I’m not a fan of absolutes or extreme phrasing just for effect. But this game felt like a ‘must-win’ for both teams. Both teams were stuck in the mire of frustrating setbacks and in second place in their division. There was reason to hope but also cautious pragmatism that tempered the fervor for a return to winning ways. The Bills secured a much-needed win and looked a lot more like themselves. Here are five observations about the Thursday night game.
Observations from the Buffalo Bills’ Week 8 Win
The Crowd Noise!
I’ve been to a few Buffalo Bills games. It’s always loud, boisterous and awesome. Even watching the game on TV, the deafening roar (which commentators called a ‘frenzy’) was unmistakable. I can’t imagine how it sounded live, and it certainly disrupted the Bucs offense early on. The crowd continued to register in triple-digit decibels throughout the entire first quarter. I think the sound waves affected the Tampa Bay missed field goal as much as Shaq Lawson‘s mitt did.
Bills fans are often listed as among the best fans, not only in football but all of sports. They knew how important their presence and prodigious loudness were to giving the Bills a ‘push’ at the beginning of the game and getting the energy flowing. I give the crowd kudos and two big chicken wings up for their role in getting Buffalo going in all three phases of the game. The crowd knew how important it was to get a win in front of a national (ok, Amazon isn’t exactly broadcasting to a big audience) spotlight and their sound made a difference.
Everyone held their Breath for the Offense. Then Exhaled Happily.
A pass play. A designed Josh Allen run. Another pass play (both to Shakir). Then two passes to Davis. Sprinkle in a run. This was the script that Bills fans have been waiting to see for a month. Even when the first drive only ended with three points, it was a success and what fans had been holding their breath for.
Josh Allen’s decision-making was well-managed and even-keeled on the first two drives. He didn’t force deep throws but when Shakir was open deep he hit him with a laser. Each drive had a decent mix of run and pass. So much of a microscope has been tuned on Ken Dorsey and Sean Mcdermott and the play calling, and everyone had their opinion and answer for the ‘problems’ of the Bills offense. The football season is an extremely long, short 17 games. Don’t count out the coaches and playbook yet.
And then Buffalo goes for it on fourth down again. And comes up sort. Again. There’s a fine line between gutsy and foolhardy. Allen should have checked out of that play or at least saw the defense adjust and adjusted himself after the snap. Take a quick second look and then try to pound it in on his own. Whether he had that option given to him by the coaches or not, we’ll never know. But it was another opportunity to get points that we missed due to unnecessary greed. Sure, we haven’t scored much in the first half but is that a reason to leave three on the field?
Defense Showed an Intensity Early, Feeding off the Crowd and the Offense
It seemed that with every offensive pass play for the Bucs, Mayfield was half of a second from being sacked. The run defense was stingy and the secondary seemed faster at least. Halfway through the second quarter, Tampa converted a big third down when the edge rushers couldn’t get to Baker and he found a wide-open Godwin. It doesn’t take much for the hard work to be spoiled in one play, and the Bucs kicked a long field goal. Just as the offense can’t leave points on the field, the defense can give points to the other team by allowing third down conversions.
There were several good runs right up the middle that Buffalo hosses on the line couldn’t stop. Under two minutes and the defense seemed low on gas. Again. Was the level so high at the beginning that it couldn’t be sustained? The crowd amped up the noise to try and get the D a little bit more, and it worked for a sack, and Tampa didn’t score.
In the second half, the defense had the ‘that’s enough of that’ look on their faces. The only real score for the Bucs was off a turnover that gave them a short field in the first half. Buffalo clamped down and played a little freer and owned the line of scrimmage. With the offense returning to form, seeing the defense follow suit was a hopeful sign for Bills Mafia. Tampa moved the ball a little, the D responded with two straight sacks. The one difference tonight was the constant pressure from the Bills.
Everyone Blinked and the Game was Tied
A tipped ball interception. A big running play. Bills fans went out to get a refill on their Pepsi and Buffalo wing sauce cocktail and suddenly the game was tied. The Bills weren’t rolling per se, but they definitely looked comfortable and in control. The crowd was roaring like Niagara Falls. It was a gut check. Sometimes what matters is what happens after you get knocked around.
The offense came back out and moved the ball quickly, keeping one eye on the clock trying to maximize ball control knowing they would get the ball first in the second half. The old ‘Allen rolls right and finds an open guy’ play that was a staple of the offense last year finally showed up again. The Bills blinked, but only once. Then they got focused again and got back to work. This could have been a turning point of the whole game. Instead, it was a hiccough.
Then, when the defense got a stop with 30 seconds left, the Bills let half the time run out before calling a timeout. With a good return and 2 good plays, Buffalo could have tried a long-field goal of their own. Leaving potential points on the field will come back to haunt you if it hasn’t already.
That first drive of the third quarter was a great drive. Just pretty to watch. That 10-point scurry by the Bucs was long forgotten. Even with the Bills up 14 after that scoring drive, it still felt close. The defense couldn’t tackle all of a sudden. Mayfield was running for his life but the Bucs remained scrappy, like Baker. But the Bills D found ways to get off the field without allowing points. Then the Bills offense seemed to gain control, running the ball and getting completions for five or more yards.
It’s been said and now proven true: you don’t have to be explosive, just be effective. The good teams, once they gain control of the game, do not relinquish it. They grind and eat the clock and impose their will. It took two tipped balls on a fourth down and the two-point conversion for Tampa to even make it look close, and the final score belies the real story.
Horrible PI calls, Other Gaffs, and a no Call on a Helmet Swing Reminds us how Bad the Refs are
Taylor Rapp was called for pass interference for arriving at the same time as the ball. It was a really bad call that kept a Tampa Bay drive alive. Then, in the third quarter, the same exact play happened to Stefon Diggs, and no PI was called. All that fans ask for is consistency and correct calls. Fans simply cannot continue to have such dastardly poor referee decisions.
Two flags on fourth downs in the fourth quarter? Seriously, was Roger Goodell in the headsets of the refs begging them to throw flags so that people kept watching? Utterly ridiculous and embarrassing.
How does a player swing his helmet at other players, and there’s not a foul at all? The player should have been ejected! There is no place for it in football or any sport, and letting it go unpunished is completely unacceptable. That was a very black mar on an otherwise well-played game.
The 2018 draft was a quarterback-palooza. Baker Mayfield went first. Josh Allen went seventh. Their careers have been polar opposites ever since. Both have gumption, swagger, and confidence aplenty. One is on his fourth team trying to find his place in the league. The other is a superstar with a Madden Cover and the potential to win a Super Bowl.
Give the punter, Sam Martin, a game ball. He had the Bucs backed up several times and the defense fed off the crowd and squeezed. You don’t want your punter to break a sweat, but if he does let it be because he’s kicking balls inside the five.
The Bills have a break now, a chance to catch their breath and build on the successes of tonight’s win. The Bengals are next.
Main Image: Jamie Germano/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle / USA TODAY NETWORK