“We have met the enemy, and he is us.” –Cartoonist Walt Kelly
This sums up the Buffalo Bills season. If not for a mistake not only made by the special teams but missed by the coaches, the Bills grind out the strangest win of the season, shake their heads, count their lucky stars, and get a well-deserved night’s sleep. Instead, 12 men on the field equals one giant loss, and you say goodnight to a division title and just maybe a playoff berth, given the gauntlet that is the remaining schedule.
Here are four takeaways from Monday night.
Week 10 in Buffalo — A Surreal Monday Night Loss
Dropped Balls and Fumbles and Interceptions, Oh No
Three drops in the first half, one of which ended up as a receiver-caused interception (RCI). The first play from scrimmage resulted in a fumble. It was a nightmare start that continued a nightmare month for the Buffalo offense. The offense snuck in a beautiful drive in the second quarter for a touchdown, and then quarterback Josh Allen threw a very bad pass with under a minute to go and gave the Broncos a three-point gift. Let’s be honest: the tight-end Dalton Kincaid touchdown was a direct result of a blown coverage assignment and not a great play call.
The second-half handoff debacle killed the offense’s momentum. The play before was a great 36-yard catch by wide receiver Gabe Davis, getting the Bills out of the shadow of their end zone. Both Allen and running back James Cook are to blame for the play, which just added to the wacky voodoo of the game. The defense held, and no harm came from the play, and somehow, the score was still tied at this point.
Defense Somehow Remains Stout with Half the Roster Out, but Folds in the End
When the stat line read that the Bills had two turnovers and hadn’t done much on offense, one would assume Denver would have been up by 10 or 13 points. However, the defense only gave up three points.
Once again, the blitz was ineffective, but it left one-on-one matchups that Denver exploited several times on third down to keep drives going, both in the first and second half. Then, a horrible defensive call to blitz on first and goal that left a wide-open running back, Javonte Williams, for a walk-in touchdown. To top it off, Buffalo called an all-out blitz on 3rd and 10 on Denver’s last drive, leaving a one-on-one matchup against Jerry Jeudy. I don’t blame cornerback Taron Johnson for the pass interference; if he doesn’t do that, it’s an easy touchdown. The blitz call put the secondary in an impossible situation, and the defense didn’t mask the fact that they were blitzing, making it an easy decision for Wilson to throw it to Jeudy downfield.
Considering the three turnovers in the first half, two of which gave Denver the ball inside Bills territory, the defense pushed back, only giving up field goals. If there was one ‘get better’ category for the defense, it was forcing turnovers. When was the last turnover caused by the Buffalo D before Rasul Douglas fell on wide receiver Cameron Sutton‘s fumble? It was the third quarter of the Patriots game (week 7) when they recovered a fumble. That’s three full games.
In the second half, the defense settled in with good run defense and finally got some sacks, and it looked like they were taking over the game. And yet, Denver was 8-19 on third downs, and as good as the D looked, the pesky Broncos wouldn’t go away. For the second time this year, the Bills offense shook off a cruddy performance to take the lead late in the game, and the defense couldn’t make a stop when it mattered most.
Is this Just how the Offense is going to be now for the Bills?
The offense made adjustments in the second quarter and immediately scored. It was literally like a switch was flipped. Running plays worked, and passes were effective. Cook and Davis had redemption plays on the drive. It was fun to watch but infuriating because this should be how the offense can operate normally. Sadly, it’s not, and it may only become the norm once something changes. Is it Dorsey’s poor playcalling? Is Allen shooting himself in the foot too often?
Even with the stomach-turning first-half performance from Buffalo, it still somehow felt that the Bills were not out of the game and that it could and would turn around at some point. Bills Mafia was praying profusely, saying ‘it has to get better, right?’ Then, an ill-timed fourth down play in the 3rd quarter when Josh had Kincaid open in the flat for at least a completion and a chance to lower his head and do what tight ends do, and Allen looked it off and floated a pass too high for wide receiver Khalil Shakir. That miss again gave the Broncos a short field and the defense a challenging task. This time, the defense came through.
Indeed, the fourth quarter agonizingly ground away and suddenly, a botched snap on an extra point and an incredible drive running the football by the Bills is capped off by an Allen run. The Bills take the lead and look like they will somehow eke out the win. If anything, the Bills scored too quickly, giving Denver plenty of time to develop their heroics, which they did. Whatever slim hope of a sunshine beam we saw quickly got snuffed, and as most Twilight Zone episodes end, there’s a hard turn and gutting twist at the end.
Game ball to Latavius Murray. During the week, he called an offensive players-only meeting and ran like a third-year back, not an 11-season veteran. The Bills are young, and Murray’s steady ‘been there, done that’ demeanor has been a welcome addition to the squad. He owned it and led by example.
It was shocking to see Wilson running the ball. It was more surprising to see him succeeding in his efforts. His legs killed the Bills D more than his arm did. Who would have thought that that sentence would be written in 2023?
Time of possession doomed the Bills. Denver possessed the ball for over 37 minutes. A simple fact of football is that you can’t score points if your offense isn’t on the field. Sean Payton is a great chess player.
The Bills have the third hardest remaining schedule, and how they play may also be the hardest. Can they still make the playoffs? Yes. Will they now need help from the misfortune of other teams? Yes. We all know the Cleveland Browns, as can Pittsburg or Houston, can collapse at any second. Realistically, the Bills can lose once more and still make it. This means they must beat two teams: the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs, and Dallas Cowboys. They play these powerhouses in consecutive weeks with a bye between the Eagles and Chiefs. If they beat two out of three (or all three), they deserve a spot in the postseason. If not, they are still getting what they deserve.
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