No, you weren’t dreaming. The Bills lost 24–22 on Monday Night Football to the Denver Broncos, bringing their record through ten weeks to 5–5.
I feel like I’ve been a broken record the past six weeks: an injury-stricken defense gave a healthy offense every opportunity to get back into the game, and the offense found some semblance of rhythm too little, too late.
Turnover (Part 1 and 2)
The Bills turned the ball over four times, and that just isn’t something you can do if you want to win football games. The first came on the opening play of the game. After winning the toss and electing to receive, Allen threw a screen pass to James Cook. Cook, hung up behind his blockers, was stripped from behind by cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian. McMillian recovered the fumble to give Denver the ball at Buffalo’s 28 yard line.
After settling for a field goal, the next drive was no different. Buffalo began moving the ball downfield, with Allen finding Gabriel Davis for 18 and Latavius Murray rushing for 29 yards on two carries. On 3rd and three from Denver’s 27, Allen rifled a pass over the middle that bounced off of Davis’s hands and into the hands of Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons. Two turnovers on two drives.
The Broncos found the endzone on a chaotic 4th and 2 play at Buffalo’s seven yard line. Shaq Lawson applied pressure on Russell Wilson, so the QB backpedaled to the 20 yard line and threw a dart to the back corner of the endzone. Courtland Sutton completed an amazing catch, dragging both feet in bounds to secure the score. The extra point was missed, so Denver held a 9–0 lead.
One Point Game
Dalton Kincaid put together another respectable outing even with the offensive struggles. His 22 yard touchdown marked the second of his young career, as he was left wide open in the endzone after a blown coverage by Denver. On the drive, it was all about the running backs. James Cook received the first four touches of the drive, catching a nine yard pass and rushing for 20 yards on three carries. Then, it was Murray’s turn, who took two carries for 16 yards. A 14 yard completion to Diggs was sprinkled in to move them just outside the redzone. After Denver jumped offside on the extra point, Buffalo elected to go for two. Allen found Davis running across the back of the endzone for the conversion, making the score 9–8.
Turnover (Part 3)
Denver kicked a 49 yard field goal to extend their lead. A 30 yard completion to Sutton moved them quickly down the field, but Buffalo’s defense held up on their side of the 50 yard line. On Buffalo’s first play of offense after the FG, Allen forced a pass along the sideline intended for Deonte Harty, which was jumped by Denver cornerback Fabian Moreau. Allen either needed to throw the ball much sooner, or move onto a different target. Instead, it was Buffalo’s third turnover of the half. The Broncos would kick another field goal, extending their lead to 15–8 going into halftime. Somehow, this was still a one possession game.
Buffalo’s defense forced a three-and-out to start the second half, with holding and false start penalties moving the Broncos in the wrong direction. The Bills were no better. A nine yard completion to Kincaid set up 4th and 1, where Buffalo elected to go for it. Allen sailed the pass over the head of Khalil Shakir for a turnover on downs.
Welcome to Buffalo, Rasul Douglas
Douglas made his first splash play as a Bill, recovering a fumble around midfield to help set up a Bills touchdown. On 3rd and 6, Wilson found Sutton in the flat, but the pass was underthrown. This allowed Taron Johnson to close in on Sutton, forcing the fumble on his hit. The former Packer jumped on the ball to secure the turnover.
A 24 yard completion to Shakir down the sideline moved Buffalo into the redzone, where Murray would punch in his third touchdown of the season. Davis, Dion Dawkins, and Quintin Morris paved the way for the easy three yard score.
Turnover (Part 4)
The Bills got to Wilson twice to force a punt on Denver’s next drive. Greg Rousseau and AJ Epenesa each recorded a sack to stall the drive.
A 38 yard completion to Davis moved Buffalo to midfield, but the next play saw Allen drop the handoff intended for Cook. The Broncos recovered, and Buffalo had turned the ball over four times.
Both teams exchanged punts again, then Denver executed a 12 play, 54 yard drive to score their second touchdown of the game. Following a good punt return from Marvin Mims Jr., the Broncos started their scoring drive around midfield. A 19 yard completion to Jerry Jeudy on 3rd and 10 and a nine yard completion to Samaje Perine on 3rd and 7 kept the drive alive. On 1st and Goal from the three yard line, Wilson found Javonte Williams alone in the flat for a walk-in touchdown. The snap on the extra point was botched, leaving the score at a six point lead.
Buffalo wasted no time responding, thanks to James Cook. After a run for seven yards, Cook broke free for a 42 yard gain, fumbling the ball and recovering it in-stride on the chunk play. Another 13 yard rush from Cook moved them inside the 10 yard line. Allen rolled left and ran into the endzone to tie the game. Tyler Bass nailed the extra point to take the lead with just under two minutes remaining.
On the first play of their game winning drive, Wilson threw a check down to Perine, who burst upfield for an 18 yard gain. Wilson was sacked around midfield by AJ Epenesa to move Denver out of field goal range, but a pass interference penalty on Taron Johnson gave the Broncos the opportunity to kick a 40 yard field goal. While I understand why the flag was thrown (Johnson did make contact with Jeudy), the nickel corner also did everything right on the play. Of course there’s going to be contact when a receiver slams on the breaks unexpectedly, but Johnson got his head turned around and attempted to play the ball, all while intently attempting to make as little contact with Jeudy as possible.
Will Lutz’s 40 yard field goal attempt was no good! Buffalo rejoiced! But a flag for too many men on the field gave Lutz another shot, this time five yards closer. He drilled the game winning kick with no time left, leaving Orchard Park stunned. 24–22, Denver would leave Buffalo with a victory.
I don’t see how anyone could blame the defense, who was missing five starters, even though the game ended the way it did because of them. For 59 minutes, that side of the ball did everything possible to keep the score within range for the offense, holding the Broncos to field goals and forcing a timely turnover. Furthermore, the defense was normally starting around midfield due to the shortcomings of Buffalo’s offense and special teams.
Another week, another poor offensive performance. This time, the criticism should be less on Ken Dorsey, and more on play execution. Cook fumbled twice, losing one of them. Davis dropped a pass that led to an interception. Allen threw a bad pass that got picked, and botched the handoff with Cook. Even Diggs and Kincaid dropped a pass each.
Meanwhile, the head coach is only interested in certain players being held accountable for their mistakes. Cook missed two drives for Buffalo, resulting in Murray dropping a pass in the flat, and being unable to break a tackle attempt from a lineman on another play. Even though Davis was the reason for Buffalo’s second turnover, he remained on the field for the following drive. Kincaid disappeared for entire drives, with seemingly no explanation.
All of this lack of player execution culminated with the game-ending flag. Scrambling from the defense to the field goal team was something Coach McDermott claimed was covered in practice earlier this week, yet the execution was still not there. Now, Buffalo sits at .500 through 10 weeks in a conference that is shaping up to be a bloodbath down the stretch, all while the end of their schedule is the more challenging part.
Offensive Player of the Game: James Cook
He fumbled twice, but put on a show when he kept the ball in his hands. The RB finished with 12 carries for 109 yards (9.1 yards per carry), and added two catches for 11 yards in the air. Buffalo ran the ball particularly well against Denver, and Cook was able to take advantage of that even after the poor start to his game.
Defensive Player of the Game: Taron Johnson
Like I explained earlier, I don’t know what more you want Johnson to do on the pass-interference play. Still, he finished with 7 total tackles and the forced fumble, one again showing why he is such a valuable part of this defense.
MVP: Terrel Bernard
The second-year linebacker finished with 13 total tackles, a team lead, while also notching his third sack of the season. Every play, it seemed as if #43 was right next to the player with the football. His emergence this season has been an integral part of the defense continuing to perform at an elite level despite the injuries.
What’s Next: Bills vs Jets 11/19
The Jets travel to Buffalo looking to complete the sweep of their division rival. The Zach Wilson-led offense has scored just three touchdowns in their last five games, but New York’s elite defense will likely give Buffalo fits once again.
Editor’s babble: Yuck. Good thing we are well versed in dealing with horrible Bills teams because this is shaping up to be yet another season of regrettable failure. We are grateful for Colin Richey’s contributions to our blog. You can also find Colin on Xwitter @whatthef00tball.