Coming off of a major win against the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo would travel overseas to face the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags, who had already been in London for their Week 4 game against Atlanta, seemed more prepared to compete on foreign soil (or turf). Already down three starters on defense, the Bills would take even more hits to the depth chart, with potential season-ending consequences.
The Bills scored just seven points in the first half, their lowest score to start a game this season. The first two drives were three-and-outs, followed by a drive with one first down. Josh Allen connected with Gabriel Davis for nine yards, and Damien Harris was able to collect two yards on 3rd and one to move the chains. Another one-first-down drive later, and the Bills were not only desperate for points, but looking to gain any semblance of momentum or traction on the offensive side of the ball.
Finally, the team constructed an 11 play scoring drive, capped off with a Stefon Diggs 15 yard touchdown. On the drive, Allen hit Deonte Harty for 19 yards (on third down), James Cook for 18 yards, and Davis for 10 yards (on third down). On the scoring play, Diggs beat the press coverage of Darious Williams at the line of scrimmage, leading the cornerback to stumble as he was bracing for contact with the receiver. Instead, the shiftiness of Diggs helped prevent a first half shutout for Jacksonville.
Buffalo had just two possessions in the third quarter, and both ended with punts. Once again, the offense had no rhythm and moved the chains just twice, once on each drive. Each first down happened to come on the first play of the drive, too. This included a 48 yard deep shot to Diggs, who found a hole in the secondary 50 yards downfield. Credit to Allen for delivering an accurate throw on a pass that saw around 53 air yards (threw it from the two, caught at the 45 of JAX), but if Allen was able to hit Diggs more in-stride, the play would’ve gone for six points. The Bills failed to make anything out of the chunk play, with three straight incomplete passes and a punt to follow.
In the fourth quarter, the Bills continued their pattern of moving the chains on the opening play of the drive, as Allen found Dalton Kincaid for a gain of 14. However, Williams would get his revenge, intercepting Allen on third down to force a turnover. On the play, Diggs found his way behind the secondary, and had several steps on the trailing Williams. Allen’s pass traveled about 60 yards downfield (threw it from the 30, caught at the 10), but again the pass seemed to be too short, resulting in a jump ball that Diggs lost. Despite the collapsing pocket, if Allen could’ve put another 5-10 yards on the throw, it probably would’ve been a touchdown. Still, it’s a play you’d like to see Diggs make considering he got two hands on the ball.
Depleted Defense Does Its Best
While having Von Miller back from IR was a positive sight to see, the defense would still be without Tre’Davious White (out for the season), Christian Benford (shoulder) and Greg Rousseau (foot), with more injuries in store on Sunday.
Matt Milano has inarguably been the best defensive player on the Bills over the last two seasons. He finally earned his much deserved recognition with a Pro Bowl and 1st Team All Pro nod last year. After a strong start to his 2023 campaign, it all came crashing down on one play. The linebacker was carted off of the field with an air cast around his leg, and later reports indicate that he’s suffered a season-ending knee injury in addition to a fractured leg.
One of the most underrated players on the Bills, and in the entire NFL, is DaQuan Jones. Double-teamed at the line of scrimmage at an extremely high rate, yet still effective at stuffing the run and rushing the passer, his elite play has been the catalyst for Ed Oliver’s breakout, as well as helped the success of Milano and the inexperienced Terrel Bernard at linebacker. Jones suffered a pec injury on Sunday and an MRI will determine the extent of the injury, but he’ll likely miss multiple games and a season-ending injury isn’t out of the question either.
After all of those injuries, Sean McDermott’s defense did everything it could to keep Trevor Lawrence and company in check, holding them to just 11 points through the first three quarters, and generating several key turnovers in scoring territory to keep the game alive.
A 30 yard reception from Christian Kirk helped move the Jags into Buffalo territory. On third and goal of their second drive, former Bill WR Zay Jones made a great high-point catch along the back of the end zone, even with Dane Jackson in good coverage next to him. A roughing the passer penalty on Oliver tempted Jacksonville to go for two, and the temptation paid off, with Travis Etienne walking into the end zone on a pitch to the right side.
On the ensuing drive, the Bills were able to hold the Jaguars to a field goal, extending their lead to 11 points. On the drive, Lawrence connected with Kirk for 20 yards and Calvin Ridley for 14 to move into range for the veteran kicker Brandon McManus.
The AJ Epenesa Game
Buffalo found the end zone with 1:19 left in the first half, giving the Jags a chance to improve their lead before halftime. Lawrence wasted no time getting the team down the field, connecting with Etienne for 10, Jones for seven, Etienne for 22, and Ridley for 16. Suddenly, the Jaguars were at Buffalo’s 20 yard line with 40 seconds left and a timeout. Facing third and two from the 12 yard line, with 17 seconds left, Buffalo called a timeout to ensure their defense was ready for a crucial play in the game. Epenesa beat left tackle Cam Robinson around the edge, and hit the QB’s arm as he was about to throw the ball. He completed the play by recovering the fumble, and squandering any chance of Jacksonville getting points late in the half. But the fourth year Iowa product wasn’t done there.
On Jacksonville’s first drive of the second half, a 31 yard run from Etienne got them into Buffalo territory. Facing second down and three, Epenesa recorded his second sack of the game, forcing a third and long. The ensuing play saw the snap sail over Lawrence’s head and bounce out of bounds, leading to a third and 36. The Jags punted after a measly seven yard run.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the score remained 11-7, despite all the offensive struggles and defensive injuries. Lawrence was strip-sacked for the second time in Buffalo territory, as Oliver and Kingsley Jonathan prevented the QB from escaping the pocket and knocked the ball loose in the process. Tyrel Dodson recovered the fumble at Buffalo’s 24 yard line, giving new life to the Bills.
Allen’s interception to Williams is what followed, and Jacksonville finally found the end zone, with a six yard run from Etienne. A 20 yard gain to Ridley and a 26 yard pass interference penalty helped extend the drive, as a tired Buffalo defense finally broke. Etienne recorded runs of 10 and 11 yards on consecutive plays before reaching the end zone on his third straight carry.
7:44 – you can mark this as the time left in the fourth quarter when Buffalo’s offense finally woke up. Blame Ken Dorsey, blame the jet lag, blame the King of England for all I care, but regardless, it was better late than never. Allen hit Davis over the middle for a gain of 24, Dawson Knox for 11, and Diggs for eight on third and two. A 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty and nine yard (half the distance) roughing the passer penalty placed Buffalo inside the 10 yard line. After taking away a Davis touchdown due to a questionable offensive pass interference call, Davis responded with an even more impressive 19 yard grab for a touchdown just one play later. Allen stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure, and threw a tight window pass to Davis who was guarded well. The two point conversion schemed Khalil Shakir open in the flat, but Allen put too much air on the pass, allowing the defense to recognize their coverage error and swarm the receiver before reaching the goal line. The game was still within reach, down five points with 4:08 remaining.
Buffalo had a chance to force a quick three-and-out, but Lawrence delivered what may have been the throw of the game, finding Ridley deep downfield for 32 yards on third and four, who had gained a step on Micah Hyde in single coverage. Two plays later, Etienne burst through the defense for a 35 yard score, making it 25-13.
In what may go down as the most efficient drive of his entire career, Allen was able to respond with a touchdown of his own in just 4 plays. First, he found Harty open down the sideline for a 43 yard gain, then threw a sideline dart to Davis for 29 yards that the receiver did an incredible job of catching in bounds. An incomplete pass stopped the clock, then Allen ran out of the pocket looking for the end zone. Initially stopped at the one yard line by the other Josh Allen, the QB received a push from Kincaid, O’Cyrus Torrence, and Connor McGovern to help him find the end zone. The 75 yard drive took just 38 seconds off of the clock, keeping the Bills alive with a score of 25-20.
The Bills defense forced a punt, as Etienne gained just four yards on three straight obvious running plays. With 22 seconds and no timeouts left, Allen connected with Diggs over the middle for 12 yards, who attempted a pitch to Cook on a hook-and-ladder type play. The pitch fell incomplete, and Jacksonville recovered the ball. One kneel down, and the game was over.
In addition to the major injuries of Milano and Jones, Taron Johnson, Dion Dawkins, Dalton Kincaid, and Leonard Floyd all missed varying degrees of time with injuries. Overall, this game will be remembered for the devastating injuries, questionable referee calls, but most importantly, the lack of offense after dropping 48 on Miami just a week prior. It took way too long for Buffalo’s offense to look in tune, with too many runs up the middle and short passes. Once Buffalo was forced to push the ball down the field, they actually found the most success, even when Jacksonville was keying in on it. So imagine the damage they could’ve done had that been the game plan all along. Instead, Dorsey kept looking to the run game, which failed to get any traction at all. James Cook finished with 5 carries for -4 yards, while the power back duo of Latavius Murray and Damien Harris combined for just 19 yards on five carries.
Now, it will be up to Dorian Williams/Tyrel Dodson, and Poona Ford to fill the extremely important spots vacated by Milano and Jones, with Miller, Rousseau, and Benford hoping to be back to 100% as soon as possible.
Offensive Player of the Game: Stefon Diggs
Allen’s top weapon in the passing game continues to play at an elite level even when the rest of the offense is struggling. He finished his day in London with 121 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions, with his lone blemish of losing that 50-50 ball against Darious Williams. Despite leading the team in targets and receptions, it’s possible in order to keep the offense in sync, Diggs needs to be even more involved in the coming weeks.
Defensive Player of the Game: AJ Epenesa
There’s an argument to be made that #57 belongs next to the words “MVP”, but for now, DPOG will suffice. Epenesa has had a strong start to the season as a rotational edge rusher behind Floyd and Rousseau. With Groot and Shaq Lawson inactive and Floyd in-and-out with injuries, he needed to take charge on the defensive line, and he rose to the occasion. He finished the game with two sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery, three passes defended, and four tackles. Even with Miller coming back into the rotation, Epenesa has earned more playing time in a crowded edge rusher room after his stellar start to the season.
MVP: Josh Allen
Yes, the offense struggled for most of the game. However, I don’t think much of the struggles were on Allen, who was constantly under pressure, having his receivers drop his accurate passes, and being forced to throw short or hand off for a run play based on play calls. And when it got to crunch time, Allen delivered. Despite the struggles, he finished with an impressive statline of 359 passing yards and 2 touchdowns (with 1 INT), plus 14 yards and a touchdown on the ground. I was surprised to look at the box score and see Allen didn’t take a single sack, despite constantly being under duress in the pocket.
What’s Next: Giants @ Bills 10/15 SNF
Brian Daboll and his team full of former Bills travel back to Orchard Park for a primetime matchup, where Allen and the offense have a chance to bounce back against one of the league’s worst offenses. Meanwhile, the defense shouldn’t miss Milano and Jones much in this one, as the offense has been struggling with Daniel Jones under center, and Saquan Barkley and Andrew Thomas out with lingering injuries. The health of Daboll’s three offensive cornerstones will be a storyline to monitor, as Buffalo has injury news of their own to keep an eye on.
Editor’s babble: We are grateful for Colin Richey’s contributions to our blog. You can also find Colin on Xwitter @whatthef00tball.