The Extra Point – Week 15: New Era Dawns as Bills Punch Playoff Ticket

Photo from post-gazette.com.

Well that sure was a lot of fun! There’s lots do discuss after that enormous Bills win, so let’s get right to it.

1.) Buffalo Bills….thrive in the national spotlight?! Wait, that can’t be right. Except that it IS right. It certainly felt weird to type. Twice in the past month the Bills have had national showcase games, and twice the Bills have come out on top. After what feels like a full lifetime of disappointing prime time performances, of the Bills playing their absolute worst when the spotlight shown the brightest, things are suddenly different. Out of nowhere, this Bills team seems to not only continue to perform well when the stakes are high, but to actually THRIVE.

Outside of the playoffs themselves, you’d be hard pressed to find a more playoff-like atmosphere than a Sunday Night Football game at Heinz Field in December with a postseason berth on the line. Having witnessed the past two decades of Bills football, you’ll hopefully forgive me for expecting the worst in this situation.

It turns out I was as wrong about Sunday night’s game as I was about the game against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. These are not your father’s Buffalo Bills. These Bills seem unfazed — and perhaps even motivated — by the added attention that nationally televised games bring. What a sight for sore eyes, and a welcome change for this Bills fan. It sure seems like I may need to start adjusting my expectations of McDermott’s crew when the lights shine brightest.

2.) Buffalo’s defense bests Blitzburgh’s in old school slobber-knocker. I may be in the minority on this one, but as far as I’m concerned, you can keep your 51-48 shootouts and your new-fangled offensive masterpieces. Give me a down and dirty, war-in-the-trenches, bruising 17-10 game all day, every day. What a masterpiece that was.

Sure, each team’s offense may have set the sport of football back two or three decades. And sure, Duck Hodges vs Josh Allen was not the marquee quarterback matchup of the century. What Sunday’s game DID have, though, was as much great defense as a spectator could ever hope to witness.

The Steelers defense is absolutely loaded with high end talent. They are well coached, they hit hard, the punch the ball out, they pluck passes out of the air, they harass your quarterback….in short, they make life hell for opposing offenses. They did all of these things against Buffalo, but it wasn’t enough to earn a victory. Why? Because the Bills defense does all of those things, too, and on Sunday, they did them more effectively.

The Steelers caused two Bills turnovers, sure, but the Bills defense responded by causing FIVE Steelers turnovers. They shut down Pittsburgh’s running game and forced the game into the hands of Duck Hodges, who responded by throwing a few wobbling ducks into the hands Bills defenders.

After a dominating performance all game long, the Bills sealed the Steelers’ fate with an end zone pick by Jordan Poyer. But wait! An offensive holding blunder by Buffalo gave the Steelers new life and another chance to tie the game. The result (aside from Bills fans everywhere having heart palpitations)? Another end zone interception, this time by Levi Wallace. Ball game.

In a battle of elite defenses, it was the higher ranked but somehow less highly touted Bills defense that came out on top.

3.) Deja Vu all over again…Tre White edition. Look, I get it. It seems like every single week in this space I’m talking about Tre’Davious White. “Enough already!”, right? Well, how can I not talk about the best player on the Bills roster and the man who singlehandedly swung the game back in Buffalo’s favor?

From the moment he announced himself as being from “Tre White Goalie Academy” and picked off a first quarter pass, it felt like a grand opportunity for White to introduce himself to a national audience that may not be familiar with him. For a brief, frightening moment, it looked like he might not get that opportunity due to a shoulder injury. Luckily, he missed only one defensive series. His prompt return to the field was critical to the Bills victory.

With Pittsburgh holding a 10-7 lead and starting to move the ball well on offense, White swung the game back in Buffalo’s favor by picking off a Hodges pass and darting up the sideline and into Steelers territory.

The Bills would tie the game a few plays later, and would take the lead not long after that. It’s not that I set out to talk about Tre White every single week, it’s just that he seems to make gigantic, game-changing plays every single week. So here we are.

To my surprise, Cris Collinworth even noted that White is playing cornerback as well as anyone in the league not named Stephon Gilmore. White certainly introduced himself to America with gusto on Sunday night, and he will likely be voted All-Pro at season’s end. There is no player in the NFL more deserving of the accolades and stardom than #27. Not bad for a graduate of a Goalie Academy.

4.) McDermott’s attention to detail pays dividends as Bills steal “Renegade”. Surely you’ve all heard the story by now: When the Pittsburgh Steelers are in need of some juice from the home crowd and during pivotal moments of big games, the stadium PA blasts “Renegade” by Styx, the Terrible Towels start waving, and everybody gets fired up.

Anticipating this, coach McDermott played the song all week long during Bills practice, to the point that the players were ready to yank their ears off. Overkill on McDermott’s part, you say? Not according to the result on Sunday night.

As soon as the song’s wailing electric guitar intro hit, the Heinz Field crowd was whipped into a loud and buzzing frenzy, right on cue. The NBC cameras panned over the crowd to show the lunacy and Cris Collinsworth talked about how much this tradition fires up the Steelers and their fans.

Funny thing, though: a quick look at the Bills sideline would have revealed that they, too, were dancing around like maniacs, infused with a sudden and unmistakable bolt of energy. Matt Barkley swung his parka around overhead. Jordan Phillips played air guitar. Ed Oliver did…some sort of funny dance I can’t really describe. Barkley exclaimed “They’re finally playing our song!”.

What happened next effectively put the game away for Buffalo. Josh Allen uncorked a beautiful, arcing 40-yard pass to John Brown. Devin Singletary ripped off a nice first down run.

Finally, on 3rd and nine with ten minutes left in the game, Allen stepped up to evade oncoming Steeler pressure and threw a perfect pass to Tyler Kroft for what would wind up being the deciding touchdown. [Side note: The play on which Kroft — who had only caught 4 passes all year — scored was the same exact play that Kroft was running when he suffered an injury in OTAs way back in June. What a sweet full circle moment for him].

The attention to detail shown by the Bills coaching staff in preparing their players in this way may just have given the Bills the jolt they needed to go down the field in just a handful of plays and score the touchdown from which Pittsburgh would never recover. Huge tip of the cap to Sean McDermott for this awesomeness. Said Ed Oliver: “We took their juice and made it our juice. Point blank, period”.

5.) In defense of conservative calls. While Bills Twitter was a pretty jubilant place after Sunday night’s win, I did see a decent amount of frustration and hand wringing over some of the conservative decisions McDermott made throughout the game.

Namely, the decision not to attempt to score points before the half and the decision after White’s second half interception to run the ball six straight times seemed to be the objects of ire. Given the quality of the opposing defense against whom the Bills offense was lining up, I had no problem whatsoever with either decision.

It was clear as the game wore on that the Steelers offense was not going to be able to score many points on the Bills defense. The only way, then, that the Steelers would win is if the Bills gifted them turnovers.

As such, coach McDermott was content to go into the locker room at halftime with a 7-3 lead. Against a different opponent, or if the Bills quarterback was more seasoned and trustworthy and less “holy shit!” inducing with this decision making, I could understand the “go for points” narrative. Things being as they were, though? Coach made the right call.

And those six straight runs after the White INT? Again, I can’t find too much fault there. First, it’s important to mention that one of those called runs was actually supposed to be an HB pass from Frank Gore to the tight end.

I believe that part of the strategy of going with heavy personnel and running a lot at that spot in the game was to lull the Steelers into selling out on run defense and, thus, to open up the HB pass play.

Things didn’t quite work out that way, as the Steelers defense was not fooled and had the play covered beautifully. Moreover, coach McDermott seems to me to have a really good feel for what is needed in a given moment in order to give his team the best chance to win.

His judgement based on how the game was unfolding was that his team absolutely needed 3 points there and could not afford to give the ball back to the Steelers, who had already taken it from the Bills offense on two previous occasions. I believe he had faith that his defense would not allow any more Steelers scores, and that his offense could get into position for at least a game winning field goal. In the end, his judgement proved prudent. I, for one, had no problem with the choices he made.

6.) Let’s take this show on the road. For what feels like the millionth time this season, Bills Mafia invaded an opposing NFL stadium. Several Bills fans on Twitter stated that more than a few Steelers fans and stadium workers remarked that this was the most fans of an opposing team they had ever seen in their stadium.

Not only that, I also saw several comments during and after the game from Steelers fans questioning why the crowd got so loud on 3rd downs when the STEELERS had the ball. Why? Well, because there were lots and lots of Bills fans in the stands, and Bills fans get a bit crazy.

We all know that Bills Mafia travels extremely well, and that there are Bills fans all over the country and, for that matter, the world. To make such a great showing against the Steelers, though, who are recognized by many as possibly the best traveling fan base of any team in the NFL, was all the sweeter.

And what has been the result of the weekly invasions of Bills fans? Josh Allen stated after the game that Bills Mafia has been making every away game feel like a home game for the Bills, and that the team was sincerely thankful.

This looks to be more than hyperbole, too: In the 60 year history of the franchise, this is the first time EVER that the Bills have gone 6-1 on the road through seven away games. Great work as always, Bills fans.


The Extra Point

In some ways, this season feels like a dream. From the successful Bills 2019 Revenge Tour (avenging Super Bowl losses to the Giants, Redskins, and Cowboys, avenging the Music City Miracle against Tennessee, and now avenging the 2004 Steelers 3rd stringer playoff ouster), to the now standard “welcome home” parties of Bills fans at Buffalo’s airport in the wee hours of the morning, to the wins in nationally televised games — If it IS a dream, may I never wake up from it!

At the very least, the 2019 Buffalo Bills are showing that they are not tied to the stinging pain and endless heartache of the franchise’s past. They are a new team, with new resolve, new toughness, and new levels of perseverance in the face of adversity.

Games like Thanksgiving day in Dallas and Sunday night in Pittsburgh used to be sure losses for the Bills. Now? Not so much. These young Bills are showing that they are ready to play with the NFL’s big boys. They are ready to step out of the anonymity of 1 p.m. games shown only in western New York and onto a national stage. They are ready to step up and write their own story, rather than being beholden to a past that too often saw our beloved franchise snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Bills fans should be extremely pleased with and proud of their team. They play with tenacity, resilience, grit, and pride. They play with togetherness, love, and persistence. They are a reflection of their hard working and meticulous head coach and their smart and purposeful GM.

Through hard work and determination, they have secured ten wins for the first time in 20 years. They have clinched a playoff spot on their own merits, rather than depending on help from other teams and other game outcomes — and they have done so with two weeks remaining in the regular season, no small feat.

Bills fans should also be optimistic about the future. 2019 feels like the start of something lasting and real and substantial. If anything, the team is ahead of schedule.

With $90million and nine draft picks, Brandon Beane will almost certainly see to it that the Bills field an even better team next year than the one they have this year. As Sal Cappaccio said on WGR: “The Bills future looks even brighter than their present, and at present, they have ten wins”.

Indeed, with another big time win on a national stage and a freshly punched playoff ticket, a new era has dawned in Buffalo. This isn’t some one year wonder, some smoke and mirrors trick. This team is here to stay. As Dion Dawkins said “This is the new normal”. Get used to it, Bills fans.

Editor’s babble: Thanks to Matthew Rule for his terrific contributions to our blog. You can find Matthew on Twitter @MatthewtheRule.

About Matthew Rule

Matthew Rule is a long time Bills diehard, former season ticket holder, relentless optimist, and survivor of the 6 to 3 Bills-Browns game of '09. These days, he lives with his lovely wife in Portland, Oregon.