This was it. This was the test. This was the game, the first game in 2020 where the Buffalo had to show they could be a premier team. There’s only one question on the test: Can you win against premier competition when your opponent is bringing it? That’s what premier teams do; win big games simply by refusing to lose. When the bully is stealing your candy, do you put him on his back?
Sunday afternoon, the Bills took the test. When the Rams asked the question, the Bills’ answer was “Go ahead. Punch me. Do it again. Kick me. In the end, we’ve got this.”
You know what that game was? That was the Comeback Game. Same stadium, same first half blowout, same amazing comeback, similar lead changes at the end. Only difference was it was the Bills blowing the big lead, but that didn’t matter – miracle Bills win in the end.
It’s hard to overstate the significance of the Bills’ 35-32 win in Orchard Park. So many things stand out. At one level, if you’re just a football fan with no rooting interest in the outcome, it was a spectacular football game. Big, big plays. The absolute poetry of the Bills offense clicking from the beginning of the game straight through their first offensive possession of the second half. The dramatic turn-around, including a horrible call that changed the course of the game. The sheer dominance of the Rams through most of the fourth quarter – they were as brilliant as the Bills had been. The gut wrenching, desperation touchdown drive. It was one great, great football game.
Beyond all that, if you are a Bills fan, or even a Rams fan, it was a big game on your schedule. It was the first test. The Rams have passed the test their share of times in the last few years. They’ve had the answer. And they looked like they had the answer on Sunday afternoon, until the Bills said, “We got this.”
Do you remember math class, when you took a test? There’d be a question, and the instructions would say “show your work.” Well, if a math teacher was correcting the Bills test, the first thing the teacher would see is that the Bills got the right answer. But when the teacher looks at the work, how the Bills got to the right answer, the teacher says, befuddled, “What in heavens name are you doing? This is one of the biggest messes I’ve ever seen, but yeah, you Bills got to the right answer.”
The fact is, the Bills were failing the test, failing badly. The offensive magic was gone – the Bills couldn’t execute much of anything. The players looked gassed; the fourth quarter, which the Bills like to think is theirs, certainly was not. The defense couldn’t make a stop, anywhere. They were a step behind, play after play. The Rams offensive playbook was too much.
And then there was Josh Allen. Josh Allen is the kid in math class who said the most brilliantly stupid things. The smart kids would snicker at the really dumb stuff he said. And, then, somehow, when the test came, he got the A.
No. Not the kid in math class. Josh Allen is the underdog kid, the star in some only semi-entertaining Hollywood sports-feel-good movie who, in the championship game makes the most absurd, the most bone-headed plays in the game, only to win on the final play by throwing a pass to himself and breaking four tackes on his way to the end zone. He’s like Rocky in shoulder pads.
Allen’s fourth quarter decision-making screamed :THIS GAME IS TOO BIG FOR ME.” He broke every rule in the book: dumb penalties, horrible sacks, ill-advised throws. It was rookie hero-ball play after rookie-hero ball play. The confidence had left his face; the pressure was grinding on him. Still, Allen was that underdog kid, the kid with the will to win that is so big, so irresistable, that in the end Allen was not going to lose.
Allen is so much more than that kid. This wasn’t some Hollywood movie. This is an extraordinary football player. He’s just that good.
You know when the game came apart for the Bills? When Aaron Donald, one of the few non-QBs in the league who can simply impose his will on the game, took it over. Donald did it on a few plays, but the most important play was Donald’s first fourth-quarter sack. He was lined up on the right defensive end of the line, the Bills faked a run to the right, Allen tucked the ball in his gut, and dropped for what was supposed to be a big play left. On the fake, the Bills essentially left Donald unblocked, assuming that he would trail the run fake down the line. Major mistake. You simply can’t leave a player of that calibre unblocked, ever. Either the Bills outsmarted themselves, or Allen failed to get out of that play. Donald was on Allen instantly, and Allen couldn’t get rid of it. Big sack.
I think something else happened on that play. I think Josh Allen got up off the turf and thought to himself, “Okay, I have to be that good.”
So, after what seemed to be a total team and personal meltdown, here comes Allen onto the field with four and a half minutes left saying. “I got this.” Here he was, good-Josh and bad-Josh, all over the field for four minutes, as suspenseful, as improbable, as maddeningly great and dumb as ever. At the heart of the matter, here was Josh Allen, going back to what works for the Bills, finding Beasley a couple of times, scrambling nicely to buy time to get the ball into Diggs. Then Allen’s legs generate the final touchdown – no, Allen didn’t run it in, but the threat of his run was enough to free Kroft in the end zone for an easy TD catch. Ball game.
A few miscellaneous thoughts about the game.
- Ford at left guard. Seemed to hold his own against Donald, but sooner or later Donald’s going to get you.
- McKenzie was featured a lot, like last season. In jet motion five times for every one the Bills actually give him the ball.
- Allen’s arm strength is unprecedented. He just flips the ball, 35 yards downfield. Amazing.
- Ram’s offensive attack is really special. They have an answer for everything.
- Epenesa’s playing a role on a play here and there. He’s in the learning process.
- This was the Singletary we saw last season. Pretty dangerous guy.
- Taron Johnson was around the ball a lot.
- Maybe Gabriel Davis actually IS Larry Fitzgerald. Tough, tough wideout.
- Daboll’s first half play calling was fabulous.
- Did anyone mention Allen’s three straight carries culminatiing in a touchdown. The spin move for the first down? Really?
The answer the Bills had on Sunday is NOT the answer you’re supposed to have when a premier team tests you. You’re not supposed to let the bully beat you up before you win. But first, you have to win, somehow. And that’s what the Bills did.
You know what felt good? The final play, the endless lateral play the Rams ran. It was well-schemed and executed beautifully. Why’d it feel good? Because Sean McDermott’s, rational, well-prepared football team, the process-driven team McDermott wants, the play-all-60-minutes team, reappeared. Every defender making a play, every defender running, every defender patiently executing until they ended the play. It was beautiful. At the end of the day, the process said “we got this.”
That was a big test.
Editor’s babble: My cardiac status remains questionable. Not sure I’ll make it to the end of the season at this rate. What. A. Game. Thanks to our good friend Mark Korber for his contributions to our blog. You can’t find Mark on Twitter, but you can find him posting on twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall message board.