Bills still growing into role as playoff caliber team

Photo from kslsports.com.

The Bills beat the Chargers on Sunday, 27-17, improving to 8-3 and staying a game ahead of the Dolphins and three games ahead of the Patriots.  After a promising start to the game, the Bills finished ugly.  For many fans, the operative word is ‘ugly.”  For the Bills, the operative word is “finished.”

With a 24-6 lead, the Bills had an opportunity to coast to an unusual easy victory.  Instead, in a scene familiar to Bills fans this season, the Bills gave up a touchdown, went four and out and then turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions.  Throw in a series of bad penalties and the second successful hail Mary in two games, and the game turned ugly and uncomfortably close.  Forget that, or at least don’t obsess over it.

The Bills are a Sean McDermott team, and Sean McDermott teams finish.  He builds his teams to finish.  He trains them to finish.  He expects them to finish.  Against the Chargers, the Bills finished.  They closed the game with an interception by Tre’Davious White, a short drive (including a couple of penalties), a clutch Bass field goal, and excellent bend-don’t-break prevent defense (including the 4th and 27 hail Mary short of the end zone).  On the final play of the game, the Bills stuffed a quarterback sneak, beating the spread.  The Bills finished. 

Photo of QB Justin Herbert from latimes.com.

The Chargers are one of the better 3-8 teams you’ll see.  Justin Herbert has been having a lights-out rookie season at quarterback, and they have a credible defense.   Against the Bills, both were no-go, more or less.  The Bills harassed and confused Herbert all game, and the Bills defensive backfield offered him few big throwing windows.  Many of Herbert’s completions were close or contested catches.  He finished the game with a passer rating of 76.  In other words, the Bills pretty much stopped him.  And by the way, the Chargers have a decent run game, but the Bills stuffed that, too.

The Charger defense did okay trying to stop the Bills, but there simply was no way they could hold the Bills under 20.  The Bills attacked relentlessly with their running game, and in the second half they began having more success.  Singletary and Moss shared the load, each taking advantage of occasional seams to move the chains. 

Allen was efficient, when he wasn’t playing like a rookie.  He mishandled a snap and lost the fumble, he made a foolish desperation throw under pressure for an interception, and he avoided near-disaster on a couple of other low-reward high-risk plays.   He hasn’t learned that sometimes the right play is to take your lumps, even if it means you’ll punt.   Unless you’re in the final minute, there’s always another play.  Still, Allen was in control, made several good throws and managed the game.

Photo from sandiegotribune.com.

A few observations:

1.  The Bills need to play under control.  Poyer’s unnecessary roughness, Oliver’s roughing the passer, Allen’s unsportsmanlike conduct all hurt the team.  There’s a difference between playing with an attitude and playing stupid.  One of the problems with playing stupid is that the team develops a reputation with the officials.  When the officials think your style is chippy, in-your-face, over-the-edge, you get calls like the taunting call on Moss – an obviously bad call except for the fact that Bills had spent the previous 20 minutes showing off their poor sportsmanship.  It’s been a problem with Poyer all season, and now he seems to be infect other players.  The Bills need the officials to be on their side and not looking for flags to throw against them.

2.  Stephon Diggs didn’t exactly light up the stat sheet, but that’s because they don’t keep stats about penalties drawn.  The first-half pass interference that set up the Bills’ first touchdown was created by Diggs and Allen’s arm.  Every bit as good as a completion.  Through the second half, Diggs’s deep threat left him available to Allen repeatedly for easy five- to seven-yard gains.

3.  Tremaine Edmunds continues to makes plays.  He’s tackling more solidly, he’s getting off blocks, and he’s beginning to regain his form as an elite pass defender.  He’s in on a lot of plays, and he’s around even more. He looks a lot better than six weeks ago.

Photo from syracuse.com.

4.  AJ Klein, too. 

5.  I watched the game with my adult daughter, a good athlete but she’s never watched much football.  She’s a Bills fan, but she probably can name only two Bills players other than Allen.  When Lee Smith caught that three-yarder, she said “Who’s that?  Do the Bills actually give that guy the ball?”  Even my daughter could see that Smith is about as unlikely a tight end as you’ll see in the 2020 NFL. 

6.  Seems to me the Bills would have done better to pay a little attention to Joey Bosa. 

7.  Allen should have left the pocket more often.  He got in trouble and sacked on a couple of occasions when he should have sensed that it was time to go.

For many years during the drought, Bills fans asked that their team just play one meaningful game in December.  Bills fans lived to see the Bills name and logo listed under “In the Hunt” when networks showed the playoff possibilities.  We knew it was a matter of days or a week or two before the Bills fell off the list, but expectations were low.  Just be in the hunt a week or two in December.

Now, the Bills are looking at five meaningful games in December and January.    

The Bills are building for the playoffs.  You can see it in the defensive backfield.  Hyde, Poyer, White, and Wallace are getting stingier by the week.  Edmunds and Taron Johnson are part of it.  You can see it in the run defense – not dominant, but week after week the Bills seem to be plugging the leaks.  You can see it in the defensive aggressiveness and disguises.  The defense is getting tougher to handle. 

Photo of RB Devin Singletary from buffalonews.com.

The run game is becoming more productive.  Allen’s in control, except when he isn’t.

The special teams are excellent, except when Bojorquez isn’t. 

This is the time Bills fans asked for: Meaningful games in December.  We have a lot be thankful for.

GO BILLS!!!

Editor’s babble: We can definitely be thankful to take the W and move on to the 49ers in Arizona or wherever the game will be played. Thanks 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.