Division title that did not come easy for Bills may be better success than one that did

Buffalo Bills

(Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

The Bills were fortunate they did not need their ‘A’ game against the Jets. Or even their ‘B-‘ game.

They were fortunate not to face any of a dozen teams (or more) that would have probably beaten the squad in red and blue that showed up to Orchard Park for week 18. They might have even been fortunate the Jets were without two offensive line starters and their three top receivers.

None of that matters. The Bills earned the right to win with a sloppy game two weeks ago by beating the Patriots up to Foxboro. They were the best team in the AFC East. Unquestionably. That does not change because the season finale was not a Mona Lisa.

The Buffalo defense sure saw plenty of beauty in the division clinching victory, especially because it cemented their spot as the statistical number one defense in the NFL. Number one in scoring defense (1st time in team history). Number one in yards allowed. Number one in passing yards allowed. There are plenty more categories with Buffalo on top, but you get the point.

This Bills defense built this season’s success by throttling NFL doormats and the win against the Jets might have been their signature performance. The Bills held New York to 53 total yards, second best in team history. They allowed only four first downs. That’s not only a team record, but the lowest number by any NFL defense since 2008.

Those might look like crazy numbers, but we’re just getting warmed up. The real bananas stats are in the passing game. The Bills had more sacks of Zach Wilson (8) than Wilson had completions (7). Since NFL stats subtract yards sacked from team passing yards, the Jets ended up with a grand total of five (5!) team passing yards in the game. In the 21st century. In a game that was not played under water. Were it not for one mistake on a fourth down in the first half, this might have been one of the two or three greatest defensive performances in NFL history.

Yeah, sure… the Jets are a 13-loss team playing on the road with a rookie QB and missing a quarter of their starters. This was still an NFL team in a game they were trying to win. It’s an incredible performance no matter how you slice it.

The Bills also really needed it. After an electric start that featured one of the better pitch and catch TDs you’ll ever see, the offense meandered through much of the middle 20 to 30 minutes on Sunday. At one point, Josh Allen threw three straight incompletions that weren’t even within five yards of an intended receiver. It looked like a preseason game for a brand new quarterback with a brand new offense.

Throw in a Matt Haack punting game that he’ll probably want to burn and the Bills ended up playing with their food for far too long. They scored a couple of late TDs to make the Point Differential Patrol happy and finally rev up the division title party. However, an offensive showing like that next might not even get the Bills into double-digits against the Patriots. (By the way, congrats to all the new New York State bettors who took the Bills -16.5. Just beware. The dumb things in NFL betting usually go the other way).

That is kind of how this entire season has gone. Just like against the Jets, the Bills have looked fairly ugly for large chunks of 2021. As a result, Buffalo fell short of its preseason goal to be the number one seed in the AFC playoffs.

Sean McDermott didn’t get his team to the top of the conference (yet), but they still fought their way to be first in the division. It’s no small accomplishment.

“We went through every phase of adversity this year,” Dion Dawkins said. They still came out in a good spot on the other side.

I have wondered if this team could fight through adversity and win. They rolled through the last two seasons until hitting a playoff stopper. Magical quarterback performances by DeShaun Watson two years ago and Pat Mahomes last year caved the Bills both times without much of a response.

This season was filled with starts and stops. Obstacles. Bumps in the road. Even back in the preseason, the Covid controversy had potential to disrupt the locker room. The Bills still figured things out. They found a way to win the games they had to win.

There’s going to be more adversity in the playoffs. Whether it’s Bill Belichick or Mahomes or Derrick Henry or maybe even Joe Burrow, someone is going to stagger the Bills with an uppercut. Every team that makes the Super Bowl will have to take a punch and keep coming. Buffalo did that this regular season.

This group succeeded in must-win regular season games for the first time together. Getting that done might be more of an accomplishment the dominating on the way to a 1-seed. The Bills also proved they can elevate in the big spots. Allen was as good as it gets against the Patriots along with the rest of the offense. They might need two or three more of those in the playoffs.

The Bills don’t have a one seed, but they will be a dangerous contender as the three. That would not be true without a division title. I don’t think anyone in the AFC is good enough to win three consecutive road playoff games. Buffalo won’t have to. They might not even have to win two.

The players got to wear T-shirts after the game that said they “run the east”. The same as last year, but also very different. Maybe better. And certainly not something where the Bills needed to be fortunate.

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