The 10–3 Dallas Cowboys, one of the NFL’s hottest teams, traveled to Orchard Park to take on the Bills on Sunday. The Cowboys were averaging 40 points per game during their five game win streak, but Sean McDermott’s defense had something to say about that. Meanwhile, the Bills established the run game early, and never looked back, in a dominant 31–10 victory.
Setting the Tone
Buffalo received the opening kickoff and drove down the field for the first score of the game. Josh Allen ran for a gain of five on 3rd and 2 to keep the drive alive early. Runs of 10 and 12 by James Cook moved the Bills into Dallas territory. On his second carry of 10+, Cook was bottled up after a gain of about four yards, but with some help from the offensive line, was able to push forward for an additional eight yards and move the chains.
Two big runs set up a play action pass, where Allen found Diggs downfield for an 18 yard connection. A roughing the passer penalty kept the drive going, and Latavius Murray ran into the endzone for a two yard touchdown two plays later.
Dallas strung together two big plays to move to midfield on their opening possession. A 13 yard scramble from Dak Prescott on 3rd and 6 extended the drive, and a 15 yard slant to CeeDee Lamb moved them into Bills territory. A holding penalty moved the Cowboys back out of field goal range, and a sack by Leonard Floyd on 3rd down forced a punt.
The Bills went three-and-out on their second drive of the game, after consecutive incomplete passes from Allen. On 2nd and 3 following a Ty Johnson run, Allen took a shot downfield for Gabriel Davis. Despite seeming to track it in the air, Davis didn’t attempt to work back at the ball, letting it fall incomplete. Facing 3rd and 3, Allen gave Diggs the opportunity to make a tough, yet manageable catch for the WR1. Diggs was unable to corral the pass, and it was Sam Martin time. Three straight incompletions from Prescott gave the ball right back to the Bills.
Let James Cook
The Bills quickly shifted right back to what worked – getting the ball into the hands of James Cook. After rushing for 12 total yards on three consecutive carries, Allen threw consecutive passes to Dalton Kincaid. The sure-handed rookie dropped both targets. However, a roughing the kicker penalty on Dallas kept Buffalo’s offense on the field. The first quarter came to a close with a 24 yard catch and run by Cook to move into Dallas territory.
Eight yard runs by Cook and Johnson moved Buffalo into the redzone. Allen rolled right and found Cook in the corner of the endzone for an 18 yard touchdown pass.
Dallas Finally Scores
An unnecessary roughness penalty on Tyrel Dodson gave the Cowboys a free 15 yards early in their drive, which they took full advantage of. Prescott connected with Lamb for a 16 yard gain on a beautiful pass in between the well-covered zones of the Buffalo defense. A seven yard run from Tony Pollard put Dallas in the redzone. After a nine yard run, Pollard lost three yards due to a great run stop from Taylor Rapp. Prescott’s third down pass fell incomplete, and the Cowboys settled for a field goal.
Josh Allen the Buffalo
Buffalo extended their lead on Dallas, scoring another touchdown before the end of the first half. A seven yard pass to Diggs moved the chains, but the receiver actually fumbled the ball before he was down by contact. With the referees calling it a catch, the Bills hurried to the line to take the next snap. Although the Bills successfully got their next play off before a potential whistle, Allen took a nine yard sack on the play. One play later, a Dallas safety hit a defenseless Khalil Shakir for a 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty.
Allen ran for a nine yard gain, breaking three tackles and juking a defender in the process. A nine yard run from Cook moved Buffalo into scoring range, and a 20 yard run by the running back set them up with 1st and Goal from the one yard line. On 2nd down, Allen ran a QB sneak, pushing towards his left to the open gap along the Dallas defensive line. The QB powered into the endzone to extend Buffalo’s lead. Prescott would throw three consecutive incomplete passes to end the first half.
Running Away With the Win
Dallas started with the ball to open the second half, but a sack by Dodson and Greg Rousseau on 3rd down forced a punt. The Bills kept the ball on the ground for 12 of their 14 plays on their drive that lasted over eight minutes. Cook ran for 30 yards on six carries, with Johnson adding 22 yards on three carries. On 3rd and Goal, Allen found Cook open in the flat, but the receiver couldn’t hold onto the pass, leaving Buffalo to settle with three points from Tyler Bass. Dallas went three-and-out on their ensuing drive thanks to a Jordan Phillips sack on 3rd down.
Cook continued his impressive performance with 45 rushing yards on just four carries on Buffalo’s next drive. His last touch, a 24 yard gain, saw him burst through a gap, juke a defender, and flip into the endzone for a touchdown. To set up the score, Allen connected with Diggs on an amazing 17 yard play to keep the drive alive. After Allen evaded a blitzing defender and rolled to his right, Diggs hauled in the pass with one hand, snagging it out of the air for the completion.
The Bills, up 31–3 with just over 12 minutes remaining in the game, would end the day for Josh Allen and many starters. Prescott would go on to throw an interception to Christian Benford, but also led a scoring drive late in the 4th that concluded with a three yard rushing touchdown by Lamb. The Bills knelt out the clock with their final possession, only after Murray gained 13 more rushing yards to seal the win.
The NFL is a highly variant league, but Dallas seemed to be (by far) the toughest opponent left on Buffalo’s schedule. Earning an extremely convincing win against one of the best teams in the league points towards signs that this team will sneak into the playoffs, and be one of the scariest teams still alive in January.
For the first time in a long time, Allen was able to relax and let someone else carry the load on offense. The QB finished with just seven completions and 94 yards, although he added a passing and rushing touchdown as well. Although he’s had a quiet several weeks, there were shades of the old Stefon Diggs, leading the team in targets, receptions, and yards, including his highlight reel one-handed catch. Gabriel Davis, Shakir, Kincaid, and Dawson Knox combined for zero catches, partly due to drops and partly due to the extreme effectiveness of the run game.
What an offense Joe Brady has curated. I had my doubts about the on-field production looking drastically different after a mid-season coordinator change, but Brady has made things look so much easier for Allen and the offense. He has fully unlocked Cook as a dual-threat back, discovered a hidden gem in Ty Johnson, and has the team averaging 29 points per game since he took over. Brady wasn’t afraid to continuously spam the same run plays, which saw multiple offensive linemen moving to space to create lanes for Cook, Johnson, and Murray.
Considering the talent level of the opponent, and the stakes tied to the game, this was by far the best defensive performance of the season for the Bills. The defense sacked Prescott three times, and held Pollard and Lamb under 60 scrimmage yards each, most of which came in garbage time. A turnover from Benford was the icing on the cake to a stellar performance, even with the additional absences of Micah Hyde and AJ Epenesa.
Look out NFL, the Bills are back!
Offensive Player of the Game: Buffalo’s Offensive Line
Shoutout to Dion Dawkins, Connor McGovern, Mitch Morse, O’Cyrus Torrence, and Spencer Brown. The unit has played the entire season together, a rare feat for an OL, and each player has greatly exceeded expectations in both pass and run blocking. After a big win against Dallas, hopefully this group will start to earn the national recognition they deserve. They paved the way for 266 rushing yards, a new record under Sean McDermott.
Dawkins is having a career year for someone who was already an above average left tackle. Brown is having the breakout season that many were hoping for, but few believed would actually happen. Morse has been as steady as always in the middle, while Torrence has looked like a steal of a second round pick from the day we drafted him. McGovern is solid, which is leaps and bounds better than the turnstile at left guard last year in Roger Saffold.
Defensive Player of the Game: Tyrel Dodson
Unnecessary roughness flag aside, Dodson played his best game of the season. He finished with eight total tackles and half a sack, doing his part stopping the run and covering the middle of the field. He had a noticeable (and positive) impact on the defense on Sunday.
MVP: James Cook
Who else could it be? Cook dominated this game from start to finish, generating 179 rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries (7.2 yards per attempt). He also added two catches for 42 yards and a score in the air. The Bills really have something in their second round pick from two years ago, as he continues to look like a true RB1 in Buffalo’s backfield.
What’s Next? Bills @ Chargers 12/23
Buffalo travels to LA for a Saturday night game against the struggling Chargers. With Justin Herbert out for the season, Austin Ekeler not looking like himself, Keenan Allen dealing with an injury, and a brand new head coach and general manager, the Bills catch the Chargers at a great time in the schedule.
Editor’s babble: Best game the Bills have played in a very long time. Both lines dominated the line of scrimmage and made this old lover of hogmollies quite proud. Many thanks to Colin Richey for his contributions to our blog. You can also find Colin on Xwitter @whatthef00tball.