As I See It.
The people who are convinced the NFL follows some type of “script” would be hard pressed to explain the 2023-24 Buffalo Bills. Nobody could come up with a story line of this season that would be believable!
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So back to our scripted season.
You’re 5-5 in mid November, and heading into the toughest part of the schedule. Fans and media are already turning on HC Sean McDermott, despite the fact he had a major hand in the total culture change that transformed the Bills into a Super Bowl contender. To be fair, McDermott didn’t help matters with some questionable clock management and game decisions, added to his reluctance to place blame or accept blame when the winnable games were lost. But is any coach perfect?
It would hit rock bottom then, when a blogger made headline news nationally, by penning a “hit” piece on McDermott that cited unnamed former assistant coaches and players to make a strong anti-McDermott case. In my opinion – I’m not even gonna bother to name the blogger – it was a personal attack that made perfect fodder for the sports and social media’s thirst for controversy. Totally unfair.
But a strange thing happened. Josh Allen and other team leaders quickly defended McDermott, praising him for the way he handled his players and for his organizational skills. Center Mitch Morse even offered that it was McDermott who helped talk him out of an anxiety attack before a game. McDermott also brought in Brandon Beane to become GM, and owner Terry Pegula let this positive duo run the show.
The Bills up and down play continued though, and McDermott made some bold decisions: he fired OC Ken Dorsey and replaced him with QB Coach Joe Brady, and prior to that had named himself as Defensive Coordinator in addition to his HC duties.
Both these decisions, along with the play of young players mixed with some veterans brought in by Beane, are now paying off.
The offense became more physical, and Allen was allowed more freedom to use his size and strength to run the ball more than he previously had. In my mind McDermott would rather his franchise QB took fewer hits, but he also knows he can’t – and shouldn’t – put a governor on this Ferrari.
So from 5-5 and a less than 10% chance to make the playoffs, this crazy Bills season has gone full circle.
Here’s where the script gets hard to believe.
The Bills won six of their final seven games, capped by their heart stopping 21-14 win at Miami, to win their 4th straight AFC East title. Their 11-6 record, with a tie breaker win at Kansas City helping, put the Bills in the 2nd seed position of the NFL playoffs.
Holy Wyoming Wonders! From a wasted season that might have resulted in overreaction, the Bills are now 9 1/2 point favorites over the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at Highmark Stadium.
Bring a heavier coat for this one.
Should the Chiefs prevail against the Dolphins at Arrowhead, where temperatures are expected in the single digits, the Bills would FINALLY get to host KC the following week.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Steelers are especially dangerous, because the weather in Orchard Park is gonna be frisky and perhaps snowy, which suits the Steelers physical style.
The Dolphins game was such a microcosm of the season. First quarter: Allen throws two straight interceptions in the end zone from inside the red zone to end a couple impressive long drives. Not making excuses for Allen, but on the first pick, Allen threw towards Gabe Davis, who broke towards the middle of the end zone just as Allen released it. Oops. Wrong jersey. On the second one, it was 4th down anyway, and Allen just ripped it knowing the worst that could happen would be about the same as a punt.
What to think about Davis? He left the game with a slight knee sprain, but why does it seem he’s the one targeted when Allen gets picked? As frustrating as that may be, Davis is still the Bills second leading receiver and TD producer.
Here’s the deal with Allen. He reminds me a lot of Jim Kelly, who told me a couple times off air during our show on Ch2 that he didn’t like talking about INTs, because it was his mindset to totally forget it happened instantly. Josh is exactly like that. Body language experts like to point out Allen looks glum on the bench after a turnover, but in reality, he’s simply readjusting his mental status.
It’s over. Done. All I can control is what comes next. Those of us observing the game get upset with Allen at the time – I yelled at my tv when he was strip sacked for a third turnover – but Allen is unflappable.
His pain threshold is off the charts. Since his rookie year, he hasn’t missed a start. Sore elbow, two sore shoulders, and a bunch of bumps and bruises we don’t even know about. No problem.
He’s now been in the league long enough to have the unfair label as a “turnover machine” by some, but when we look at the bigger picture, the production more than makes up for the bad decisions.
Allen completely outplayed Tua Tagovailoa in a matchup many Dolphins fans claimed they were excited about. True, Tua didn’t have speedy WR Jaylen Waddle available, but he did have the always scary Tyreek Hill out there. The Bills D did a great job, as Hill was targeted 13 times, but caught just 7 of them for 82 yards and a short TD. Tua finished 17-27-173 yards with 1 TD and two INTs.
Allen – with the exception of the turnovers of course – was sensational. He was 30-38 for 359 yards and 2 TD’s. He also rushed for 67 yards, including some key third down conversions. The Bills running game never got off the ground. James Cook averaged 2.8 yards per carry, and dropped a certain TD pass from Allen. Again.
It’s also becoming obvious Allen is starting to trust rookie TE Dalton Kincaid and 2nd year WR Khalil Shakir more, and both of them are also picking up big yardage after the catch. Shakir had 6 targets and 6 catches for 105 yards, with Kincaid 7 for 84. TE Dawson Knox added a TD grab, and Stefon Diggs was himself again. Diggs had 7 grabs for 87 yards, and would have had a long TD had Allen not overthrown him once.
This season, Allen accounted for 29 TD’s passing for over 4,300 yards with 18 INTs. He’s also rushed for another 524 yards with 15 touchdowns. That’s 44 TD’s, most in the NFL.
When you write a script, you can’t just focus on the heros.
Deonte Harty was hopefully a replacement for the speedy Isaiah McKenzie, but that wasn’t happening. But Harty reminded us why the Bills wanted him. In the 4th quarter the Bills continued stopping the Fins offense, and still trailed 14-7 with probably poor field position ahead.
Harty had other ideas, and maybe the lost fumble in the NE game was on his mind, but Harty caught the ball at the Bills 4 – and took off! NO! I’m thinking. So of course he breaks right upfield and open for a 96 yard TD to tie the game and change the momentum totally. It’s a Bills team record. So the guy just over 5 feet 6 inches tall and 170 pounds makes the biggest play of the game.
Make sure that part is in the script.
Depth is something the Bills pride themselves on, and with good reason. Gabe Davis, who left the game with a knee strain that doesn’t appear to be a serious injury, made way for Trent Sherfield. After a great training camp, Sherfield had been, IMO, a disappointment.
But his alert keep the toes in TD grab of a deflected pass from Allen was incredible. He had a couple other nice catches as well.
Despite these offensive plays, it was the Bills defense that made the difference. Even without a couple starters, the Dolphins are one of the NFL’s most explosive teams, and especially at home. After getting run on in the first half, McDermott made some adjustments. From 100 yards rushing at the half, the Fins added a TOTAL of 8 more yards. The Bills rang up 473 yards to just 275 for the Dolphins.
Of concern, CB Rasul Douglas left with a knee injury in the 4th quarter, but early reports are that he could have returned to the game. We’ll see.
So while the Bills enjoyed the trip home after the win, they’re all business now. Plenty of Steelers fans will wangle tickets to spice up Highmark Stadium with their yellow and black, but it should make it interesting.
Leave you with this: Stefon Diggs whispered something in Allen’s ear as they walked off the field. Three reporters heard it, and I believe them.
Diggs said “four more”. If that happens, nobody will believe it.
But what if it did happen…..
Editor’s babble: We are grateful for Ed Kilgore’s contributions to our blog. You can also find Ed on Xwitter @Kilgore2Ed.