Machiavelli has been credited with the phrase “the end justifies the means.” I don’t know if Niccolo said that or not but it was appropriate for how I viewed the Bills/Steelers game Sunday night. Watching the Bills offense play a game that only Dick Jauron would have thought to be beautiful was insanity inducing. Seeing that the team won and the end goal was achieved, was glorious.
Ten wins (with two games to go). In the playoffs (with two games to go!!). For all the stress that Sunday night caused me and it was right up there… given the importance and tight nature of the game… right down to the bitter (and fulfilling) end… the pressure valve is now partially released for the last two games.
No more worrying about 3 game losing streaks. No longer looking for New Orleans to do the Bills a proper by taking Indy and Tennessee out of the playoffs, I can sit back and relax. I hope the Bills play that way too. Ball out without fear (yes that means you Brian Daboll….more on that later) and see what they can accomplish. In any event, they are in!
Now for the things I didn’t like and those I did.
The dislikes (for a win and a critical win at that, there are quite a few):
- Tre White intercepted his 2nd pass of the game. The Bills are deep in Steeler territory trailing 10-7. The play calls: Gore -2 yards, Gore -5 yards (option pass gone awry), Singletary -3 yards. After the Cleveland game, Sean McDermott made it a point to say “play fearless”. That set of plays was amongst the most cowardly I’ve seen all year. Play to win, not to not lose. Jeesh… that was beyond aggravating.
- There’s 1:55 left in the 1st half. The Bills have 3 timeouts left and lead 7-3. The ball is deep in their territory. The plays: Run, run, run, end of half. One could argue that the tenor of the game and ineptitude of the Bills offense dictated conservative play. To me though, this is a professional team with a 1st round QB. You need points. As mentioned above, the motto of “play fearless” is completely ignored. Play not to lose took over. I hate it. Victory goes to those bold enough to seize it. (They did that on the winning drive in the 4th quarter by the way and seized it).
- Quinton Spain, what on earth are you doing??? The Bills are running out the game and while they couldn’t have done so completely, they had drawn the Steelers out of time outs. The game clock would be well under a minute when they had to punt, likely leaving the Steelers a long field to traverse, no timeouts to do so and about 30 seconds of play clock to work with. But no, the equivalent of an extra timeout comes to the Steelers by Spain’s holding penalty on the final running play. Awful. Know the game circumstances. It almost proved deadly as the Steelers drove deep, aided by even more clock stopping and yardage grabbing penalties.
- Josh Allen throws a pick on a high ball to Beasley. Could Beasley have caught it? It is debatable but perhaps. My complaint isn’t the interception or Beasley’s effort. It’s that the Bills then pulled in their horns for most of the rest of the game until the 4th quarter. In a throwback to the darkest of Bills offenses, there was nothing but off tackle runs and minimal throwing. Thank God for Tre White’s INT and the field position it gave them because I don’t think the Bills had too much of hope of doing anything on offense to advance that far. Painful to watch. Absolutely painful.
- Whatever happened to Dawson Knox after the 1st play of the game and to Robert Foster (no offensive plays, at all). Two weapons wasted.
- On Tre White’s 2nd INT, Kevin Johnson is convoying him down the sideline but fails to block the guy next to him and heads out for someone farther down the field. The player next to him, of course, makes the tackle. A block there and I think White scores.
- The horrible face mask call on Edmunds, later amended to Johnson. Neither hit the mask. Was it supposed to be for hitting a defenseless player on Johnson? They never said so.
- Bills special teams. I dread them. They are stress inducing. Penalties galore. Inept blocking. Not very good tackling. Inconsistent punting and place kicking. Fans have been subjected to some really bad teams work for years now. The Steelers game was no exception as they killed field position for a Bills offense that can use all the help it can get. Where is the reincarnation of Bruce DeHaven when one needs him?
- Levi Wallace’s lame attempt at tackling James Connor on his touchdown.
- After halftime of at least three games I can recall (I haven’t looked back at all of them), the following happened: 65 yard td run by Eagles, 61 yard td pass by Ravens, seven-play 69 yard TD drive by Steelers (more yards than they had in the whole first half). It could be coincidence but if I am Sean McDermott I’d analyze why my defense doesn’t come ready to start the 2nd half.
- I’m no quarterback mechanics analyst but I thought Collingsworth hit on something I had noticed too where Josh Allen’s arm angle on most of the balls that sail on him seems to be lower than normal leading to an upward rise as he tries to drive it down the field. When he steps into those throws the arm stays at what appears to be his normal release point. I might be totally off on this but it seems that way to me.
Now for the things I liked:
- The Bills run defense was outstanding. After the first play of the game when the Steelers got 15 yards, the Bills were pretty much lights out. They forced the Steelers to make Hodges try to beat them with his arm. It is a very tough defense for veteran quarterbacks to go against and Hodges was not up to it, though he did hit three throws down the field (more than most Bills opponents). He also threw four picks and got sacked four times and hit a bunch more.
- Tre White was outstanding, as he is most every game. From the introductions where he identified his school as “The Tre White Goaltending Academy” to both his interceptions and his hard tackling, he was the star of the show. His post game interview was just about perfect too.
- The Bills offensive tackles, Dawkins and Ford, did not let the Steelers edge rushers dictate the outcome of the game. Yes the Bills played conservatively, often went to a short passing attack when they passed at all and chipped on the edge rushers at times as well but the O tackles held up when needed.
- John Brown. That was an excellent adjustment to make the catch on the long 4th quarter throw but an even better effort to recover Singletary’s second fumble to keep the Bills final touchdown drive alive. Great effort play.
- The jukes by Singletary. Those cannot be taught. The ball security was not good though and that cannot happen going forward.
- The secondary, despite a couple of long throws against it, played really well all night. It was a great time for a multiple INT night and Levi Wallace made an excellent play high-pointing that INT in the end zone to end it.
- I noticed a number of times Isaiah McKenzie working hard at blocking down field on running plays. He is not a big guy but the effort was excellent and is a critical component of ripping off big gains after the initial hole opens. All the Bills receivers seem to take pride in doing the dirty work to help the team win.
- The Bills resiliency. They do not get flustered when they are down or the other team makes a play or 2 against them. It is the mark a good team.
- Six road wins (with one to go)! My goodness that is not easy to do, including Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Dallas. Those seemed like impossible venues in the past. Hats off for the focus this team shows and the preparation done by the coaching staff getting them ready to play in hostile stadiums.
I don’t know about others but all I want for Christmas is a win against the Patriots in Foxboro. It is time for the AFC East mantle to pass. Even if the Dolphins don’t help the Bills claim the actual title by beating the Patriots the following week, a win would cement the notion that the king may well be dead and a new king is ready to step up and claim the throne. Let it rip Bills. You’ve got nothing to lose!
Editor’s babble: Couldn’t agree more about letting it rip against the Patriots. Thanks, as always, to Joe Tauriello for his outstanding contributions to our blog. You can find Joe on Twitter @Joe_Tauriello.