What a scene it was in Orchard Park on Sunday to cap off what was one of the more emotional weeks in NFL history. The Buffalo Bills did beat the New England Patriots, completing the season sweep and ending their divisional foe’s playoff hopes. But that was not the only thing on people’s minds today, as everyone across the league showed their unyielding support for Damar Hamlin. The energy was palpable, and it fully exploded on the game’s first play, as Nyheim Hines took the opening kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown. An unreal scene unfolded, and the Bills ultimately took that energy and found a way to win the game 35-23.
Below we’ll take a look at the most inspired part of this game, a part of the offense that left us with some questions, another part that required a better performance, and air some grievances about the defense.
Inspire – Damar Hamlin and the Buffalo Bills:
Thank God that Damar Hamlin is alive, and continuously doing better. I’m not sure there’s ever been a more unified effort in the NFL to celebrate an individual for not just fighting for his life, but also celebrating who he is as a person. There have been a number of people who have spoken about Hamlin’s character and personality, from his former teammates at Pitt and his current ones in Buffalo to other friends and mentors such as Miles Sanders and Mike Tomlin. It has been a true celebration of this young man’s life and he deserves all that celebration, love, and attention.
The Bills, in response, played a hell of a game. The Patriots, who were fighting for their playoff lives, gave the Bills shot after shot. Unfortunately for the Patriots, their best efforts led to a 12-point loss against their rivals. While there are certainly issues with how this game played out, the fact that the game opened with a Nyheim Hines TD on a kick return is as storybook a start as one could have imagined. The fact that it was his first of two kick return TDs is utterly ridiculous and statistically improbable. An early TD to Dawson Knox kept the Bills’ offense on pace, and two deep Josh Allen bombs to John Brown and Stefon Diggs were enough for the ultimate pull away against a very good and opportunistic Patriots defense. 21 points against the third-best defense by DVOA is good, and adding the other 14 on kick returns is simply amazing.
Quite frankly, is there a better thing to have happened to the Bills than to end the Patriots’ season? Their bitter rivals who spent the better part of 20 years dominating the Bills, now suddenly have had the tables flipped on them, and leave the 2022 season with more questions than answers.
Inquire – the Run Game:
Another week, another game of the Bills running the ball successfully. That is, when Ken Dorsey chooses to do so. The Bills seemed very intent on passing the ball early and often against the Patriots, despite the Patriots’ pass rush and coverage units being their biggest strengths overall. In their first meeting, the Bills found quite a bit of success by running the ball on this defense, and one would assume that the Bills would continue that trend. Now, of course, there are adjustments this and coaching that, and maybe Ken Dorsey and the offense felt it best to throw a curveball at the Patriots’ defense right off the bat. Regardless, when the Bills chose to run the ball in this game, it seemed to find some consistent yardage. Devin Singletary’s fumble was certainly a big issue, but before that play, he was running tough as he typically does, and James Cook looked very consistent as well. With a third matchup against the Dolphins on the horizon, I imagine this offense will feel pretty good about its chances to pass and run the ball, but overall, if the run game is working, don’t run away from it.
Require-WRs not named Stefon Diggs:
Stefon Diggs was his usual self, scoring on a deep pass from Allen, and finding opportunities underneath, including a sick back shoulder fade early on. But Gabe Davis continues to be a bit of a roller coaster experience, and the slot position largely remains non-existent. When Khalil Shakir is on the field and targeted, he often seems to make a good play, yet the Bills remain insistent on putting Isaiah McKenzie in that role more often than not. Dorsey has also put Diggs in the slot to create some matchup problems and has obviously found success with that plan, but that’s a wrinkle for your offense, not a solution to the problem. The problem is that the Bills don’t have a slot receiver on the roster who can make plays every week with consistency. This is not something that should be a question coming into the playoffs, and this position group is going to have to start answering some questions sooner rather than later with time running out.
Irk – Defense:
The defense struggled against a very bad offense. It wasn’t the normal Bills struggles of just getting outmatched by a bigger, more physical OL and running game, it was just a constant barrage of quick passes against zone coverage, mixed with just enough big plays from DeVante Parker to keep the Patriots moving. This defense has certainly been hit by a lot of injuries, with Micah Hyde and Von Miller being the most obvious and impactful ones. Regardless, it felt as though the game plan was too simple, almost inviting the Patriots to play this style of offense that suits them all too well. Some very opportunistic plays by the defense, in particular by Tre White and Matt Milano ultimately iced the game for the Bills, but this defense will have a very difficult task next week facing off against the dynamic duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. A matchup they’re more than familiar with, but familiarity does not make that challenge much easier to deal with. Leslie Frazier is a very good coach who has put together a number of great games and game plans this year, but when the Bills defense seems to be lacking in a game, it is typically the result of a vanilla scheme in coverage, and odd blitz timing on money downs. There is no reason to doubt Frazier’s ability to craft a winning game plan against this Dolphins team, as he’s already done it many times before, but a simplistic, vanilla scheme is a trap that will not yield them the best results in the end.
The Bills will face another bitter rival in the Miami Dolphins next week, as the Bills secured the No. 2 seed in the AFC with their win over New England, and Miami secured the seventh seed with their win over the Jets. The Bills and Dolphins split the series in the regular season, with both games coming down to the wire, but the Dolphins limp into the playoffs on a 9-6 win against a limp Jets team, and it’s the Dolphins’ first win since November 27th. The Bills can’t afford to fall asleep against this team, that much is obvious, but there shouldn’t be any reason for the Bills to lose this game and move on to the divisional round. Welcome to the 2022 NFL postseason Bills fans, it’s time to make a run.