithful, to the surprise of no one, showed up and showed out. They were there in mittens and scarves, all shivers and secret whiskey flask binoculars and pre-game impromptu fire pits. They were there, screaming and yelling with passion and pride, representing their team with vigor and aplomb.
It’s easy to be a fan of a team with a winning history and multiple Super Bowl victories, of course. It’s not so easy to show up over a 20 year period of football irrelevance, though.
It’s not so easy to show up when fall turns to winter, when toes and hearts go numb and the warm couch beckons louder than the wet, grey skies of Orchard Park. And yet, show up the Bills fans do.
A quick look around the league shows that this type of loyalty is NOT the norm. It is NOT the rule, but the exception. Bills fans are a special breed, and after a tough two decades (heck, a tough FIVE decades, really), they are finally starting to reap the rewards that accompany an up-and-coming, exciting, winning football team. No fan base anywhere in sports deserves it more. Kudos, Bills fans.
The Extra Point
The dominant theme this season for the Bills has been the legitimacy of Buffalo’s record. You can’t turn on an ESPN broadcast or scroll through a Twitter feed without seeing doubters, haters, accusations of “Paper Tigers!”. Given that, until recently, the Bills weren’t winning in dominant fashion and were often doing JUST enough to squeak by the dregs of the league, Bills Mafia didn’t really have the opportunity to offer much proof to the contrary. That’s about to change.
Beginning on Thursday, the Bills face five straight games against quality opponents. They get the NFC East leading Cowboys on Thanksgiving, followed by the media darling Baltimore Ravens, a trip to Pittsburgh (which is NEVER easy, regardless of the Steelers’ record), and a rematch against the hated Patriots.
Even their season finale against the New York Jets doesn’t look as easy as it once did, as Darnold’s crew has come alive in recent weeks. If the Bills are able to tally a couple wins in the coming weeks, it will be hard to say “they haven’t beaten anyone!”. If they manage to put the clamps on Ezekiel Elliott or to topple Tom Brady or Lamar Jackson, it will be hard to say they haven’t earned their record.
Prior to the past two Sundays, Bills fans likely didn’t feel very confident about the team’s chances in this crucial stretch of games. Against first the Dolphins and then the Broncos, though, things changed.
The offense, defense, and (this week, at least), the special teams all came to play. You hear the term “complimentary football” a lot. Well, if you ever wonder what “complimentary football” means, just think back to the Bills-Broncos game.
When your offense runs the ball for over 200 yards against a top five unit, your defense bails out your young quarterback moments after throwing a pick by securing a pick of their own, and your special teams help you win the field position game all day long…that’s complimentary football.
Sunday’s victory was the most complete Bills victory of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. All three units, as well as the coaching staff, have begun to hit their stride. What not long ago seemed like sure losses now seem to be there for the taking. It’s setting up to be quite the December for Bills fans. Before we get to December, though, one more big game in this November to Remember: The Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day.
It’s been a long time since Bills talk at the dinner table on Turkey Day was about playoff seeding rather than draft order. It’s been an even longer time since we all got to watch our favorite team take the field in a pivotal match-up with real postseason implications.
So this Thursday, when the tryptophan begins to take hold and Uncle Marty won’t give up the good armchair and the smell of pie wafts into the living room as everyone settles in for Bills football, remember to be thankful.
Be thankful to be part of such a loyal fan base, thankful to to the Pegulas for saving our team, and thankful, of course, to be indoors, full and warm and surrounded by family.
Lastly, be thankful that the 2019 Buffalo Bills have taken care of business to the tune of an 8-3 record, and that in so doing, they have given Bills Mafia an exciting Thanksgiving day match-up and a November to Remember.
Editor’s babble: I love Matthew’s optimism. Big thanks to Matthew for his outstanding contributions to our blog. You can find Matthew on Twitter @Matthewtherule. He also posts on twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall Message Board. Happy Thanksgiving!