As I See It.
Josh Allen couldn’t help but know the NFL quarterback world was upside down in Saturday and Sunday playoff games, while waiting an extra day for Buffalo’s all-too-familiar Lake Effect snow storm to delay their game against the Steelers to Monday.
Wise decision NFL, Erie County and all the decision makers. Playing the game Sunday as scheduled would have been all but impossible, and in fact, life threatening, due to heavy snow and fierce winds making visibility almost zero in the Orchard Park area.
To the growing crowd of Dome Disciples, a dome would not change anything, although there was a case to be made for Niagara Falls or downtown. But the discussion is over and a waste of time chirping about it.
Thanks to my sponsors. Atwal Eye Care, the Bills official vision specialist. They did a fabulous job with cataract surgery on both my eyes last summer.
BluTuskTech of Orchard Park. Computer experts, used or new.
And GlobalVendingGroup of Buffalo, which is setting up book vending machines around the world to help child literacy.
So the Bills have to sit out another weather delay.
Monday? Cold yes, around 17 degrees at the 4:30 p.m. ET kickoff, but the field was clear and the sun was even shining, and the winds had died down to a whimper of 10mph. So the seats were packed with snow still. So what? The usual sellout crowd of 70,040, in between tossing snowballs at each other and making it a party, wedged in for what turned out to be a classic game.
So back to Allen, watching the games while passing time. He sees Houston rookie QB Marcus Stroud destroy a solid Browns D 45-14 – in a dome we should mention – young Davis Love make Packers fans forget about Aaron Rodgers, and Rams QB Matt Stafford play a brilliant game only to lose in Detroit. Capping that off, KC’s Patrick Mahomes looked pretty sharp in below zero weather as the Chiefs dispatched an injury riddled Dolphins squad 26-7.
Finally, the Bills and Chiefs will meet in an AFC Divisional playoff game in Buffalo territory! Yes, the Chiefs get a couple days extra rest and the Bills D is ravaged by injuries, but the Bills Mafia will be there next Sunday for the 6:30 p.m. ET kickoff. Weather permitting.
Although the inconvenience of the weather story wasn’t easy, this Bills team is as tough as a Lake Effect storm. Left for dead at 6-6, they reeled off five straight wins to snatch the AFC East title for a 4th straight year and a #2 seed.
Unlike their start at Miami, the Bills came out firing. Allen led the Bills to a 21-0 lead with precision passing, some running and patience when needed. That early momentum was almost destroyed when Tyler Bass had a 50 yard FG attempt blocked, and that quickly turned into a 21-7 game that gave the 11 point underdog Steelers some hope. In hindsight, punt the ball deep and make the Steelers drive the length of the field as we neared halftime. On the other hand, fans who want HC/DC Sean McDermott to “be more aggressive” can’t complain.
Speaking of McDermott, who has brought some criticism upon himself, he has also manned up and clearly has the support of the entire team behind him. His strong faith and belief in the Bills culture is bringing this team through everything that could be thrown its way.
If the Bills have one aspect of their game that needs to improve, it’s special teams. Bass badly missed a much shorter FG attempt later in the game, and punter Sam Martin appeared to pull a hamstring during the scramble after the blocked FG. He did punt once, but his status for next week is unknown.
Big shoutout to OC Joe Brady, who kept the Steelers off balance with a mixture of run and pass, and shoutout to the Bills Oline and Allen for making it effective. Allen rushed for 74 yards, including a scintillating 52 yard TD run. He also kept it simple in the passing game, hitting 21-30 for 203 yards and 3 TD’s – with NO INTs or turnovers. Huge. The Bills D forced a fumble and had an INT to win the turnover battle 2-0.
Allen is emerging before our eyes, as a player who is figuring out he doesn’t have to do everything in order for the Bills to win. In past games, anytime Allen is about to be sacked, he’d fight to the finish trying to extend the play. Dangerous. Against the Steelers, who certainly miss the 19 sacks of TJ Watt, Allen was sacked twice. On both occasions, he simply gave himself up and made sure he had firm control of the football. Smart.
Even though Allen was fairly conservative, the Bills did hit some chunk plays. Rookie TE Dalton Kincaid opened the scoring with a perfect strike for 29 yards from Allen. Seldom used Deonte Harty had one catch, for 34 yards! Harty is emerging as a weapon the Bills were counting on. Stefon Diggs is also in a different role now with Brady calling the shots. Allen is spreading the ball around more, but Diggs is still a key focal point with 7 catches for 52 yards. Diggs, from all appearances, has bought into this. What more can we say about Khalil Shakir? With Gabe Davis out with a knee injury, Shakir had more chances. He made one of the most brilliant catch and run plays I’ve seen in over 40 years covering the Bills. With the game now close, Shakir caught a short pass over the middle and was hit, but he kept his balance, juked a couple Steelers defenders, and raced untouched into the end zone from 17 yards out. That’s the play WINNERS make.
McDermott developed a solid defensive plan against the Steelers, and it was really effective until some injuries began mounting in the second half. The Steelers were either punting or turning it over on their first six possessions, as the Bills held their rushing game in check and pressured QB Mason Rudolph into a (just over) 50% completion rate for the night.
Cudo’s to James Cook, who came out ready to roll. He had 79 yards on 18 carries, making the Bills offense tough to stop. Teams are now defending Cook as a receiver, and he had 4 grabs for only 5 yards. Maybe he can be used differently? But now with Allen running more and Cook picking up first downs, the Bills rushed for 175 yards at a hefty 5.3 average.
While the offense has remained relatively healthy, with the exception of Davis and possibly LG Connor McGovern, the Bills D is a mess at the LB and CB spots. The worst of it, by far, is that LB Terrel Bernard was carted off the field with what could be a serious ankle injury. Bernard has been a star. Nothing official as this is being written. CB Christian Benford is dealing with a knee injury and DB Taron Johnson a concussion. LB’s Baylon Spector (back) and Tyrel Dodson (shoulder) are also dinged up.
Hopefully CB Rasul Douglas, who was out against the Steelers with a knee, could return. In the meantime, this has put Kaiir Elam back in business. Despite what many fans/media think, I still believe it’s too early to label the former first rounder a bust. Against the Steelers he showed why. After being beaten on pass and whiffing on an open field tackle, Elam made a sensational end zone interception that killed the Steelers threat. It was Rudolph’s first INT in four starts. No question Mahomes will be targeting Elam next week.
And maybe I saved the best for last, but what can be said about AJ Klein? He was heading on a sunny vacation with his family when the Bills called to say “AJ. We need you!” Klein, who obviously kept himself in shape, didn’t miss a beat, leading the Bills with 11 tackles while quarterbacking the D. Rookie LB Dorian Williams also looked better than he has with eight tackles, and no doubt he’ll be busy against the Chiefs. That part of the field is where TE Travis Kelce loves to roam, and he’s fearless.
In a perfect world, the Bills would have Matt Milano, Tre White and the current list of wounded available, but that’s not the case. Mahomes has been up and down, but he was pretty sharp against the Fins. Unlike even last year, and certainly for the Chiefs first SB title, it’s their D that is keeping them around. They have a terrific pass rush and a talented secondary. Andy Reid is a heck of a coach.
The Bills are an early 2 1/2 point favorite, and fingers crossed, the early weather outlook is pretty good.
Thanks again to my sponsors, Atwal Eye Care, BluTusk Tech of Orchard Park, and GlobalVending Group of Buffalo.
Editor’s babble: We are so grateful for Ed Kilgore’s contributions to our blog. You can also find Ed on Xwitter @Kilgore2Ed.