Sean McDermott said they would do it, and they’re doing it. They’re making winning the fourth quarter a habit.
The Bills did it again Sunday against the Raiders, carrying a small lead into halftime, and letting it shrink to one point in the third quarter. Then they poured on two fourth-quarter TDs and two fourth-quarter take aways. The game was over. The Bills went to 4-0, and a few more people around the country realized the 2020 Bills are for real.
Of course, they wouldn’t be the Bills if they didn’t make it closer at the end than anyone would like. It would be nice if just for once, the Bills didn’t have to recover on onside kick to secure the win. The weekly bonehead play by Josh Allen cost the Bills a field goal and made the game closer than it needed to be. But that’s about all that went wrong in Las Vegas.
The game was pretty much an even match. Yards, plays, first downs, time of possession all were fairly even. Quarterback passing stats were pretty close, too.
The difference was the two takeaways, both earned by the Bills – no gifts. First, Josh Norman closed beautifully on Darron Waller to make the tackle and punch the ball out, then scrambled to make the recovery. Then Quinton Jefferson did the same thing to Derek Carr – relentless pass rush, perfect swipe to create the fumble and a scramble for the recovery. Both were athletic, heads-up plays. The first lead to the Bills score that provided the margin of victory, the second effectively ended the Raiders’ chances.
But for the takeaways, the defense could have been the goats in a Bills loss. They couldn’t stop the Raiders, at least not until the Raiders got into scoring position. The Raiders just kept scoring. The defense tightened up some in the second half, forcing a punt, two fumbles and a great stop on fourth and one. That, combined with the fourth quarter resurrection of the offense, was enough to bring home the win.
Edmunds was the standout. He had what may have been the best game of his young career. He was everywhere on the field – blitzing, tackling ball carriers, roaming the defensive backfield. No sloppy tackling this week. Extraordinary quickness, darting into a hole to manage his gap, then curling back and assisting on tackles across the field. I’m sure, either after the game, or in the film room, coaches will say to him, “THAT’S the way you’re supposed to play the game, with THAT speed and THAT kind of focus.” If a trip to Vegas is what it took for the light to go on, if that’s what we can expect to see week in and week out for the next several years, then by all means send him to Vegas. I’ll be his chaperone.
As always, of course, the story of the Raiders game is Josh Allen. When they win and when they lose (and unless we’re witnessing a miracle, the Bills will lose). The story will be Allen, because he’s just too big not to be the story. He’s Paul Bunyan. When he’s good, his play is magnificent, often extraordinary. When he’s bad, he’s bad in almost mythic ways, this week taking a horrible, horrible sack when he had plenty of time to throw the ball away. We all keep hoping he’ll get the bad under control, and he seems to be doing better. And then, BAM!! What were you thinking, Josh?
Up until now, whatever the bad, everyone’s been willing to put up with it because the good has been oh, so good. So good. He has control of the huddle and the line of scrimmage. He manages the traffic in the backfield. His passes have the beauty of those great Joe Ferguson spinners, but Joe was a pee wee compared to Josh. Josh can throw it anywhere on the field, like a rocket one time and with touch the next. Not every time, but a lot of the time. Not with the surgeon-like precision of a Brees, but not so far off, either. He really is spectacular. Not consistently enough, but that’s only going to improve.
What I want from Allen is not just the elimination of the bonehead play, but precision. More perfect execution every play. The 49-yard completion to Diggs to set up the final touchdown was great, but he needed the ball five yards to the right to lead Diggs away from the defender. Instead his throw forced Diggs into a contest for the ball. A great QB helps his receiver there.
Diggs already has made some nice catches since joining the Bills, but that catch was the best. I’d seen the highlight videos from Minnesota, and I remember thinking “don’t expect him to be making highlight-reel catches like that – nobody does that all the time.” And here he is, doing it as a Bill. His speed and change of direction is magnificent, and his hands just are outstanding. So there he was, 50 yards downfield, stopping and going up and over the defender to snatch the ball. Outstanding. Almost as spectacular was his recovery to get his hands on the ball when Josh scrambled and flipped the ball forward in desperation, and then his agility, stretching in vain for the first down. He’s a special athletic talent, and his intensity is undeniable.
Then there’s Beasley. Talk about special athletic talent. Multiple beautiful receptions – great routes, great body control, great hands. He gave up his body completely for the touchdown catch.
Josh got great protection from the offensive line. He rarely seemed trapped.
The Bills aren’t champions yet. They have a lot to learn. They aren’t playing with the killer instincts of the Chiefs and the Pats and occasional other teams. They still get flustered at times. They still don’t punt so well, and place kicking is an adventure. But it’s clear they are well down the road to being great.
This was the kind of game that the really good teams win. On the road against a pretty tough opponent. They need these games, because they’re going to lose sometimes to an elite team, and sometimes just because there’s a hiccup. The Bills weren’t perfect, but just like last week against the Rams in Orchard Park, the Bills rose up in the fourth quarter to take the win. That’s a big step for a football team. They weren’t bad at it last season, and they’re better now.
It’s happening right here, right now. Where would you rather be?
Editor’s babble: This game was fun to watch but I’ll be happier when the 3rd quarter meltdowns stop happening. Thanks, as always, to 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.