Well, here we are. The beginning of the second half of the season. Two paths lay before the Buffalo Bills. A win, and the pundits declare ‘The Bills are back on track.’ A loss, and suddenly ‘This could be the end of the line’ is engraved on their gravestone. Such is the NFL. Both the Bengals and the Bills found themselves mired in the standings, both in their own divisions and in the playoff picture. This game was huge for both squads, and that’s not hyperbole. Here are four takeaways from an entertaining but disheartening game for the Bills.
Buffalo Bills Week 9: No Offense Equals No Win
The Blitz Wasn’t Working For the Buffalo Defense, and They Kept Calling It Anyway
Most of the time the Bills blitzed, they didn’t even touch Joe Burrow. Burrow completed pass after pass. It seemed obvious that blitzing was making the Cincinnati Bengals better, not the Bills. There are times when speed is not your friend if you continue to either over-pursue or think that you have time to close in on receivers (and you don’t). I’m all for throwing off the timing of a QB, forcing him to scramble, making him uncomfortable. If that is the result of your efforts. It wasn’t. How many sacks for the D? Zero.
By contrast, the Bengals would drop extra men in coverage, and what happened? Josh Allen threw a pick on a shell coverage. Luckily it didn’t turn into points, thanks to a penalty-filled drive from Cincy. The Bills secondary continues to put on a brave face and they are certainly trying, but against good teams, any NFL secondary unit would have troubles. The Buffalo banged-up defense just couldn’t quite measure up to the Cincinnati ‘We have to step up’ offense. We could not keep up with Tee Higgins’s speed or the TE’s releasing into the flat. I do commend the defense for only giving up three points in the second half. Usually, that is a stat that means your team won. But if you gave up 21 in the first half, then cue Lee Corso: Not so fast my friend.
So Many Flags (Except When They Should Have Thrown Them)
I don’t know if the refs work on a quota as police officers do, but man I wouldn’t be surprised. Flag after flag, it was an ugly inconsistent clown show that has become all too common in every NFL game. Case in point, when Dalton Kincaid gets tripped in a blatant attempt to injure his knee, no flag. A few plays later, a flag for intentional grounding when it was clear that Gabe Davis was in the area, which resulted in the Bills having to punt rather than attempt a long field goal. A late hit was not called against the Bengals in the 4th, a mirrored play to Allen’s grounding call that did not get called against Burrow. Dane Jackson getting deliberately landed on by a huge lineman in the fourth quarter and no call, and yet when Tim Settle intentionally twisted his body to make sure that Burrow was on top of him and Settle didn’t drive him into the turf, they STILL called roughing the passer. A hold on the 3rd down Joe Mixon’s run to ice the game isn’t called. It’s just unacceptable.
If one thing could change about how the game is called, I actually would like to see more plays, potential penalties, and called penalties that can be reviewed, challenged, and reversed if necessary, to the correct call. Yes, it would slow down the game, but it would also make it a purer and more watchable game. Our attention would return to yelling at our team and not the referees. Frankly, I don’t expect Roger Goodell to do anything of real substance about the officiating problem, this year or going forward. He got paid and is now a lame-duck commissioner, his legacy of complacency and turning a blind eye to the problems that he could and should fix is cemented. No real change will happen until he is gone.
When a former player like Richard Sherman, whom I despised and who did nothing but sully the game of football, is complaining about the officiating, and I agree with him, you know there’s a problem.
The Return of Josh & Hyde
I don’t mean Micah Hyde. I’ve addressed this with Allen in previous articles. Allen has thrown a pick in five straight games now. A dubious mark for the gunslinger, his worst streak of that stat. Even the ridiculous ‘taunting’ penalty on his touchdown run shows that his competitive fire can get a little too stoked at times, and it burns him. He believes he can make any throw, which leads to spectacular plays, and double hand to the head, thumping one’s skull at plays of disbelief and chagrin. I’d still take Allen over any other QB in the league for the intangible qualities and the enormous heart and drive that he has, but, as with any player, you take the great with the flaws. The TD to Stefon Diggs late in the fourth quarter was an absolute laser and if only that was what we got the majority of the time.
It appears to be a fine line that Josh Allen and the coaching staff walk now, not wanting to rein in the stallion but knowing that the unbridled horse ends up kicking you or bucking you off, biting and flailing the whole time. When Allen is on, it is a thing of beauty, when he’s not, you just want to look away but can’t. There have been plenty of QBs who fit this description, some with busts in Canton. At this point, you just have to ride the beast and hope you can hold on long enough to be rewarded.
It seems all but confirmed that the high-scoring free-wheeling able to run the ball Bills of the early games of the season have been figured out. If there is one thing to point to for this paradigm shift, it’s the Bills’ inability to adjust on offense when things aren’t going well. If the rallying cry is ‘We Are Who We Are’, then so be it; as long as it is working. Can you really say that it is? If it can be better, you have to do the work and be willing to change.
Cincinnati Tight Ends>Ja’Marr Chase
Rightfully so, the Bills were worried about Ja’Marr Chase. His talent is almost as big as his mouth and equal to his ego. The Bills kept him in check. Nobody cared about the TE, as was evidenced by the touchdown late in the second quarter to Drew Sample, a guy who caught only three passes all season prior to the game. Bengal tight ends made big play after big play. Ja’Marr had one.
Here are the stats: Chase: 4 catches 41 yards. Cincy TE’s? Tanner Hudson alone had 4 catches for 45 yards. The other two (Irv Smith and Drew Sample) each caught a TD. Yeah yeah, Ja’Marr was hurting in the second half so it’s not his fault. But he’s always open! Except tonight when he apparently wasn’t. But all 3 Bengal Tight Ends saw lots of action. Burrow completed 31 passes. 10 went to his TE’s, roughly 33%. The Bengals adjusted to what the Bills defense was giving them. As stated already in this article, the Bills didn’t. There’s your ballgame.
How things stand in the Standings
The Bills let a golden opportunity slip away. A win would have put them into first place in the AFC East. Instead, they are in second, looking down at Zach Wilson and the New York Jets by only a half-game, and looking up at the Miami Dolphins by a game, who may be swimming away with the Division. For the Bengals who found themselves last in their division before Sunday Night’s game, they are now 5-3, and still last, but it looks brighter than the Bills in second does. Add to that the fact that Cincy now owns the tiebreaker over the Bills, which could prove to be huge as the playoff picture takes shape, and the Bengals have to be hopeful as the season progresses from here.
Both these teams seemed destined now to fill a wild card spot instead of winning their division, as was surmised at the beginning of the season. It would be a disappointment considering the expectations thrust upon them at the beginning of the year. A lot can change in a few weeks, as evidenced by both teams this year already, but the trends and ‘what we’ve seen so far’ litmus test shows that both teams are good and have flashes of better than good, but they’re not great and probably won’t be this year.
The Kincaid fumble was huge. His ceiling is very high, and that was his first real mistake. You forgive the kid and keep throwing him the ball. He’s a stud.
Dane Jackson is the defensive MVP of the game. Broken up several passes, and made great tackles. Losing Terrell Bernard was yet another kick in the gut for the Bills D.
Yes, Damar Hamlin was in the spotlight and the commentary before during, and after the game. His story is a cautionary tale with a happy ending. Beyond wins and loses, beyond the connection that the Bills and Bengals may have because of that ill-fated game that never was, even beyond Damar himself, is the idea, the very thought that a man’s life transcended a game, that it didn’t matter what team he played for or how important that game was or how it changed the trajectory of both teams that season. It was and is still a moment when humanity held its breath, and then was able to exhale. Teams will win and lose, and we as fans will continue to hope and be disappointed and come back for more. And thank God above, so will Damar.