A very strange, very frustrating loss for the Buffalo Bills brings their record to 6-3 after falling in overtime to the Minnesota Vikings, 33-30. A wild comeback led to an even wilder back and forth at the end of the game, which ultimately led to overtime and a Vikings victory. The concern all week leading into this game was Josh Allen’s elbow injury, and in the first half, it looked like Allen was going to tough it out and win a game against a good Vikings team.
But ultimately, the Bills, Josh Allen, and Buffalo’s hold on top of the AFC East have crumbled.
Below we’ll take a look at an inspiring group of young players, a position group that is (again) causing some inquiries, a normally stellar group that requires a better performance, and the most irksome part of the game for the Bills.
Inspire – Young DBs:
The Bills were put in a tough position with Kaiir Elam’s ankle injury and Jaquan Johnson’s poor play at safety against the Jets last week. The Bills had to make some tough calls, choosing to play Christian Benford and Dane Jackson at CB and benching Jaquan Johnson in favor of Cam Lewis at safety (a position he has not played in the regular season before). Despite a tough situation at the end of the game, Benford, Jackson, and Lewis all played relatively well, with Benford and Jackson both coming up with INTs. It was certainly not a perfect performance, and by the late fourth quarter and OT, they could only do so much to stop them, but they were given the difficult task of covering Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, T.J. Hockenson, and defending Dalvin Cook in the ground game as well. They ultimately played well enough to keep the Bills in the game. It speaks to the Bills’ ability to coach up their DBs to play, at the very least, at an adequate level.
Inquire – Activating 6 RBs:
The Bills have had a lot of decisions to make this year in a very crowded running back room. Singletary being the lead back has been obvious since Week 1. James Cook is the change-up back, and Taiwan Jones is an elite special teams gunner. After trading Zack Moss and a sixth-round pick for Nyheim Hines at the trade deadline, it was clear that they felt the room needed an upgrade. Obviously, Moss wasn’t working, but Hines and Cook bring largely the same basic skill set and fill the same theoretical role. Hines has more shiftiness and return ability whereas Cook has more straight-line speed, but both are certainly viewed as speedy receiving backs. Then to add even more redundancy to that skill set, the Bills decided to activate Duke Johnson from the practice squad, who is another speedy, shifty, receiving back with some return ability. It’s not that any of the players are necessarily bad – each had their moments just in this game – but what is Johnson bringing to this offense that is not already there? What is the split between Cook and Hines going to look like moving forward? Will Ken Dorsey commit to Singletary for more than a few drives at a time? Where do the snaps with Cook factor in? It’s nearing dangerously close to a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation, and the Bills should start figuring out who *needs* to be on the field.
Require – Pass Rush:
The Bills’ pass rush, which has been quite good, particularly with the addition of Von Miller, was largely absent today. Cousins was given a lot of time to throw the ball, and when he wasn’t throwing directly at Bills defenders, he was effective as a passer. The absence of Greg Rousseau certainly matters, but for a team that is very deep on the defensive line, it should not have allowed Cousins to feel as comfortable as he did. A couple of sacks near the end of regulation before a miraculous Justin Jefferson catch ultimately were for naught and doesn’t make up for the lack of sacks and pressures through the game.
Irk – Short Yardage situations:
Two critical situations for the Bills in regulation that could be considered of the short-yardage variety were botched. The first was a fourth-quarter fourth-and-two from the Minnesota seven-yard line; Allen threw an ugly interception to Patrick Peterson in the end zone. Ultimately it’s not the INT that’s the problem, as an incompletion is largely the same result, but rather it’s the Bills’ struggles with short-yardage situations all season on offense. The Bills were clearly unwilling to use Allen on designed QB runs in this game due to his elbow injury, but even when he’s healthy and the threat to run/willingness to use designed runs is there, the Bills have struggled in short-yardage situations.
While this second situation is not technically a short-yardage situation, it’s a play that normally would be called in those situations, and the Bills botched it to the Nth degree. In the dying moments of regulation, the Bills’ defense stopped the Vikings on the Buffalo half-yard line, keeping Kirk Cousins out of the end zone on a sneak. On the very next play, the Bills botched a sneak of their own, with Allen fumbling the Mitch Morse snap in his own end zone. Eric Kendricks fell on the ball and gave Minnesota the momentary lead. Ultimately, the Bills have the skill players and enough strength on the OL, in addition to a mobile QB, to win in these situations and they are failing consistently. It’s not one thing or another, it’s bad decision-making from Allen, odd play calls from Dorsey, and skill players not doing their 1/11th. It’s a team issue in a team game, and the team needs to figure out how to fix it, and fast.
The Bills will stay at home to play the Cleveland Browns next week at 1:00 PM. The AFC East race has tightened at the top with the Dolphins overtaking the division, and the Jets only 0.5 a game behind them, and the Bills tumbling to third place after this latest loss. A comfortable lead and playoff tiebreakers over the other division leaders only matter if you’re leading your own division, and the Bills have not been able to do that. There is plenty of football left to be played, including four more division games, but the Bills now have to find ways to climb back up to the top, instead of simply defending their position.