From the sinking feeling of last week’s loss to the incomparable joy that comes after this week’s victory, what a difference a week makes.
1.) Fearless Josh is the best Josh. Throughout his up-and-down rookie season, Josh Allen made one thing abundantly clear: He was a rare athlete, an improvisational wunderkind, and a potentially lethal playmaker. Sure, there were some head-scratching lows mixed in with the dazzling highs, but overall, the potential that Allen showed in his rookie season was incredibly exciting for Bills fans. Fast forward to his sophomore season. Though Allen had thus far been limiting mistakes and improving his throwing accuracy, he no longer seemed to be showing the same playmaking potential that he did as a rookie. This caused many Bills fans, myself included, to wonder if he had OVER-corrected. As I asked in this column two weeks ago, had the coaching staff taken the Josh Allen out of Josh Allen?
Allen’s performance in the 37-20 victory over the Dolphins showed that when he’s not overthinking things, and when “play fearless” is the edict of the day, he IS still the electrifying playmaker we saw in season one. What a welcome sight! Allen had arguably his best and most complete game as a pro. He played well within the structure of the offense, he improvised when things broke down, he ran well, he threw well, and ultimately, he tallied four touchdowns on the day. When #17 plays the way he played on Sunday, the Bills are a dangerous team.
Before I move on, some cool Josh Allen stats from the Twitterverse: Since the week 4 Patriots game, Josh Allen has 10 touchdown passes and 1 interception. In the last five games, Josh Allen has accounted for 12 total touchdowns and zero interceptions. And most impressively, courtesy of Buffalo Bills PR:
“Josh Allen has now tallied five consecutive games with 2 TDs/0 INTs, becoming the first QB since Russell Wilson in 2015 to do so. Allen joins Wilson, Aaron Rodgers (2014), Peyton Manning (2012), Tom Brady (2012) and Drew Brees (2011) as the only QBs to do so since 2011.”
Wowza. The arrow is certainly pointing up with Josh Allen.
2.) Smoke has himself a day. John Brown has been arguably the best free agent signing in the entire NFL this season. Actually, scratch the “arguably” part. Brown is on pace for 1,300 receiving yards and six touchdowns, and he has provided a dangerous and consistent pass catcher to an offense that direly needed one. Sunday’s game against Miami was Brown’s best game as a Bill. He caught short passes and accrued run-after-catch yardage. He ran crisp routes and secured critical 1st down catches. He stretched the field. He collected two touchdowns. The 40 yard touchdown strike he caught from Josh Allen may have been the prettiest play the Bills offense has produced all season. Put simply: John Brown was a free agency steal, and Bills fans should be extremely happy that Brandon Beane was persistent in going after him two off-seasons in a row.
3.) It must have been the mustache. One week after taking an absolute beating from Bills Mafia about his gameplan and playcalling against the Browns, Brian Daboll redeemed himself with an excellent day in both categories on Sunday. He provided a good run-pass balance, he gave Singletary a good amount of touches, and he repeatedly put Allen in positions to succeed.
Encouragingly, the Bills offense did things that had yet to do this season. The passing attack beating all-out cover zero blitzes — something it had, up until Sunday, been unable to do — was a sight for sore eyes. The best and most encouraging thing the Bills offense did, however, was staying aggressive into the fourth quarter. Too many times this season and last, we watched the Bills offense go into a conservative and predictable shell when they obtained a lead. Not Sunday. With the Dolphins and the ever-persistent Fitzpatrick refusing to quit, the Bills decided to put the pedal to the metal and secure the victory.
The offense ran a hurry-up, no huddle or muddle huddle attack that saw the quarterback getting to the line with 20 or more seconds still on the clock. The CBS announcers were confused, stating that they thought it was a mistake for the Bills not to bleed the clock and run the ball. Personally, I couldn’t disagree more. I understand the argument for better clock management, sure, but I’ll take a highly aggressive offense that trusts its playmakers and tries to score more points all day over a wimpy and frightened attack that plays not to lose. The buzz word leading up to the game was “fearless”, and the offense didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walk.
Cole Beasley stated leading up the game that he and John Brown had a good feeling about the offense going forward. Based on Sunday’s results, Beasley might just be on to something.
4.) Defense Gets right. After several consecutive weeks of getting gashed in the run game and appearing as though they had lost their mojo, the Bills defense was back in a big way on Sunday. They stopped the run, allowing a measly 1.8 yards per carry to the Dolphins ground attack. They got after Ryan Fitzpatrick, sacking him six times. Every single Bills defensive tackle had a sack. They rallied to the football. They tackled well. In short, they did just about everything right.
The most interesting development of the day might have been the frequency with which Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier dialed up blitzes. The Bills are not typically a very blitz-heavy team. After seeing Ryan Fitzpatrick have an excellent day against them in Orchard Park, however, they seem to have decided things would be different this time around. Middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds rushed the passer a season high 13 times. His running mate at linebacker, Matt Milano, rushed the passer 12 times, also a season high. The pressure packages were mightily effective. The Dolphins offensive line simply couldn’t stop them with any consistency, and it was a huge key in the Bills victory.
While the schematic details and the sound execution by Buffalo’s defense were impressive, the biggest change seemed to come from an intangible quality: confidence. One of the Bills defenders after the game stated that Tremaine Edmunds gave a fiery speech to the defense on Saturday night. Whatever he said, it worked. Buffalo’s defense got their mojo back.
5.) Special Teams anything but special. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows on Sunday. The Bills special teams nearly cost them the game. At the very least, the unit was responsible for making the game much closer than it should have been. They allowed a 101 yard kickoff return touchdown. They were one tackle away from allowing a SECOND kickoff return touchdown. They failed to recover an onside kick that could easily have let the Dolphins right back into the game.
Against an inferior Miami team, the Bills offense and defense were good enough to overcome the abysmal play of the special teams. Against the opponents coming up on the Bills schedule, however, Buffalo might not be so lucky. Heath Farwell’s unit simply MUST find a way to improve in a hurry, or it may cost the Bills a game or two this season.
6.) He’ll always be Fitzmagic to me. I have to take a moment to proclaim my love for Ryan Fitzpatrick. In both games against the Bills this season, he reminded me why he captured the hearts and minds of Bills Mafia during his time in Orchard Park. He plays with heart, passion, persistence, and — to go back to the buzzword of the day — fearlessness. Virtually everyone who has ever met him or shared a locker room with him also says that he is whip-smart, hilarious, and kind, too. While I certainly wasn’t rooting for him on Sunday, I absolutely WILL root for him in every game in which he is not facing the Buffalo Bills. He is one of my all time favorite players from any era in the NFL. To have the career that he has had, given his physical limitations and draft pedigree, is amazing. His longevity in a league whose initials stand for “Not For Long” is impressive. I tip my cap now and forever to the Amish Rifle, the once and forever Buffalo Bill, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Extra Point
Sunday’s game against the Dolphins was a great reminder that football fans should try not to get too high or too low after a single game, no matter the outcome. Last week’s loss to Cleveland had Bills fans questioning the offensive and defensive coordinators, the head coach, and the quarterback. Some fans were even ready to fire Brian Daboll and to begin to wonder aloud whether Josh Allen was a bust. Despite the Bills’ 6-3 record, fans were some combination of livid, disheartened, depressed, and as I wrote here last week, ready to say “here we go again”.
Luckily, the week passed, and the next Sunday came around, and things changed. Sean McDermott constantly preaches a “one game at a time” mantra. To hear him tell it, each game is its own unique entity, its own snapshot. It should perhaps come as no surprise, then, that a team that looked so inept in every phase one week could look so phenomenal the next.
Was it the “play fearless” edict that ignited the offense? Was it Tremaine Edmunds’ fiery Saturday night speech that ignited the defense? Were the Bills just sick of hearing what a disappointment they were? Sick of the outside noise and the doubt and the narrative that they are nothing more than paper tiger pretenders? Whatever was going around Buffalo’s locker room that infected the players with the passion and effectiveness we saw on Sunday, the Bills need to bottle it and drink from it for six more weeks.
Many looked at the upcoming games against teams like the Cowboys, Ravens, and Patriots as surefire losses. If the Bills play like they did on Sunday, however, they will have a much better chance at victory than fans would have guessed. If the defense can continue to stymie the run and attack the opposing quarterback, and if the offense can continue to play fearlessly and connect on big plays in the run and pass game, the Bills can absolutely make the playoffs. And if they do? Who knows. Once the tournament starts, it’s anybody’s game.
From the pit of despair to the joy and exultation of a convincing victory — what a difference a week makes.
Editor’s babble: Love what Matthew Rule brings with his terrific contributions to our blog. You can find Matthew on Twitter @MatthewtheRule and posting on twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall message board.