DETROIT, Mich. (WROC) — When the Tyler Bass game-winning field goal split the uprights, there wasn’t much celebrating on the Bills sideline. They just looked exhausted.
It’s much different than what happened in Baltimore after that game ended with a walk-off kick. Stefon Diggs couldn’t stop talking trash to the Ravens fans. There was yelling and high-fives. Guys were bouncing around. The Bills were fired up. And that field goal from only 19 yards away was fait accompli before the ball even touched Bass’ toe.
In Detroit, Josh Allen yelled excitedly at his family behind the Bills bench. Once. Rodger Saffold thought about saying something towards the Detroit crowd, but apparently didn’t have the energy. Bass didn’t even draw much of a crowd celebrating on the field.
Of course the Bills were tired. After shortened practices and canceled practices and snow storms and game location changes and two road trips in five days, any football team would look a little worn out. It didn’t help the Bills had to fight another battle with the injury bug, losing their best lineman on each side of the ball.
When Buffalo needed plays to win, this team showed layer upon layer of championship mettle. This game was a battle. It was a grinder’s win. It’s no surprise Sean McDermott practically skipped to the locker room in glee afterwards. This is the kind of victory any football head coach would like so much, they’d put a ring on it.
In the Bills locker room after the game, the first guy who got a game ball was Josh Allen. He also got a little hair tousle from his giddy head coach. Allen might be a quarterback, but unlike most quarterbacks, he’s also a football player. He football player’ed his backside off to get this win.
After spending three and a half quarters looking lost a bit and harassed a ton, Allen put together a 90-yard drive to give the Bills a lead. Then he went 48 yards in 21 seconds to give the Bills the win. If you throw out the lack of playoff stakes, I thought those two back-to-back drives were just as impressive as what he did in Kansas City during the divisional playoff loss last year.
He finished with 331 total yards and three total touchdowns. All while battling through an elbow injury that continues to prevent him from doing much throwing between games. It’s just reason number 1,428 why Bills fan should thank their lucky stars he is their quarterback.
Put Diggs on that pedestal right next to Allen. He only had 12 yards receiving before the final two drives (we’ll get to that in a moment). When the Bills needed him, Diggs made the two plays that essentially won them this game: the touchdown with less than three minutes to go and the 38-yard catch to set up the winning field goal.
“When I anticipate going into those drives, those last drives, I’m riding my (Quarterback). I tell him to trust me out there,” Diggs said. “Whatever you see, it’s me or nobody. My team looks for me to make those plays. I never want to let my teammates down.”
I’ve talked before about how the Bills have stars that can change games and win games by themselves. Allen and Diggs proved sometimes it only takes five or seven clutch minutes.
While the Bills stars were doing star things, Tyler Bass accomplished maybe the hardest thing of all. He moved on after a game-changing miss to make a game-saving winner. This 44 yard kick in Detroit was easily the toughest of his career. His teammates were incredibly impressed.
Josh Allen: “I don’t think you guys understand how big that is for a guy to do that in this league. For him to just feel a rollercoaster of emotions and go step up and nail it.”
AJ Klein: “It’s a huge kick, it’s a clutch kick. He’s been doing that his whole career… he’ll show up in the big time for us.”
DaQuan Jones: “He showed his confidence in himself to go out there and hit a game winner. I don’t think anyone on the sideline had any doubts about it.”
McDermott: “That’s how you earn trust, when you do that. When you give a player that second chance right there. I didn’t have to mess with him. He’s so mentally tough.”
It’s appropriate that, after having his consecutive regular season point after streak snapped at 104 makes in a row, Bass turned right around and hit a game-winner. There were questions about whether or not Bass could succeed under end of game pressure entering this season simply because he had never attempted it in the NFL. Those questions are all gone. If the Bills’ playoff fate comes down to Bass’ right leg, the sideline in red and blue is going to feel zero worry.
The Bills tested the next man up theory a ton in this game and showed “next man up” doesn’t always mean the guy who comes in off the bench. When Von Miller went down with a knee injury at the end of the first half, Ed Oliver was the next man up to become the anchor and the leader the Buffalo defensive line needs. “The tip of the spear” as he calls it.
Oliver finished with two tackles for a loss, a sack, a safety, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble. The man apparently sure does love playing on Thanksgiving. In a game where every point mattered, Oliver’s single-handed turnover and his two pointer were easily game savers.
They might have even been season savers. Had the Bills lost this game, they would have dropped to two losses behind the Chiefs. Since the AFC East has stunningly become the top to bottom gauntlet most expected in the AFC West, the Bills schedule looks a whole lot more difficult than Kansas City’s. It might be hard to find two more losses for the Chiefs this year. A Buffalo team at 7-4 with four tough division games remaining probably wouldn’t have realistic hope of chasing down a 1-seed. Instead, the Bills are 8-3 and that dream remains very much within grasp.
That doesn’t mean there still aren’t major questions to answer coming out of this game. Despite scoring 89 points in the last three games, the Bills offense doesn’t look quite right. There’s no doubt that Allen’s elbow injury is a part of the issue, but I think it would also be wrong to say it’s the entire problem. Gabe Davis had another big throw bounce off his hands. Dawson Knox was invisible for 51 minutes.
I know the Bills were down their two best and most dependable offensive lineman for most of this game, but pressure seemed to arrive as much due to Allen not being able to find a receiver as it did from a defensive line jailbreak. This Lions secondary is one of the worst in the NFL and they were missing their best player. It’s inexcusable that Diggs and Davis and Knox could not find open space downfield. Isaiah McKenzie had the second best game of his career. Kudos to him. He’s only had one other game this season with more than 40 yards. His production is still much more anomaly than trend.
I thought Ken Dorsey had some good and some bad moments. The last couple weeks he’s figured out a way to convert 3rd/4th and short without beating Allen up. Devin Singletary went two for two on such situations in this game. However, I put the red zone interception squarely on the offensive coordinator. The Bills have been running that RPO/play action slant to Diggs and Davis in the low red zone all season. Teams figured it out weeks ago. Going back to it now is asking for an interception.
I think this is what should probably be expected of a rookie coordinator. Like any other rookie, he makes his share of mistakes. It might be hard for a team with such championship promise to accept that, but this is the bed the Bills will lie in for better or worse.
It was great to see Tre White back on the field, even if it was on a pitch count. His return did not stop number one receivers from continuing to roast the Buffalo secondary like a turkey on a spit. Amon-Ra St. Brown made it 500 yards and four touchdowns in the last four games from the other team’s #1 wideout.
It seems there’s growing frustration with Dane Jackson among the fan base. I understand that, but the Bills don’t have a better option. A change may still be warranted. Christian Benford and Kaiir Elam are yet to put anything demonstrably better than Jackson on film, but both have a better upside as rookies.
I’d expect White to continue ramping up reps as the season progresses. I still think Jackson can play. A four-man rotation might be the best plan for a while until White settles in and/or a second option emerges from the three-man crowd behind him.
Buffalo was a little fortunate it was Detroit on the other sideline for this one. The Lions are a big pain, but they aren’t yet very good. Buffalo’s final two go-ahead drives were keyed by one of the dumbest roughing the passer penalties you’ll ever see and a two minute drill strategy that defied explanation.
This was not a championship-caliber team the Bills ran out for Thanksgiving day. At least, not the team on the field at the end of the day. There’s no doubt getting White up the speed, Jordan Poyer a little healthier and Tremaine Edmunds back on the field will make a big difference for the defense. Fingers will be crossed about Von Miller’s MRI on Friday, but anything less than a major injury is plenty survivable.
Allen’s elbow seems to be getting better. The injuries to Dion Dawkins and Mitch Morse appear far from season-ending. It’s still hard to shake the feeling of the Bills injury issues might be hard to shake. As McDermott says, we’ll take that one day or one week at a time.
On this day, the Bills played a helluva game. They shook off failures, struggles and a weak of adversity to make all the plays that mattered in the final five minutes. Whether or not the team on the field was at a championship level doesn’t matter. Wins like that are how championship seasons are built.
Normally, a Thursday victory is rewarded with an extended break. Not this time. Next up is another Thursday game at the home of headaches in Foxboro. Where I’m sure Bill Belichick has been seething for the last 11 months over how the Bills offense embarrassed his defense out of the playoffs last year. He’ll be out for bear.
I hope the Bills can get some rest.