The Bills traveled to LA to take on the Chargers, who would be playing their first game under interim head coach Giff Smith. With Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen, and Joey Bosa all out, a banged up Chargers team would end up giving Buffalo more trouble than anticipated.
Poor Start for Buffalo
All three phases for the Bills came out slow, with the offense, defense, and special teams making crucial errors in the first quarter. The offense failed to set the tone early, punting after just one first down on a 14 yard completion from Josh Allen to Khalil Shakir.
Easton Stick proceeded to lead a 14 play, 90 yard drive that resulted in three points. A 21 yard pass to rookie receiver Quentin Johnston and a 19 yard completion to Josh Palmer moved LA into Buffalo territory. Another chunk play, this time a 23 yard gain to Stone Smartt, moved the Chargers inside the 10 yard line. Buffalo’s defense held strong, and the Chargers opted to kick a 20 yard field goal with Cameron Dicker rather than attempt a 4th and Goal from the two yard line.
Once again, the Bills gained just one first down before punting back to the Chargers. A 17 yard pass over the middle to Davis was the lone bright spot on the short drive. Allen missed Davis on 3rd down leading to a punt.
Buffalo’s defense was able to force a punt after a tackle for loss from Cam Lewis on 3rd down. However, Deonte Harty fumbled the punt return while trying to gain an extra few yards, gifting the Chargers with generous field position. Stick found tight end Gerald Everett open in the flat, who turned upfield for a 15 yard gain. Three plays later, Stick ran to the corner on a designed QB run for a one yard touchdown. Suddenly, it was 10–0 Chargers a minute into the second quarter.
The Bills got back to what worked against Dallas, running three straight times with James Cook. The reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week churned out 18 yards on his three touches, moving Buffalo close to midfield. A 10 yard holding penalty canceled out Cook’s efforts, and the Bills punted after an incomplete pass on 3rd and 10.
Bills Wake Up
Buffalo’s defense forced a three and out, holding the Chargers to just seven yards on three plays. From his own 43 yard line, Allen wasted no time getting the offense in rhythm. On the first play of the drive, he evaded pressure by rolling to his right, and heaved a pass downfield to Davis. The receiver hauled in the pass with a fingertip grab, and fought off the linebacker responsible for covering him as he ran into the endzone for a one play, 57 yard touchdown. A defensive back may have been able to bring Davis down inside the 10, but a linebacker was outmatched against Davis moving that fast.
A 10 yard holding penalty on the Chargers stalled their next drive, forcing them to punt on 4th and 22. The Bills moved the ball quickly, with Allen completing a nine yard pass to Dawson Knox over the middle, then finding Davis for a 20 yard catch and run. The Bills displayed their power running ability once again, with Cook running for 18 yards on the drive on just three carries. Practice squad call-up Leonard Fournette added 14 yards on two carries, setting up Buffalo with 2nd and 1 from the two yard line. Allen ran untouched into the endzone on a QB draw, as Dion Dawkins paved the way for the score.
After a first quarter collapse, the Bills entered halftime with a 14–10 lead.
Both Defenses Make Plays
The Chargers moved close to field goal range thanks to a 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty and a 14 yard completion to Austin Ekeler. However, a sack on 3rd down from Rasul Douglas pushed LA back 10 yards, out of range for Dicker.
Buffalo lost possession of the ball on consecutive plays, with Cook fumbling on the first snap of the drive. Thankfully, Reggie Gilliam was able to recover the ball to maintain possession. The next play saw Allen roll right to avoid pressure, and launch a pass deep down the middle of the field. He underthrew Stefon Diggs, who had separation in single-coverage, and Alohi Gilman came down with the catch around midfield for the interception.
LA cut into Buffalo’s lead with a 40 yard field goal from Dicker. A 21 yard read-option run by Stick moved them inside the redzone, but an illegal formation and Poona Ford sack pushed them back to a 4th and 15.
WRs Get Involved
Buffalo tried to run the ball with Cook, but the Chargers were having none of it. The normally explosive running back gained just 12 yards on four carries. Meanwhile, all three of Buffalo’s starting wide receivers made big plays to extend the drive.
First, Allen found Diggs over the middle for a gain of four on 3rd and 3 to keep the drive alive. Facing 3rd and 5, Allen hit Shakir over the middle, who did a great job adjusting to catch the pass that was slightly behind him. After making the catch, Shakir continued running downfield for an overall gain of 16 yards, moving the Bills into LA territory. On the very next play, Allen lofted a pass 36 yards down the sideline for Davis, who came down with the catch and two feet inbounds.
After runs from Cook and Fournette gained minimal yards, Allen used Buffalo’s version of the tush-push to sneak across the goal line for a one yard score. The extra point gave the Bills an eight point lead, but one could argue Buffalo should’ve attempted a two point conversion instead. If they failed, they’d still have a seven point lead. But if they succeeded, they’d have a two possession lead on the Chargers. Instead, Coach Sean McDermott settled for the eight point, one possession lead as the third quarter came close to an end.
Bolts Bounce Back
Stick completed passes for gains of 12 and 18 to move into scoring range, but the drive fizzled out around Buffalo’s 30 yard line, leading to a 47 yard field goal for Dicker.
The Bills beat themselves on their next possession, committing tripping and holding penalties to back up the offense inside their own 10 yard line. Allen was sacked for a seven yard loss on 3rd and 23, and a false start on the punt backed Sam Martin up even further. Receiving a punt from the back of Buffalo’s own endzone, the Chargers would start in plus territory after a 13 yard return.
A 23 yard completion quickly moved LA to Buffalo’s 25 yard line, but an illegal shift and Ed Oliver sack backed them up. Still, Dicker was able to drill a 45 yard field goal to cut Buffalo’s lead to two points.
Cook lost the ball for the second time in the game, with this fumble being recovered by the defense. On the first play of the drive, the Bills gave it right back to the Chargers, with great field position on top of it all. Despite starting at Buffalo’s 32, the defense was able to hold LA to three points once again. A false start and Terrel Bernard sack backed the Bolts up, but Dicker nailed a 53 yard field goal to take the one point lead.
Remember when the Bills could’ve gone for two in order to take a nine point lead, instead settling for the eight point lead? Well now, the Chargers were up by one point with 5:30 remaining in the game.
MVP Allen Saves the Day
Josh Allen showed why he is one of the best QBs in the league, if not the best, with a 13 play game winning drive, chewing five minutes off of the game clock in the process. He found an open Knox over the middle for a gain of 17 to start the drive. After a three yard run from Cook, Diggs caught an eight yard pass from Allen to move the chains. On 3rd and 8, Allen fired a laser towards the sideline to Diggs at the tail end of a deep out route. With the ball narrowly missing the hands of the diving defender, Diggs caught the pass as he went out of bounds for the 11 yard pickup.
Now nearing field goal range, the clock would play a big factor. Two runs from Cook gained six yards, and forced LA to use a timeout, their second of the half. Now at 3rd and 4 from LA’s 28, the Chargers sent a six man blitz against Buffalo’s five offensive linemen. Even with the one-man advantage, the Chargers had three players pressure Allen, who was backpedaling nearly twelve yards from the line of scrimmage. Off his back foot, with pressure in his face, Allen heaved a pass over 25 yards downfield to an open Shakir for the first down. After initially getting up and running into the endzone for a big touchdown, replays confirmed Shakir was touched with his knee on the ground. This actually benefited Buffalo, allowing them to chew more clock before attempting a field goal.
The Bills ran three times for eight yards, with LA’s final timeout and the two minute warning stopping the clock. With 31 seconds left, Bass hit a 29 yard field goal to take the two point lead. The kick return would take another few seconds off of the clock, leaving Stick with 23 seconds and no timeouts to get into field goal range.
On the first play of the potential miracle drive, Stick was sacked by Oliver, backing LA up 10 yards and burning nearly all of the time left on the clock. Stick attempted a pass deep downfield, which was nearly picked off by two Buffalo defenders. Instead, it fell incomplete with one second remaining. After several lateral attempts, a forward pass drew a flag and the Charger in possession of the football was eventually tackled. The Bills had won…barely.
There were times when the offense looked unstoppable, and times when they couldn’t gain more than a first down. Despite losing the turnover battle 3–0, the Bills did just enough to squeak out a win. This is a bad Chargers roster, especially with so many star players out, but teams can unexplainably get a boost under a new head coach.
Diggs had another quiet game statistically, but came up in huge moments for the Bills. Cook didn’t record a catch, but was decent on the ground, tallying 70 yards on 20 carries (3.5 yards per carry).
The rest of the weekend went nearly perfect, with the Bengals, Texans, Colts, Jaguars, and Broncos all losing. Because the Dolphins prevailed against the Cowboys, the Fins will need to lose next week in Baltimore if Buffalo is to have a shot at the AFC East title. Still, from the perspective of simply making the playoffs, the odds have shifted heavily in Buffalo’s favor as the team improves to 9–6.
Offensive Player of the Game: Gabriel Davis
After going three of his last five games without a catch, and only recording two 100-yard games this season, Davis exploded in LA with four catches for 130 yards and a touchdown, including a 57 yard bomb on an extended play. While he’s not always the most consistent player, the boom-or-bust receiver showed how dangerous he can be when it’s a “boom” type of game for him. Now the question is, can he put up another strong performance next week to begin a trend of consistency?
Defensive Player of the Game: Ed Oliver
Oliver recorded two sacks, and four total tackles in the victory, including a nearly game-ending takedown on LA’s final drive. He constantly wreaked havoc from the interior, and also assisted in getting Ford his first sack of the season. Brandon Beane received criticism in the offseason after inking Oliver to a lucrative extension, but with his consistently dominant play this season, the contract looks like a bargain already.
MVP: Josh Allen
It wasn’t the prettiest game for Allen. An interception and several missed throws stalled the offense for large chunks of the game. But when the team needed him, he came through, totaling three touchdowns and leading a game winning drive in the fourth quarter. He finished with 237 passing yards, and a touchdown and a pick, while adding 15 yards and two scores on five carries.
He became the first player in NFL history with four consecutive 40 total touchdown seasons. He also extended his own record for the most games with a passing and rushing TD in a season up to 11. Allen is also just the third QB to record 13 rushing touchdowns in a season, joining Cam Newton and Jalen Hurts. With just two games remaining, he isn’t being talked about nearly enough, but Josh Allen should be the NFL MVP for 2023.
What’s Next? Bills vs Patriots 12/31
A win on New Year’s Eve gets Buffalo to double-digit wins, a feat that seemed impossible just a few weeks ago. If a couple games go our way, the Bills could clinch a playoff spot on Sunday. However, the focus should be on one thing – beating the Patriots.
Editor’s babble: We are grateful for Colin Richey’s contributions to our blog. You can also find Colin on Xwitter @whatthef00tball. Happy Holidays!