If the Buffalo Bills continue on this pace, their fans are going to need defibrillators to get through the rest of the season.
For the second week in a row, the Bills won a wild, high-scoring game that required fourth quarter heroics from quarterback Josh Allen. This one was a little different from last week’s 31-28 victory against the Dolphins, a game which was close throughout. On Sunday, the Bills nearly went down to defeat due to the biggest blown lead in franchise history. After giving up four straight touchdown drives and a 28-3 lead to the Rams, Allen and the Bills rallied on their final drive. Aided by a pass interference penalty on fourth down, Buffalo found the end zone for the victory as Allen hit Tyler Kroft for a three-yard touchdown with 15 seconds remaining to secure a 35-32 win at Bills Stadium.
The big picture is that the Bills are 3-0 and remain in first place in the AFC East. But there are several cracks in the foundation of their first-place start that the team will have to correct as they depart for back-to-back AFC road games against the Raiders and Titans.
The wheels completely came off the Buffalo defense in the second half between the 6:55 mark of the third quarter and the 10:30 mark of the fourth frame. The Bills surrendered 28 first downs and 400 yards of total offense for the second-straight game. Even the return of linebackers Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds to the lineup could not correct the troubles the Bills have had on defense.
But the defensive issues may not matter as long as Allen continues to play at an MVP level. Allen threw for four more touchdowns on Sunday, ran for another, went over 300 yards passing for the third-straight game, and led another game-winning drive. His play remains the story not only of the Bills’ season, but perhaps the entire league.
As the Bills begin a difficult stretch of upcoming AFC games, here are four things we learned from another memorable victory in this 2020 season:
Bills quarterback Josh Allen. Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY sports
Josh Allen May Have Fourth Quarter Magic
When all seems lost, Allen has been the hero there to save the Bills. That was certainly true on Sunday as Allen led a game-winning drive that saved a staggered Bills team that had just taken the blow of four consecutive LA Rams touchdowns.
Sure, Allen made some mistakes that contributed to the Rams’ comeback. And the final drive was by no means a clinic. But all that matters is that the winning points went up on the scoreboard as Allen hit Tyler Kroft in the end zone with 15 seconds remaining.
For Allen it was not just the second-consecutive game-winning fourth quarter drive he has directed. It was the eighth fourth quarter comeback he’s led in three NFL seasons.
Is Allen “clutch?” Does he know how to get it done when it matters most? It’s easy to make that claim when you think of the game-winning fourth quarter drives he’s put together. Three of the last four Bills’ victories dating back to last season have included a go-ahead touchdown drive led by Allen in the fourth quarter. He also led a drive for a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation in the Bills’ playoff loss at Houston.
The truth of it is that the Bills have found themselves in a position where they need to come back in the fourth quarter far too often. That’s largely because Allen has had games with subpar play through three quarters. That’s not the case this season as the Bills have scored 66 points in quarters 1-3 so far through three games. It is true, however, that two costly Allen turnovers helped put the Bills behind the eight-ball in the fourth quarter. Allen threw an ill-advised interception after the Rams’ first touchdown that put a tired Buffalo defense right back on the field, though it appeared the interception should have been overturned by replay (it was not). He also had the ball ripped from his hands by Aaron Donald on a sack in the final frame.
Still, Allen put it all together to pull out the win on the final drive. It was a rocky ride that included a sack and an incomplete pass on back-to-back plays that put the Bills in a third-and-22 hole, as well as a 15-yard facemask penalty on Allen as he tried to avoid a sack, and an incomplete pass on fourth down that was bailed out by a pass interference penalty. But it also included passes of 18, 22, and 19 yards to Cole Beasley, and a 17-yard throw to Stefon Diggs on third-and-25 that put the Bills in a manageable situation to convert on fourth down.
The Bills can’t rely on Allen to bail them out every week. A true mark of a title contender is its ability to win games easily. But the league’s upper echelon quarterbacks are known for pulling games out that appear lost. The Bills never seem out of a game as long as Allen is dealing. That level of trust and confidence in their quarterback could go a long way for Buffalo in 2020.
Return of Milano, Edmunds Can’t Save Struggling Defense
What has happened to the Buffalo defense in 2020? The Bills were in the top-10 in defensive-efficiency rankings in both 2018 and 2019. While there’s still plenty of time to end up there by the time January rolls around, Buffalo is nowhere near there so far in 2020.
The Bills defense had another rough day against Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams. Even as the Bills built a 28-3 lead in the third quarter, the Rams moved the ball well, with running back Darrell Henderson in particular gashing the Bills.
In the second half, the Buffalo defense completely imploded. The Bills simply could not get stops. Four consecutive Rams drives ended in the end zone. Whenever Goff needed to come up with a big throw, he seemed to find it. Meanwhile, the run defense struggled to contain Henderson and also gave up big runs on end arounds by former friend Robert Woods.
Last week against Miami, Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins picked on the middle of the Buffalo defense, which was missing linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano, It was easy to blame the defense’s struggles on the absence of those two players. Both players were back in the lineup in Week 3, and yet the Bills defense continued to get picked apart in the middle of the field.
It’s likely that neither Edmunds nor Milano is 100 percent healthy yet. That may have been a reason for Los Angeles’ success. But the Bills need to figure out why Ram receivers were getting wide open downfield and why the Buffalo front-seven could not generate much of a pass rush.
Goff had too much time to stand in the pocket and throw, and too often, he had open receivers to throw to. The Bills also seemed to struggle with the speed of the Rams offense, which has been notorious for its use of misdirection and pre-snap motion under Sean McVay. Los Angeles quickly made up the 25-point deficit. The four Rams’ touchdown drives were 8-, 3-, 10-, and 6-play drives. Once the Rams got going, they became a giant snowball that couldn’t be stopped from rolling over everything in its path.
The biggest concerns for the Buffalo defense were the inability to stop the run or cover Rams receivers. It wasn’t one thing that sunk the Buffalo defense. There were many issues that need to be corrected before the difficult slate of AFC games coming up on the Buffalo schedule.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen (left) and Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald. Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY sports
Bills’ Biggest Need May Be a Dominant Defensive Lineman
Two things happened that allowed the Los Angeles Rams to make up a 25-point deficit. One is that the Buffalo defense completely fell apart. The other is that Aaron Donald absolutely took the game over.
In the second half alone, Donald blew up a designed Allen run for a three-yard loss, sacked Allen for a 12-yard loss, then sacked Allen again while also ripping the ball right out of his hands for a huge fumble recovery that put the Rams in position to take the lead. Quite simply, Donald terrorized the Bills.
Donald’s play helped to change the complexion of the game. He was on a mission to single-handedly destroy Allen. The Buffalo offensive line absolutely failed in their efforts to contain Donald and collapsed altogether as a unit as Allen was under siege for most of the second half.
The thing is, a player of Donald’s caliber is unstoppable. There’s little the Bills could have done to scheme up a way to take him out of the game. There’s a reason why Buffalo offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said earlier in the week that the best way to stop Aaron Donald is to hope he misses the team bus.
While acknowledging that Donald may be the best defensive player in the game and a rare, future-Hall of Fame talent, his presence in this game really highlights the fact that the Bills don’t have a player like that themselves.
Sure, the Bills have a deep and talented collection of defensive linemen, but it’s clear they don’t have a true game changer that can simply blow up an opposing offense. Ed Oliver was drafted to eventually be that guy for the Bills, but he isn’t quite to that level yet. Mario Addison had another strong game for the Bills at defensive end, but he too is not the type of unstoppable pass rusher that can completely alter an offensive game plan.
If there’s one thing the Bills are missing on defense, it’s a complete terror on the defensive line, either at defensive tackle or coming off the edge at defensive end, that opposing offenses have to account for and gameplan against. Buffalo could have used a player like that to slow down the Rams’ second half comeback.
Los Angeles’ offensive line had too easy a time with Buffalo’s defensive front. The Rams ran all over the Bills (5.2 yards per carry) and gave Goff plenty of time to sit back and find open receivers. Goff threw for 321, averaging 10 yards an attempt. For as talented as the Bills are on defense, especially in the secondary and at linebacker, they could use a true difference maker on the defensive line to make things much more difficult for opposing quarterbacks and linemen.
Bills tight end Tyler Kroft (81). Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY sports
New Weapons Emerge on Offense
In Week 2, Josh Allen had a field day throwing to Stefon Diggs, John Brown, and Cole Beasley. The Bills’ big three receivers went off and were the beneficiaries of Allen’s 417-yard passing day. Against LA, only Beasley had a big day of the three with 100 yards receiving on six catches. Diggs caught a touchdown, but only had four catches for 49 yards. Brown was targeted just twice before having to leave the game with a calf injury.
So how exactly did Allen still throw for 311 yards without big afternoons from Diggs and Brown? A couple of Bills stepped up in a big way in the passing game.
Rookie wideout Gabriel Davis impressed again by catching four passes for 81 yards. His biggest play was a 39-yard catch up the left sideline during the second quarter, the longest passing play for the Bills on the day. He also drew the pass interference penalty that kept Buffalo’s final drive alive on fourth down.
Tight end Tyler Kroft, filling in for an injured Dawson Knox, also caught four passes. Two of them went for scores, including the winning touchdown with 15 seconds to play.
The Bills also got a big game from Devin Singletary, both on the ground and through the air. Singletary caught four passes for 50 yards, including a beautiful catch and run for 34 yards on a screen pass on Buffalo’s first drive of the second half. That helped set up Buffalo’s fourth touchdown of the day. Singletary also had a nice game running the ball with 13 carries for 71 yards, a 5.46 average.
This goes to show the amount of depth the Bills have on their roster. It wasn’t long ago that the Bills’ top weapons on offense were players like Zay Jones and Robert Foster. Brandon Beane has totally rebuilt the offense in two seasons and the results speak for themselves.
Buffalo has some standout players at the wide receiver position, but they have also built considerable depth throughout the skill positions. Allen is playing out of his mind, but he’s getting help up and down the offensive depth chart. That was clearly evident on Sunday.
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