Buffalo Bills Week 16: 4 Takeaways from an Escape from LA

The media tried to warn them. It’s a trap game, they said. Can’t let up on the gas now, they quipped. They reminded Buffalo that you have to prove yourself, again.

For the first 20 minutes of the game in So-Fi stadium, the echoes of the experts didn’t seem to sink in. Then, Buffalo woke up and got to work in the second quarter. It didn’t start pretty and it didn’t always look convincing, but Buffalo got back to grinding and finding a way to win. You wouldn’t call this Bills team battle-tested yet. Nor would you say that they’ve learned from the mistakes from earlier in the season. But they are getting more determined and desperate to forge ahead and play their best football when it matters most.

Here are four takeaways from an odd and too-close-for-comfort Saturday night win.

Takeaways From Buffalo’s Escape in LA

Miscues Muddle the Momentum

When Harty fumbled on a punt return, it killed the already stumbling offense. The Bills just couldn’t seem to get out of their own way in the first half. Then, in the second half, Josh Allen throws a badly underthrown ball and gets picked, resulting in three points for the Chargers. That was after the Bills defense got a crucial stop coming out of halftime. James Cook then fumbles at the absolute worst time when it looked like the Bills would take over and run the ball and clock out.

This game shouldn’t have been as close as it was. Period. The Bills needed to be the team playing with nothing to lose and yet the Chargers, without a head coach, starting quarterback, number one receiver, and top defensive player sure looked the part of the team with something to gain and something to prove. Buffalo was playing like they had a mulligan in their back pocket and not a fire under their backside. Great teams don’t play down to their competition.

Play Calling on Both Sides of the Ball was Problematic

The defense that had played so well and stood up so tall in recent weeks suddenly seemed full of holes in the secondary and unable to get to the quarterback. The running plays weren’t producing at the usual positive level. This was a theme of this game, but against a better opponent, this kind of ‘not good enough’ scheming would have cost the Bills the game. The bad blitzing decisions returned, leaving the secondary in no-win situations. The vanilla running plays left Allen and company in third and longs and they couldn’t convert.

In a ‘show me’ game for Buffalo, what they showed was that the Bills may not quite be ready for the big stage. They have potential in droves and talent in spades, yet they are not firing on all cylinders, frustratingly stuck in third gear, unable to pull away from a team that they should have easily beat. Having to come from behind in the fourth quarter was not what a great team does.

Then, with a chance to run the clock down and kick a winning field goal, three straight running plays up the middle. Do they not trust the offense? Go score a walk-off touchdown or field goal. Instead, they leave time on the clock, and we’ve already seen how that can turn out this season.

Finding the Positives in the Less-than-Stellar Performance

Buffalo has a lot to be proud of. At times this season, they have shown great promise and lived up to the hype. Three straight beatdowns at the beginning of the season against the Commanders, Raiders, and Dolphins. They toughed out a win against KC and dominated Dallas. It makes it easier to at least put into perspective the garish moments that live on as buzzy phrases. 12 men. Choking against the Patriots of all teams. The Jaguar Jetlag game. Letting one get away against the Eagles.

Against the Chargers, the Bills had glimpses, flashes of potential, and the meeting of expectations. Gabe Davis had a huge game after being silent the last three. The defense, while having an inconsistent outing, continues to be dangerous while missing more key players than you can count on one hand. No one is going to deny that the Bills can be dangerous; the ability is there, the skill players and the correct coaching is there. It’s just not there enough of the time.

The Bills are starting to put some things together, but they certainly don’t have it all together. Not yet. The AFC is hoping that it will remain that way. In years past, the team that can get hot at the right time, that can come together when they need to and synergistically meld as a team, no matter their record or seeding, is the team that succeeds. Is it the Bills? It could be.

Return of the Bumbling Refs

Give the officiating crew some credit first. Over the last few weeks, the horrendously bad calls and non-calls had been minimal at best. Then, as if they needed to make up for it, we were back to keystone referees. Seeing the replays of holding calls against Buffalo was cringeworthy, as the Chargers were getting away with holding on virtually the same type of play, over and over. Calling a tripping penalty on a guy who was on the ground and the Chargers player ran into his leg? It’s laughable and infuriating.

It’s ridiculous that it needs to be repeated over and over again, and yet it does: the problem is in the inequity in which the penalties are called. If the calls are the same on both sides of the ball, then teams will live with it. The problem is, that this is not happening at all. At all. You can say it’s just fans complaining, but when it’s ALL the fans, from EVERY team, then something needs to change. You can start by firing Roger Goodell first and then get to work on fixing the problem.

Final Thoughts

The formula for the Bills wasn’t that hard. Win your last three games and you will make the playoffs. With a little help, you win the division. Play like they have played against the reigning champs and one of the best NFC teams and the odds look pretty good. Play like they played Saturday night, and you perhaps don’t make it, nor deserve to make it into the postseason. The path to the postseason is in the Bills hands now. We’ll see how they handle it.

Main Image: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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