DETROIT, M.I. (WROC) — The Bills started this game looking like a team that had been distracted all week. Of course, they were.
The incomparable Sal Capaccio made a valid point when I brought this up to him on the sideline during the game. He said, no matter what, the narrative would be based on escaping the snowstorm. If the Bills didn’t play well, they were distracted. If they did play well, then going through all the adversity brought the team together. It probably ended up being a little bit of both.
The first half of this game was very no bueno. Fortunately for the Bills, it was Cleveland on the other sideline. Two dropped passes near the goal line probably turned a sure touchdown into a field goal. A Jacoby Brissett dropped snap turned into a lost fumble that short-circuited a promising Browns drive with tons of momentum. At minimum, the Browns likely flushed seven points that could have made Buffalo’s early hole much deeper.
Good teams will make you pay for those kinds of mistakes and the Bills did exactly that. The only drive Josh Allen really looked like Josh Allen was the end of the first-half touchdown that gave his team the lead. It was a gorgeous and ruthless two-minute drill. Really, the game was Buffalo’s from there.
Beyond that end-of-half TD, the Bills passing game seemed quite a bit off. Dawson Knox put together his best day of the year and Gabe Davis rallied from another inexcusable drop early, but this was the fourth game in a row where Allen had a sizable stretch of head-scratching play.
He talked a lot last week about how important it was to have all the hours in the training room using the team facilities to get his injured elbow ready for the game on Sunday. This week, he didn’t have nearly as many hours because no one got to be at the facility on Friday and Saturday was all about just trying to reach the airport.
Allen’s struggles didn’t bite the Bills in this game because they had a run game to rely upon. Both Devin Singletary and James Cook ran for 86 yards. Cook showed what he can do if you can find him space. He hits holes and gets downhill in a hurry. The Browns are a pretty bad defense, so I’m not going to look at this game as the harbinger of Cook’s immediate future as an every-week weapon. Every bit of confidence and success does still help a rookie who has struggled most of the year.
For once, the Bills were the dominant winner on both sides of the run game. That’s a pretty big shocker when you think about the offense they absolutely shut down in this game. Nick Chubb did not have a game this year where he averaged less than 4.4 yards of carry. He had barely 1.4 against the Bills. Jordan Phillips began a postgame media session by proclaiming Matt Milano should be defensive player of the year. Milano continued to make a very good case in this game with ten tackles, a sack and a recovered fumble.
The biggest run stop of the game wasn’t against a Browns running back. It was against their quarterback. Brissett’s back-to-back failed QB sneaks inside the Bills 30 with the Browns down only 16-10 was the end of Cleveland being competitive. The Bills said they heavily scouted and prepared for sneaks in that spot. They knew the Browns had been incredibly successful with the sneak and Brissett’s bulky 6-4 frame.
For a team that’s had some fairly Infamous failures in unique game situations lately (13 Seconds, Hail Murray, last week’s 4th down Justin Jefferson miracle) the Bills are suddenly nails on QB sneaks. Phillips has a good thought about it.
“I think offenses take the play off on that play just because they think it’s so easy,” Phillips said. “And when you get hit in the mouth, it’s like, ‘Oh, (bleep)’.” The Bills have bloodied some lips from Minnesota and Cleveland the last two weeks.
Shaq Lawson was in the middle of 4th down QB sneak stops each of the last two weeks. Lawson had such large expectations as a first-round pick, it’s a bit unfair not to appreciate the effective player he’s become. Quarterback sneaks can be an attitude play. It’s really just O-line vs. D-line. Any push wins. Attitude is something Lawson always brought in spades. It’s appreciated in that locker room.
“Everything about Shaq is energy and good positive vibes and juice,” Ed Oliver said. “He brings that ‘I don’t give a damn. 4th and inches? I got your back’.”
And let’s give Tyler Bass some overdue love. He became the first Bills kicker to ever make six field goals in a game after only six attempts in this game. He’s also only the second player in NFL history to hit over 100 consecutive PATs after the league moved the attempt back (he’s now at 102).
My Buffalo Kickoff Live (every Sunday starting at 11 a.m.!) co-host Josh Reed pointed out today it’s a good thing when you never have to talk about the kicker. Bass deserves some talk. Buffalo’s kicker made all six of his tries. The Cleveland kicker made only half of his (thank you, DaQuan Jones). Reverse that success rate and this is an entirely different game.
This Bills’ win will be remembered more for the week that preceded it than much of what happened during it. In fact, both went just about the same way. The Bills started sluggish. There was some doubt about the team’s direction. After a while, they figured out a plan that could work and ended up exactly where they needed to be.
It was a hard week for the team. It was a hard week for Buffalo and Orchard Park. When it was over, there were no excuses. There was just a win. It’s no small accomplishment. Not for the Bills or Western New York.
“We left our families. We left the city of Buffalo with everybody there dealing with what they’re dealing with. It’s nice to give them something to be happy about,” Phillips said.
“It would suck to leave everybody to come out here and lose.”