Don’t count out the Buffalo Bills just yet. With a loss, the Buffalo Bills would have fallen two games behind in the race for an AFC Wildcard berth, and just as important, they would have lost one of their two remaining conference games. As it turns out, that didn’t matter.
When the going got tough, and with the Texans charging to get back into it, the Bills offense answered in a clutch moment to assure themselves life in the race for the postseason.
How did it all happen? Seven observations from the Bills 30-21 victory:
1) Bills put together a drive when it mattered
- As opposed to the last two weeks, when the Bills had opportunities to deliver a clutch drive in a one-possession game, they delivered in a big way. Those fateful drives against both New England and Kansas City in the fourth quarter kept the Bills from stealing a victory on the road, or at the very least, tying things up to force the opponent’s to make more plays to win. Against Houston, that wasn’t an issue. Late in the game, with the game tied at 21 a piece, the Bills offense answered with two huge plays from three of the newcomers this offseason. LeSean McCoy set the Bills up with an explosive run to the sideline that got the Bills into Texans territory. One nondescript Mike Gillislee run later, and Tyrod Taylor read the defense, saw Charles Clay wide open in the middle of the field in a completely busted coverage, and hit him perfectly in stride for the game-winning score. All three were crucial to the success of the Bills (more on that in just a bit), but it was quite important that this offense proved that they can put a drive together when it counted in a clutch moment, as opposed to wilting in the spotlight like they had previously done.
2) Roman gets a game ball
- The Houston Texans were playing as good defensively as any of the best units around in the NFL over the past four weeks, so at least on the surface, there would have been some struggles. But, with the mind of offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the game plan he implemented to deal with all the different defensive weapons the Texans had, the Bills put up 30 points on a team that allowed a total of 35 in their last four games combined. It was a masterful job by Roman to not only free up his big guns on offense, but by doing so methodically and forcing the Texans to make the mistakes that he wanted. He helped neutralize the league’s best defensive player J.J. Watt by constantly double and triple-teaming him, and running away from him to lessen his impact. They used misdirection, screens, and sweeps to get the Texans linebackers moving from left to right. Once LeSean McCoy started to get going, Sammy Watkins was available for deep shots down the field due to the safeties trying to overplay the run and getting caught flat-footed, despite coverage being rolled to the wideouts side. Once the defense was worried about both Watkins and McCoy, Roman dialed up plays for tight end Charles Clay. All in all, despite only scoring nine points in the second half, Roman called perhaps his best game of the season — in a must-win situation, no less.
3) Tyrod survives scares, shines when called upon
- One of the biggest differences in the Bills victory over the Texans was due to the play of the quarterbacks. For years, the Bills always had the lesser of two quarterbacks in key games like these. But on Sunday, against the red-hot Houston Texans, the Bills had the advantage with the man under center in Tyrod Taylor. Granted, Taylor issued a couple of huge scares to Bills fans in the form of two passes that very easily could have been a pick-six for the Texans. However, Houston did not take advantage, the short-term memory of Taylor benefitted him, and he delivered the biggest throw of the season by both recognizing the busted coverage over the middle of the field, and hitting Charles Clay down the middle of the field for a touchdown. His skill-set certainly isn’t perfect at this point as a starting quarterback. He’s still a one-to-two read quarterback that usually only sees half the field unless things break down in front of him. However, the two dynamics to his game make him harder to game plan for: his deep ball prowess, and his maneuverability in the open field. Opponents are forced to respect the deep passes to Sammy Watkins because Taylor not only takes the chances, but he hits them at a more than respectable level. The Bills wouldn’t be 6-6 on the season, through all the adversity they’ve had this year, if it weren’t for Taylor being in the starting lineup.
4) Clay Day
- It’s certainly been a long time in the making, but the Bills finally got Charles Clay involved in a big way after an almost self-imposed absence. Through the last five games combined, Clay caught a total of 15 passes for just 129 yards. With a plus-matchup against the Houston Texans, Clay roped in four passes for 66 yards, and had the game-winning touchdown to go along with it. They’ll need him to continue to be a weapon in this offense, because he provides the dynamic to keep defenses honest in every area of the field. LeSean McCoy keeps teams from selling out on the deep ball on Sammy Watkins, and Watkins opens up the field for more underneath routes — which brings in Charles Clay. The Bills aren’t lacking for playmakers, that’s for sure. They just needed to find themselves and figure out the best way to get them all involved. For one week at least, they certainly found a formula.
5) Tackling still a huge issue in Bills land
- It wasn’t all rainbows and kittens for the Bills against the Texans. They let a mediocre, to below average group of running backs make the defense look pedestrian. Chris Polk and Jonathan Grimes each averaged over five yards per carry, which was largely tied to the Bills overall inability to wrap-up runners with their first opportunity. Missed tackles were a huge component to the Texans staying afloat even when the Bills looked like they were in control on offense. That, mixed with some outstanding personal efforts by both DeAndre Hopkins and Cecil Shorts III, kept the Texans right in it. The Bills were only able to bring Brian Hoyer down twice, so all is not right at One Bills Drive. However, the offense lifted up the defense and carried them to a victory.
6) McCoy runs away with the game
- While it’s not neighboring on the lopsided territory of the Jerry Hughes trade with Indianapolis, the Bills decision to acquire LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso in the offseason is turning out to be a very good one for the Bills. McCoy looks as though he is the same player that first made Eagles fans smile. He uses his speed, maneuverability, and his trademarked ability to cut on a dime, to add an element to the Bills offense that cannot be replaced by any other player. Yet another 100-plus yard day, combined with the Eagles struggling defensively on a weekly basis, makes the Bills clear winners on that trade in the short term.
7) Hat tip to Colton Schmidt
- We rarely talk about the punter, but the Bills have as good a player as you’ll find in the NFL in Colton Schmidt. He barely got any work in the first half, but in the second half — and more specifically in the fourth quarter — Schmidt completely flipped the field on the Texans which changed up how Houston attacked the Bills defense. On one punt, he boomed one for 64 yards, and angled it to where the Texans let it hit the turf. The Bills downed it at the Texans 17-yard line. Then with only 3:46 to go in the game, and after the Texans just forced the Bills to go three-and-out while still only down six points, Schmidt uncorked a 45-yard punt that was angled out of bounds, and bounced down to the Texans six-yard line. The defense still had to make a stop, but the clutch punt changed the Texans attack, and they ended up going three and out. Punters need love, too.
Bills MVP: HB LeSean McCoy
- McCoy set up the rest of the offense to have a solid, and unpredictable day that helped the Bills secure the victory.
Bills LVP: LBs Tony Steward/Kevin Reddick
- Missed tackles were abundant, as were misplayed running downs, and these two players were offenders. Nigel Bradham, even though he’s only been average this season, was sorely missed.
Up Next: Sunday, December 13 at Philadelphia (5-7), 1 pm
- After seeing how the day played out around the NFL with both Kansas City and the New York Jets getting a victory, the Bills needed a win over the Texans in the worst way. Still a game down from the playoffs, the Bills shift into their three-week tour of the NFC East — against three quite beatable opponents no less. Considering what the Bills were working with: two backup offensive linemen on one side, their top cornerback leaving the field for a little less than half the game, and up against one of the hottest teams in the NFL, the Bills dialed up a gem of a performance in this game. Like a few of their other wins, it certainly wasn’t perfect. There are still some defensive missteps that need to be ironed out. But, at the beginning of the year who would have thunk one fact to be true 12 games into the season? The Bills offense carried the defense to a victory. The job isn’t anywhere near over. The Bills need to win at least three of their next four to have a chance at the playoffs to finally end the longest playoff drought in the NFL. Followed by a much happier fan base, to Philadelphia they march.
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