Bills continue playoff push with 24-22 win over Chargers

12/24/2023
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The Buffalo Bills escape Los Angeles with a win, bringing their record to 9-6 on the season and continuing their push for the playoffs. That was not the most pleasant game of football that Bills fans have watched all year—not the worst, but certainly not fun, either. The Chargers had a lot of things going for them, and despite the best efforts of the Bills to lose that game, they ultimately found a way out of the hole they dug themselves in.

Below we’ll take a look at the most inspired takeaway from this game, what part of the team needs to be inquired about, a player that requires a better performance, and the most irksome parts of this game. 

Inspire – Winning:

Was it pretty? Not even a little. Was it perfect? It never is. Was it a pretty good encapsulation of the Bills’ 2023 season? Almost! Unlike many of these games that have played out in this way, the Bills actually won this game! So that should make fans feel good about this one right? Right? 

Let’s first positively frame this before we delve into the multitude of criticism the Bills deserve. The Chargers had a longer week to prepare as they played Thursday Night Football the week before. They removed a dark cloud that was clearly plaguing them by firing Brandon Staley and inserting Giff Smith as the interim head coach, and as any football fan will tell you, there’s always a bump in play when the interim coach has his first game. The Bills also had to fly all the way to Los Angeles on a (slightly) shorter week, to play in a slot they don’t normally play in. The Chargers, on the whole, played a much more disciplined brand of football than they have for most of the season, and playing largely mistake-free football often leads to wins. Not having turnovers, keeping your quarterback clean, having a better ground game—typically these are things that all but guarantee a win. Perhaps even more so when the other team gives up three turnovers themselves. Despite all their self-inflicted wounds, the Bills escaped with a win. Sometimes good teams have bad games, and they win anyway, and while it would be tough to say the Bills are a good team after that performance, their record and many supporting numbers suggest that they are. 

Need a little more convincing? In 2008 the Philadelphia Eagles finished the year 9-6-1. Donovan McNabb got benched in a blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens, bringing their season to 5-5-1, and with the Cowboys and Giants well ahead of them in the division, it looked over for them. The Eagles then rip off three straight wins while Dallas begins to tumble during December. In Week 16, the Eagles blow a game against a bad Washington team, losing 3-10, and their hopes for the playoffs looked over. But a bizarre win by the Texans in Week 17 against the Bears kept Chicago out of the playoffs, bringing it all down to a win-or-go-home situation with the Eagles and the Cowboys. The Eagles dominated the game, winning 44-6, and would go on to the NFC Championship game against the Arizona Cardinals.

So yes, although they were outplayed for the majority of the game, the Bills still finished their job. They didn’t drop this game at the end, they didn’t have a penalty to set up a miraculous hail mary attempt, and they didn’t give up a lateral play with no time left (a feat made possible by Christian Benford and Damar Hamlin staying disciplined against the throwback the Chargers were attempting to set up). At the end of the day, a win is a win, and the Bills needed it to keep their playoff hopes alive and keep control of their destiny. They likely won’t even need a Texans-Bears miracle to save them as the ‘08 Eagles did.

Inquire – Pass Rush:

The Bills’ defense had a recipe for success set up with a third-string center making a start, and having Easton Stick making the second start of his career. The Bills’ pass rush simply did not get enough pressure given these circumstances. A few sacks were critical to keeping the Chargers at bay, but there was no reason for this to not be a much more successful game for the Bills’ pass rush which has been one of the best during this season. The offense certainly didn’t help matters much, but there was no reason to think this pass rush wouldn’t be successful coming into this game. The question is, why weren’t they able to take advantage of this clear mismatch? Why weren’t they able to dictate the game against this weak, disjointed Chargers offense the way they were able to do so to the Cowboys and Chiefs the last few weeks?

Require – Josh Allen: 

It was a fairly typical Josh Allen night by the stat sheet. A few touchdowns, including two on the ground that put him in third place all-time in Bills franchise history, along with an Interception. That interception was more emblematic of Allen’s performance tonight than the touchdowns were, unfortunately. Early on, Allen was missing on throws, not setting his base, and throwing with bad mechanics. After back-to-back big games from Allen against the Jets and Eagles, he’s had a quiet or disjointed couple of games in a row. A hot start against the Chiefs fizzled by the end. Against the Cowboys, he wasn’t required to do much with James Cook running wild from start to finish. Against the Chargers, he looked very off to start, began to settle in, threw an ugly pick going back across his body (again, with poor mechanics) and it was simply another up-and-down performance that will give people pause about what the end game for the Bills will be this season. Given their current schedule, it seems likely that the Bills will be in the playoffs, but if Allen continues this style of up-and-down play, it won’t be an easy or overly successful postseason run for this team. The bottom line is that Allen has to play better; he’s had many moments of greatness this season, and he’s had too many moments of frustrating and inconsistent play. Ultimately, the Bills, and Allen, did enough to get the win, but this trend of the passing game being lackluster is disconcerting this close to the postseason.

Irk – Turnovers & Sloppy Play:

At the end of the day, the Bills are a good and talented team. It makes their season all the more frustrating, as the Bills are the only team that can truly beat the Bills. Injuries on defense have been devastating, there’s no doubt of that, but the defense was simply not the biggest problem tonight. Frankly, the Bills’ defense had an excellent performance given how many times they were put into terrible positions by both the offense and the special teams. An early Deonte Harty fumble on a punt return led directly to a Chargers TD and a late Cook fumble forced the Bills’ defense to step up with their backs against the wall, to try to force a FG (which they did). While Bills fans are likely tired of hearing about it, the reality is that they didn’t play complementary football tonight. The defense carried them throughout the game while the offense sputtered to get 24 points, and the special teams unit gave up the aforementioned turnover along with wasting a timeout on a fourth and long. It was sloppy play all around, but the turnovers in particular made this game far closer than it ever should have been. They escape with a win, but they cannot allow this type of play to continue throughout the rest of the season if they want to have any hope of making a playoff run of any sort.

The Bills will travel back to Buffalo with an extra day to prepare for the New England Patriots in Buffalo. The Patriots stole a win from the Bills earlier in the season, and it’s probably fair to say that loss in particular is still on the minds of the Bills’ players and coaches as they head into this week. With New England also looking checked out of the 2023 season, the Bills might have a good game ahead of them… as long as they don’t shoot themselves in the foot too much along the way. 

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