The Buffalo Bills opened up the NFL season visiting the Los Angeles Rams in Sofi Stadium. This was as marquee a matchup as the NFL could create, placing the reigning Super Bowl champs against the betting favorites to win it all this season. Furthermore, all eyes were on edge rusher Von Miller, who decided to leave LA to chase a ring in Buffalo.
The Rollercoaster Offense
Josh Allen and Gabriel Davis picked up right where they left off in the AFC Divisional game with a 26 yard touchdown. The score was the culmination of a perfectly led drive by Josh Allen and new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. Allen didn’t throw an incomplete pass until an unlucky interception to end the second Bills drive. Allen hit wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie in the numbers right at the first down marker, but it bounced off of his hands and into the hands of linebacker Terrell Lewis.
Unfortunately, the Bills offensive woes didn’t stop there. On rookie James Cook’s first career carry, he fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Leonard Floyd of the Rams. Cook didn’t have another carry for the rest of the game. While it was a disappointing opener for the second round pick, Cook has a long season to work on his ball security and carve out a role in this offense.
The Stifling Defense
Despite the Bills sloppy first half, Leslie Frazier’s defense kept the explosive Rams in check for the majority of the game. The Rams opening drive was foiled after Von Miller bull-rushed left tackle Joe Noteboom to notch his first sack in a Bills uniform. After Cook’s fumble, third year cornerback Dane Jackson took the ball right back with an interception on Stafford.
It took nearly two whole quarters for the Rams to get on the scoreboard, but the offense took advantage of a short field thanks to Tyler Bass sending the kickoff out of bounds. Stafford threw a beautiful pass into the back of the end zone to his go-to guy Cooper Kupp, who made an extraordinary toe-tap to keep both feet in bounds. While the QB-WR duo showed flashes of their historic 2022 performance, it wasn’t enough to overcome the stifling Bills defense. Following the touchdown, the Rams were only able to score 3 more points, coming from a Matt Gay field goal as time expired in the first half.
A Tie Game at Halftime
Tyler Bass’ 41 yard field goal helped the Bills take an early 10-0 lead, but more turnovers would allow the Rams to claw their way back. Following the Kupp touchdown, Allen threw what was truly his first bad pass of the evening (which came just after the two minute warning in the second quarter!). On a crossing route to Jamison Crowder, Allen’s pass was jumped over the middle by cornerback Troy Hill, once again squandering their quest to score a second touchdown. The Rams used that turnover to kick a 57 yard field goal as the final seconds of the first half expired.
With how well Josh Allen was playing, it was unfortunate that the game was tied going into the half. However, credit to the Bills defense for holding the Rams to only 10 points in the half (and the entire game by the time all 60 minutes had been played out). Several of the turnovers were flukey mistakes that were unlikely to be repeated, and the hope was that the Bills could finally get back into the end zone in the second half.
The Near-Perfect Second Half
Not only did the Bills score three touchdowns in the second half, but the defense held the Rams to a whopping zero points in the final 30 minutes of the game. After a quick three and out from LA, Josh Allen led the Bills down the field without throwing an incomplete pass. Once again, Ken Dorsey called an amazing series of plays to allow the Bills to march down the field with ease. The drive culminated with Isaiah McKenzie catching a short seven yard pass from Allen as he was running into the end zone. Following another punt from the Rams, Allen attempted and completed his first deep pass of the night, hitting Gabriel Davis in stride for a 47 yard gain to set up first and Goal. On 3rd down, Allen was able to jump his way into the end zone, lunging the ball over the head of future Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Wagner.
The Bills generated their second turnover of the game when a high pass intended for Cooper Kupp bounced off of his hands and into the hands of All-Pro safety Jordan Poyer. Three plays later, Allen rolled out to his right and uncorked a 53 yard bomb to Stefon Diggs for his third touchdown pass of the game. Diggs ran straight past star corner Jalen Ramsey on the play, which was one of many plays where Ramsey was bested by the Bills receivers. According to PFF’s initial grading, Ramsey allowed a perfect passer rating of 158.3, allowing 6 receptions on seven targets for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The next Rams possession was cut short by second year defensive lineman Carlos ‘Boogie’ Basham, who tipped and caught a pass from Stafford at the line of scrimmage. Basham was able to gain 21 yards on the interception return, but most of it was negated by a 15 yard taunting penalty for the ensuing celebration. When the Bills looked primed to score once again, running back Zack Moss fumbled and linebacker Justin Hollins recovered the ball. This was the only blemish in what would’ve been a perfect second half.
Shout out to offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, who called his first game as the OC. Allen looked calm and patient in the pocket for nearly every play, and the quick short passes were a perfect counter to Aaron Donald’s pass rush abilities. The Bills were near perfect on 3rd down, finishing 9/10 compared to LA’s 6/13. Not to mention, new Bills punter Sam Martin was only required for his field goal holding duties, as the Bills never punted on Thursday night. It was a statement win for the Bills, defeating the reigning Super Bowl champs by 21 points, despite giving up four turnovers.
While this was a major win for the Bills, they didn’t escape the game unscathed. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver briefly returned to the game following an ankle injury, but sat out most of the second half because of the injury. Fullback Reggie Gilliam also got banged-up, but tweeted after the game “I’m good!”. Roger Saffold also briefly left the field following an eye contusion, but later returned to finish out the game.
Offensive Player of the Game: Stefon Diggs
Diggs finished the game with 8 catches on 9 targets for 122 yards and a touchdown. He got the best of Jalen Ramsey on several big plays, including a clutch 3rd down conversion as well as the 53 yard score. It’s safe to say he is still one of the best, if not the best, wide receivers in the league.
Defensive Player of the Game: the entire Bills defensive line
It’s hard to pick out just one player when the entire Bills defensive line dominated the Rams. Von Miller was the star of the show, finishing with two sacks and four tackles against his former team. Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham both notched a sack, while AJ Epenesa and Jordan Phillips finished with 1.5 sacks each. While seven sacks is impressive in its own right, those seven sacks (and 15 total QB hits) were achieved without blitzing on a single play. The Bills have emphasized bringing in talent on the defensive line throughout free agency and the draft the last few years. Rousseau and Oliver were first round picks, and Epenesa and Basham were both second round selections. Plus, GM Brandon Beane brought in Miller, Phillips, and run-stuffing defensive tackles DaQuan Jones and Tim Settle this offseason. This defensive unit will thrive throughout the season because of their rotation, due to the abundance of talent for Leslie Frazier to utilize.
MVP: Josh Allen
Allen finished the second half nine for 11 with 144 passing yards, 49 rushing yards, and three total touchdowns. He finished the game 26 for 31 with 297 yards passing, 56 yards rushing, and 4 total touchdowns. Yes, he had two interceptions (one hit McKenzie in the hands), but nearly every other pass was directly on the money to his intended target. Allen started off his 2023 MVP campaign with a bang!
What’s Next: Bills vs Titans 9/19
The Bills host their home opener on Monday Night Football against the Tennessee Titans. After losing in a close game last year, the Bills look for revenge against Derrick Henry and company, as they attempt to extend their record to 2-0.
Editor’s babble: We are excited to welcome Colin Richey to our BuffaloFAMbase blog. Colin will be doing post game reviews for us this season. You can also find Colin on Twitter @whatthef00tball.