Bills ground and pound to ‘ho-hum’ playoff berth

Buffalo Bills

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WROC) — No one will probably remember much about this Bills win over the Falcons.

The team that was favored by 14 points won by 14 points. Heck, the 44-point total was even right on the Vegas over/under number in most places. There was snow on the field, but this was no “weather” game for Western New York. It was just as if the snow function was turned on for a video game.

The Bills did not play particularly well. If I showed you Josh Allen’s passing line before the game, you would have wondered why he was throwing the ball left-handed. Buffalo got the job done and that’s all that matters this time of year. Even against a fairly middling at best team like the Falcons.

There were still certainly a decent amount of positives. Right out front is Devin Singletary and the run game. Sean McDermott called Singletary an “animal” for the way he ran in the second half and he’s right. It wasn’t just that Singletary put up a career-high 110 yards and scored twice, it was his style of running. He would not go down. He juked defenders. He ran them over. He got every available inch from almost every run.

McDermott said it was inspiring. In the 17th week and the fifth month of a long season–even with everything on the line–it never hurts to find a little inspiration from a relatively unexpected source.

Singletary wasn’t the only run game success story. This was a team-wide commitment to the run. The Bills ran 23 plays combined on their last two touchdown drives. Only four were pass attempts. It was almost as if Brian Daboll rummaged through the bottom of his offensive game plan drawer, dusted the cobwebs off the Oklahoma Wishbone offense and decided to go with that in the second half.

It never hurts to find a new plan that can win games. Atlanta’s defense may not be the 1985 Bears, but they are top ten in the NFL in yards allowed per rushing attempt. The Bills gashed Atlanta for 5.3 a carry on 44 attempts. That’s a nice day for a team who will always use the ground game as an off-speed pitch.

The defense was more than good enough and, most important, they were good enough when they had to be. Nothing underlines this point better than the Ed Oliver show at the beginning of the third quarter.

The Bills were flailing at that point. Allen had turned it over for the third consecutive possession. The Falcons, who appeared dead at 14-2, rebounded to take a lead and had a chance to go in for more.

Oliver started with a tackle for a loss on Cordarrelle Patterson and followed with a sack on Matt Ryan. He was even in the vicinity when Mike Davis bobbled and dropped a throw that would have gotten the Falcons a few yards closer. The Bills caught a break on the possession because Falcons head coach Arthur Smith botched his game management and was not even able to get a field goal attempt, but the stop was still huge. McDermott was fist-pumping and jumping around as excited as I’ve ever seen him on the sidelines.

This is what the Bills defense likely will have to be in the playoffs. The days of demolishing teams like the Texans or Jets or those playing Covid mandated third string quarterbacks will soon be over (we hope). In the postseason, the Bills are going to give up yards and points. Championship defenses make big stops in big spots. That’s what the Bills did against Atlanta.

This game was far from all sunshine and rainbows. How Buffalo was not able to establish a passing game on what is, by far, the worst NFL pass rush is a mystery worthy of Robert Stack. The Bills caught a big break when Kyle Pitts got injured just as he was starting to make game-changing plays worthy of his draft status.

The first half alone could have been way worse. Marquez Stevenson fumbled (again!) a punt that could have easily turned into seven points for Atlanta instead of two. Buffalo was on the correct end of a bang-bang pass interference call on the goal line and a juggled catch on the sideline by Gabriel Davis. Flip those two plays and it erases ten Buffalo points. They struggled at home with a team that was asking to be dominated.

McDermott and company still found their way to a comeback win that’ll go down as yet another relatively dominating victory. It’s a victory that clinched Buffalo their fourth playoff spot in five years. Both accomplishments will get a collective yawn from Western New York.

That’s who the Bills are now. Winning by 14 points doesn’t even raise an eyebrow most of the time. Making the playoffs is no cause for celebration. It’s a huge credit to what McDermott and Brandon Beane have built in Buffalo. It’s one of the really good turnaround stories in the NFL and even professional sports.

The Bills were the NFL’s laughing stock. The perennial league doormat. Now, Buffalo is one of the AFC’s gold standard franchises. They are the rebuild the other teams try to imitate and the rebuild that other teams’ fans dream about.

There’s still lots of work to be done and there wasn’t a Bills player within shouting distance of a microphone that said otherwise Sunday. Two playoff wins and zero Super Bowl appearances are not anyone’s goal franchise.

This first Sunday of 2022 is is the type of game many perennial playoff teams have as a non-descript line on their resume and it’s nothing most Bills fans or players or coaches will talk about much. Even if it does put the “x-” next to their name in the standings.

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