If you were to tell me years ago that the Buffalo Bills would win a playoff game and their quarterback would throw for over 350 yards, I (and likely most Bills fans) would’ve been ecstatic. That probably would’ve been one of the best games I attended actually. It didn’t matter how pretty or ugly it was, we would’ve taken anything. But those aren’t the times we’re living in.
The standards for this team are so high that you might’ve thought that the Buffalo Bills lost to the Dolphins, according to Twitter. So let me just say this – it’s okay to be happy and critical at the same time. It’s good to acknowledge that the Bills won a tough playoff game over a tough opponent, one they’ve seen three times now this season, and found a way to advance to the Divisional Round while also acknowledging that they have a lot to clean up ahead of this Sunday’s contest versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bills have won eight games in a row now. However, they haven’t had that one feel-good type of dominating performance since beating the Steelers 38-3 back in Week 5. They’ve had a lot of good moments and found different ways to win ever since losing to the Vikings over two months ago. But, in a lot of those games, one or two plays could’ve changed the whole complexion of things.
On one side, you can be an optimist and say the Bills are winning the close games and learning valuable lessons along the way which will make them better in the long run. On the other hand, you can be a pessimist and say that a team with Super Bowl aspirations should not beat themselves as much as they do and that it will come back to haunt them when they run into a really good team (like the Bengals or Chiefs).
Personally, I think the Bills play to the level of their opponent. (Look at the Bears game until they finally snapped out of it at halftime.) I have a feeling that they will pop off against Cincinnati this week and again against the Chiefs or Jaguars next week. This team has gone through way too much this season for this story to end in the Divisional Round again.
Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott was obviously happy that his team got the win, but knows that there is a lot of work that needs to be done ahead of this Sunday’s big matchup with the Bengals.
“Good to get a win. Our guys hung in there… a lot we can take out of this game and learn from as we head into next week.”McDermott on the win
Josh Allen echoed McDermott’s statement. He said that it was good to get the win, but they have to be better moving forward.
“One week season man, that’s it. Gotta take it 1-0, one game at a time… Thought we did some good things today… I did some bad things today. Some stuff to clean up, some things to learn from but we’ll grow from it.”Allen on the team’s performance
The 26-year old completed 23 of 39 passes for 352 yards, 3 TDs, and 2 INTs while adding 20 rushing yards on four carries. He continued to find success against the Dolphins (although it wasn’t the prettiest or most dominant performance), something he has been able to do ever since coming into the league.
Allen then talked about surviving and advancing, in which the Bills did both on Sunday.
“All that matters is surviving and advancing. Doesn’t matter how we win, it’s if we win… I’m proud of our guys for playing the way they did.”Allen on surviving and advancing
Some of the biggest problems that hampered the Bills on Sunday were turnovers, play calling, and game management. This stat still baffles me.
This is a microcosm of what we’ve seen all year long – Allen being too aggressive with his arm and OC Ken Dorsey being too aggressive with his play calling. Yes, Josh needs to take what the defense gives him and utilize his check downs and the middle of the field, but why are vertical deep routes being called in the first place?
The best example was when the Bills were up 34-31 with 10:53 left in the game. Rather than trying to go on a long, sustaining drive, Dorsey and the Bills opted to take two deep shots with WR Gabe Davis before Allen got sacked on third down. Buffalo was forced to punt after using just 59 seconds of clock.
McDermott said that’s a sequence he’s sure Dorsey would want to have back.
“Didn’t feel great about that one, just in terms of the efficiency overall there, so again, that’s one of the areas that we can learn from.”McDermott on the two vertical deep routes
Dorsey said he thought they could exploit the Dolphins defense on that first down play, based on the man coverage.
“The first one came down to a call that was based off of the situation of them playing the sticks a little bit there and we thought we had a good opportunity to try to get a chunk there for us to really help us kind of alleviate where we were and get us going right there.”Dorsey on the first vertical to Davis
As for the second vertical, Dorsey said that is one they will definitely learn from as they were trying to not be too predictable.
“You don’t want to take a shot and then the next play, force yourself into a handoff or a possession pass; you want to keep the defense off balance. At the same time, there is a time and a place.”Dorsey on the second vertical
The thing was, the Bills had the ball on the 25-yard line with time to kill; they didn’t have to go for the kill right then and there. They didn’t need to “alleviate” anything. The Bills didn’t have to connect on a deep pass to “get them going”. Just take what the defense gives you, move the chains, and chew up the clock.
The Buffalo Bills defense came up huge on Sunday. Yes, they need to play a lot better considering they let a third-string rookie QB hang in there until the final two minutes and now have to deal with arguably a top-three QB this week. But the box score was a lot better than the scoreboard would indicate.
Bills DC Leslie Frazier said Monday that he was really proud of how his defense responded to the adversity.
“I was so impressed with those guys. They were put in some tough situations yesterday (Sunday) and they stood up man, time and time again on some short fields and just kept us in the game. They didn’t blink, as Von would say.”Frazier on his defense
One of the best defensive players for the Bills Sunday, if not best player overall, was CB Kaiir Elam. The rookie came up with a huge interception in the third quarter when the Bills trailed 24-20, setting them up in great field position to score a TD (Cole Beasley) and re-take the lead. Elam also broke up Skylar Thompson’s 4th and 6 pass to seal the deal for the Bills.
Based on his performance, Elam needs to play more, especially against the Bengals’ tough, physical, athletic WRs.
“He came in and came up with some big plays for us, some game-changing plays, and it’s really exciting to see and really good for our team and our defense to see him do that.”Frazier on Elam
Get Your Popcorn Out
And now, the biggest game of the year. Partly because it’s the next one, but also because these are two of the best teams in the NFL. I mentioned how the Buffalo Bills are on an eight-game winning streak. Well, the Cincinnati Bengals are on a nine-game win streak of their own.
This is a team that finished with the eighth-best total offense, fifth-best passing offense, and seventh in scoring. They were, however, 29th in rushing and tied-11th in sacks allowed (with one less game played than everyone else). The offensive line seems to be their weak point, especially now with three key injuries up front.
RT La’el Collins tore his ACL on Christmas Eve, RG Alex Cappa injured his ankle Week 18, and now LT Jonah Williams dislocated his kneecap this past Sunday against the Ravens. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said that Cappa and Williams are both considered week-to-week.
As for the Bills, Sean McDermott said Monday that CB Dane Jackson is day-to-day with a knee injury, while S Micah Hyde will NOT play. He did, however, say that they will have to wait and see about WR Jamison Crowder.
We all know how good the Buffalo Bills can play, but the question is, will they be able to play four quarters of clean football and hold QB Joe Burrow and his weapons in check? Time will tell… Sunday should be fun.
*All player quotes come from the postgame press conferences (via the Buffalo Bills YouTube channel).
Featured Image: Kevin Siracuse