It was Josh Allen’s worst game of the season, until it wasn’t.
Allen had been stymied by the Cardinals defense for pretty much the entire game. He threw perhaps his two worst interceptions of the season, one a poorly executed throw to Gabriel Davis in fairly tight coverage, a pass that if Davis had made the absolutely perfect play by stopping for the ball, he might have had a completion or interference penalty. The other, a classic young QB’s mistake, failing to see Patrick Peterson dropping into coverage underneath Allen’s intended receiver. Two critical mistakes.
Allen took what the defense was giving him pretty much all day, which is, after all, what he’s supposed to do. He once again was great managing the pocket, taking no sacks, creating a couple of miraculous escapes, and making tough throws from tight situations. In addition to the two interceptions, several of his throws were just a bit off target. One of those throws, into the left flat late in the game, created the opportunity for Cole Beasley to make a great one handed catch for a critical first down on what looked like the game-winning drive.
And then, with three and a half minutes left, Allen got the ball one more time. Until then, he hadn’t played so badly to have lost the game, but he hadn’t done much of anything to win it, either. The Bills had just completed a horrible, penalty riddled, drive to nowhere. That’s when Allen did it again – another fourth quarter comeback drive. He took control of the ball, the offense, and the game, running and passing the ball down the field, managing the huddle, managing the clock, managing the team. It was popgun offense at times, four yards here, five yards there, dink, dunk, nice throws but nothing special. Finally, BANG!!! The touchdown pass that could be thrown by only a handful of NFL quarterbacks, the touchdown route and catch that could be run and made by only a dozen receivers.
Allen to Diggs. Touchdown! Game over, but of course, it wasn’t. The Bills defense needed one more stop; they played the last 39 seconds pretty much just as they had drawn it up. In the end, Kyler Murray made an excellent play, the kind of play that only Murray and a handful of other quarterbacks, including Allen, make, and Andre Hopkins made the catch to win the game, the kind of catch that only a dozen or so receivers, including Diggs, make.
In a sense, all that happened is that the game ended with three and half minutes left, and then for a few more minutes two of the best QBs in the league and two of the best receivers in the league put on a show for the entertainment of a national audience.
Could the Bills have stopped the final play? The Bills surrounded Hopkins with their three best defensive backs – Hyde, Poyer, and White, all four jumped, Hopkins was in perfect position to get his hands on the ball ahead of the others, and he didn’t let go. In a perfect world, White doesn’t jump, stands his ground and, as Hopkins comes down with ball, White knocks it out of his hands. The Bills were close, but just not quite perfect.
The Bills are a good football team, a quality football team. So is Arizona. They fought for 60 minutes. Either team could have won. Both teams delivered under pressure. The Bills faded late in the third quarter and lost control of the game – had they put together a tight-60-minute performance, they could have won. But Arizona can say pretty much the same thing about how they played. When good teams play, it’s often the case that one team controls for a while, then the other controls. That’s what happened. The Cardinals were a little bit better.
It’s a tough loss for the Bills, because it tightens up the AFC East race, a tough loss in a game they could have won. But it isn’t a disaster. It proved to the Bills, again, that they can play and compete with anyone. And the Bills aren’t done building and growing.
Edmunds played well. Not perfect, by any means, but he was active, around the ball, making plays and making tackles.
AJ Klein shone again. I don’t know where that quickness came from – if I had to guess, Klein isn’t quicker, but he’s anticipating better. He’s making a difference.
Cole Beasley caught about 27 short passes. Man, what a security blanket for Allen.
Diggs made his plays, too, and the touchdown catch was big-time, grown-man professional football.
The running game disappeared again, and the run defense did too.
The Bills kept Murray in check, more of less.
The Bills need to go at least 2-2 in the third quarter of the season. They’re 1-1, with a bye, then the Chargers and the 49ers. 3-1 is within reach, which would get them to 9-3 and in a position to end the season with a solid run and a good playoff seeding. A lot of big football games between now and the playoffs.
It won’t be easy. The good news is that the Bills have Josh Allen.
Editor’s babble: This one hurt. But like the players, we take it, feel it and move on. Elderly Bills fans know you have to pace yourself… and not let misery rule the day. Thanks to Mark Korber for always putting things in perspective. You can’t find Mark on Twitter, but you can find him posting at twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall Message Board.