LONDON (WROC) — The reason the Bills lost to the Jaguars was because they couldn’t keep the same 11 guys on defense standing for more than five consecutive plays. Or at least it felt that way.
However, the thing that failed Buffalo in London was the offense. The same squad that rolled up 14 touchdowns over the last three games could only muster one until Jacksonville went into prevent mode. Josh Allen may have ended up with 359 yards. Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis each topped 100 receiving, but that wasn’t just lipstick on a pig. That was a pig with sequins, heels and a tiara.
James Cook did his best Reggie Bush impression, finishing with five carries for negative four yards. Cook hasn’t proven to be much more than a run-of-the-mill starter so far, but leaving the top back in the red is about more than just who that back is.
Ken Dorsey must have forgotten the run section of the playbook in the states. Buffalo ran the ball with a running back only nine times in the first 39 plays. That’s also nine runs in eight possessions. And this was all while Jacksonville had only 11 points or less.
No one is going to confuse the Bills for the Derrick Henry Titans or 1983 Nebraska, and no one wants excessive snaps with the ball out of Allen’s hands. But this is an offense that regularly preaches balance and being multiple. Damien Harris and Latavius Murray had five carries for 19 yards. Cook’s spectacular fail notwithstanding, those numbers aren’t bad enough to junk the run altogether in a game that was still competitive. Dorsey has shown plenty of signs of improvement this season. This game does not seem to be one.
The Bills short, quick passing game met a team that had an answer for it and that answer was tackling. On the Bills streak of four opening possession punts, eight of Allen’s 11 passes went for five yards or less. Only three of those were incompletions. The Jags might have been giving up the same throws Allen was getting the last three weeks, but those throws were not going any further. It’s a far cry from the Dolphins who spent most of last week in Orchard Park grabbing at air.
The Bills said they came out flat. They didn’t have the same energy. Fans were quick to blame the trip to London. While the players would not allow that as an excuse, Sean McDermott did seem to indicate the transatlantic travel enough of a factor to maybe not do this same schedule again.
“We’ll see if whatever comes up down the road in terms of us coming back here, but we need to evaluate everything because I didn’t think our energy was good enough for early in the game. They had better energy than we did.”
Putting the blame on game location is less excuse, much more inexcusable. The Bills had months to plan for this trip. There have been 16 games in London since McDermott took over. Almost the entire league has played a game there recently. The entire Bills organization could have called virtually anyone they know around the league for advice.
Traveling on Thursday wasn’t the problem, either. Four of the six teams last season traveled on Thursday. The Jags have won two of their last three London games flying out Thursday. If the Bills didn’t like their travel plan, that’s on them.
The Bills weren’t ready to go because… the Bills weren’t ready to go. They could have played this game in London, Madagascar or Orchard Park. Buffalo was flat. End of story. It’s something that happens to every team in this league and is entirely unsurprising after a wildly successful statement win over a division rival the week before.
It’s too bad the offense didn’t have it, because the defense put up a heroic effort despite the constant departure of personnel.
AJ Epenesa continued his strong season. Forget the sack that took Jacksonville points off the board at the end of the first half. I’ve never seen a defensive end who could force teams to remove receiver screens from the playbook because he’s so good at erasing them.
Tyrel Dodson had a pass breakup and a tackle for a loss. Dorian Williams flashed a few times. Terrel Bernard piled up 16 tackles. The Jags helped out with bonehead penalties and general unpreparedness, but the Bills’ island of misfit toys kept this a one-possession game deep into the fourth quarter.
At some point, the lack of bodies and talent was going to catch up with Buffalo. Matt Milano and DaQuan Jones would have been the perfect guys to shut off the last Travis Etienne touchdown run. Micah Hyde, for all his ability, is not who Buffalo wants to be matched up against a top receiver on third down needing a stop to have a chance.
This might only be the beginning. McDermott said the long-term outlook for Milano’s injured knee and Jones’ injured pec was not good. For all of Allen’s wondrous ability, it seemed this Buffalo team might actually be led by an elite defense. We may be talking about the Bills losing elite or near-elite players for the season at all three levels of that defense by Monday morning.
If a Jaguar team intent on handing out chances like Halloween candy can eventually wear down this version of the Bills defense, what are the Kansas City’s, Miami’s, Philadelphia’s and San Francisco’s of the world going to do?
The good news is Buffalo will have a cavalry of defensive ends on the way. Von Miller, as he put it, got his toes wet against the Jags. When he’s ready to “swim with the big boys”, Buffalo will have an elite pair of edge rushers with Miller and Floyd. Greg Rousseau has gotten better and could return as a really damn good third defensive end. Ed Oliver was a force again in London. The pass rush can very well still be superb.
Buffalo should also get Christian Benford back in the secondary. That’s a good thing because Kaiir Elam is now just sunk cost. After being inactive the first four games, Elam got the start against Jacksonville. However, he was replaced by practice squad call-up Ja’Marcus Ingram in crunch time.
The Bills have now shown over and over they don’t believe in Elam, even as Elam says he believes in himself. “I have faith that I can help this team win,” he said afterward.
It doesn’t matter. The Bills are only going to use him if they’re backed into a corner. His path to Buffalo success is something along the lines of what’s happening to Zach Wilson with the Jets. If there is anything reasonable Brandon Beane can get for Elam on the trade market, it should happen. For the sake of both parties.
Dion Dawkins said after the game there’s still lots of season left. And he’s right. What the Bills might already be running low on are formulas that add up to a Super Bowl run. The super-elite defense idea may be out the window.
As mentioned above, a combination of nasty pass rushers with a developing playmaking linebacker in Bernard would create plenty of opponent headaches. Especially with the talent, experience and guile of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer behind them.
The offense has some room for improvement. Despite Davis’ gaudy numbers, there is still a job opening under “dependable second receiving option” in Buffalo. The offensive line remains a big improvement from 2022 and as long as Allen is upright, there is plenty of reason to hope.
I’ve always liked talking to Dawkins. At first, it was because his perspective so unique. So far from left field, it could not help but be fascinating. As Dawkins has matured, that perspective has become refined and at times, direct. He’ll still say things in ways no one else on planet Earth could imagine, but also with a sharp, almost biting accuracy.
“The NFL is 100 percent injury rate,” he said in reference to the amount of pro football players who will, at some point, get injured in their career. “It can happen in London. It can happen in a home game. It can happen in an away game.
“It sucks that that 100 percent hit a couple of our guys today… but it’s undefeated.”
The Bills lost to that 100 percent on Sunday. Without better and more consistency from the offense, we may look back at this game as the day that 100 percent killed another of Buffalo’s Super Bowl runs.