After losing to the Jets in Week 9, the Bills looked to redeem themselves at home against their AFC East rival. With Mike White now at the helm, Buffalo’s defense would be facing a new quarterback. The Bills would have Matt Milano and Jordan Poyer back, who were both missing during the 20-17 defeat several weeks ago.
A Nearly Scoreless First Half
The first points of the game were not scored until there were just 34 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Buffalo went three-and-out three times, and failed to gain more than two first downs on any of their drives prior to the one that led to a touchdown. The highlight play of the half came in the beginning of the second quarter, when the Bills were facing a third and 15 thanks to a Quinnen Williams sack. Josh Allen saw a lane open up in the middle of the field and decided to take off, getting a block from James Cook in the process. Quickly enough, Allen had nearly reached the first down marker without being touched, before safety Lamarcus Joyner stepped up to attempt a tackle. Allen went airborne, nearly clearing the defender, but Joyner got a piece of his legs. As he was in the air, linebacker Quincy Williams tried to hit Allen in midair, but the quarterback somehow spun over the back of the defender, completing a 360 degree turn in the air before falling to the ground past the line to gain. It was an amazing play to extend the drive, but Buffalo punted just three plays later.
The Bills defense posted a first half shutout thanks to their lockdown play. However, the Jets converting on three third and longs was concerning. Each time, the defense was able to eventually force a punt, but giving up conversions on third and eight or third and 10 should not be a consistent outcome. Greg Rousseau and AJ Epenesa both notched sacks in the first half, a good sign for a Bills pass rush that will no longer have Von Miller for the remainder of the season.
Buffalo’s touchdown drive began at their own 30 with just over three minutes to play in the first half. Allen ran for five yards on third and six, bringing up fourth and one at Buffalo’s 39 yard line. The Bills decided to be aggressive and go for it on fourth down. Whether or not they were actually going to snap the ball, we’ll never know. Regardless, after several audibles at the line of scrimmage, Allen was standing in the shotgun communicating with his receivers. Suddenly, Dawson Knox motioned into the backfield and lined up right behind center Mitch Morse. Linebacker CJ Mosley saw the trick play unfold, and attempted to guess the snap count. He jumped over Morse and tackled Knox in the backfield. The only problem? Morse had never snapped the ball to Knox. It was a killer penalty for the Jets, and may have cost them a touchdown. Allen connected with Isaiah McKenzie for gains of eight and seven, then ran for an 11 yard gain. With a holding penalty on the Jets, the Bills were within scoring distance. Allen found Knox all alone around the 10 yard line. The tight end stumbled towards the end zone and did his best Josh Allen impersonation, leaping over rookie cornerback Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner for a touchdown.
After it took nearly an entire half for any points to be scored, the first two drives of the second half resulted in touchdowns. The Jets started with the ball and marched 72 yards in 10 plays. The drive included two more third and long conversions, with Mike White connecting with his receivers on third and 12, and 3rd and 10. From Buffalo’s 13 yard line, running back Zonovan Knight broke a tackle and found his way into the end zone for a touchdown.
Allen responded with a seven play, 75 yard drive of his own. He connected with Stefon Diggs for 32 yards, then a 20 yard pass interference penalty set up the Bills in the red zone. Nyheim Hines and Gabriel Davis helped Buffalo move the chains, and set up a five yard designed run to Allen for a touchdown. Spencer Brown and Ryan Bates opened up a gap on the right, and Dion Dawkins and Roger Saffold pulled to become lead blockers for the quarterback. It was a well executed run play to give the Bills the lead.
Flacco = Fumble
Mike White temporarily left the game after a crushing hit by Matt Milano. Veteran Joe Flacco stepped in, and fumbled on his first play. Rousseau got to the QB for his second sack of the day, and was able to knock the ball out. DaQuan Jones recovered the fumble, squandering New York’s hopes of tying the game. Allen connected with Davis for 17 yards, but couldn’t overcome a holding penalty that forced Buffalo to settle for a field goal. Regardless, the Bills had a two possession lead, up 17-7.
Defense Wins Championships
Buffalo’s defense held strong in the remaining 17 minutes of the game, generating several big plays to keep the Jets out of the end zone. New York’s first drive after the Tyler Bass field goal resulted in a quick three-and-out. Buffalo ran the ball to chew three minutes of clock, then settled for a 49 yard field goal to take a 20-7 lead.
Shaq Lawson added to Buffalo’s sack total, getting to Mike White in the backfield for an 11 yard loss. After the Jets were forced to punt, the Bills went three-and-out. On Sam Martin’s punt, first round pick Jermaine Johnson was able to deflect the football, sending it out the back of the end zone for a safety.
The Jets were unable to capitalize on that momentum, as Damar Hamlin punched the ball out of running back Michael Carter’s hands on the ensuing drive. Matt Milano was able to recover the fumble, nearly eliminating any chance New York had at a comeback. Buffalo was unable to move the ball, and a false start set them back five yards. After chewing two minutes off the clock, Buffalo punted back to the Jets.
White led the Jets on a promising drive, which included a completion to Elijah Moore for 19 yards, and a completion to Garrett Wilson for 16 yards. However, the Jets chose to settle for a field goal on fourth and one at Buffalo’s 9 yard line. With 1:21 left, and three timeouts, the Jets needed to stop the Bills and get the ball back. Luckily for them, the defense did just that. The Jets were forced to use two of their timeouts, but got the ball back with just under a minute to play, down by eight. Mike White threw four straight incomplete passes, including a fourth down attempt that was batted down by AJ Epenesa to seal the win.
Once again, it wasn’t the prettiest, but Buffalo walked away with yet another win on the season. Sitting at 10-3, they are currently the #1 seed in the AFC, and can clinch a playoff spot with one more win. Due to the combination of a stingy Jets defense (that I believe has a top three cornerback duo in Sauce Gardner and DJ Reed) and poor weather conditions, Allen finished with a low output of 147 passing yards. Diggs was barely involved, catching just three passes for 37 yards.
Leslie Frazier’s unit came to play on Sunday, allowing just 10 points (the other two by the Jets coming on a special teams safety) and notching four sacks. Kaiir Elam was active after being a healthy scratch a week ago, but never saw the field. It will be interesting to see if the Bills choose to utilize him next week against the Dolphins, where a press-man scheme (something Elam excelled at in college) seems to be the blueprint to limiting Miami. The Jets had eight third down conversions, including multiple third and longs. This is concerning in the long run, because playoff teams like the Chiefs and Bengals have even more talented and explosive offensive weapons capable of stretching the field for big gains.
Offensive Player of the Game: Dawson Knox
The tight end has certainly had an underwhelming season, but he was the best receiver for the Bills on Sunday. He finished with seven targets, four receptions, 41 yards, and one touchdown, all of which were team highs. While it wasn’t a dominating performance, he made plays when he needed to, and even sold the hard-count on fourth and one that led to his touchdown later on.
Defensive Player of the Game: AJ Epenesa
After Buffalo placed Von Miller on IR and announced that his season was over, the defensive line was desperately looking for someone to step up opposite Greg Rousseau (who I’ll get to in a minute). Epenesa finished with five tackles, one sack, a pass defensed, and a forced fumble, generating one of the best box-score outputs of his career. Continuing on this trajectory would be massive for the Bills.
MVP: Greg Rousseau
The Groot breakout is upon us. Without Miller, Rousseau needs to lead this pass rush for the rest of the season, and he did just that on Sunday. He finished the game with two tackles, two sacks, a pass defensed, and a forced fumble. The Miami product has tallied a career high seven sacks on the year already in just 10 games. If he and Epenesa can build off of their strong performances and stay consistent for the rest of the year, it would be massive in trying to fill the void left by Miller.
What’s Next: Bills v Dolphins 12/17
After avenging their loss to the Jets, the Bills have a chance to do the same against the Fins. Miami is coming off of back-to-back losses where Tua Tagovailoa struggled heavily, whereas the Bills will look to extend their four game win streak.
Editor’s babble: I hope the Jets don’t sneak into the playoffs because they are a very physical team. We are grateful for Colin Richey’s contributions to our blog. You can also find Colin on Twitter @whatthef00tball.