The Buffalo Bills got the win they needed in Cincinnati to stay within two games of the final playoff spot in the AFC. But, man… was it ugly.
The Bills somehow found their way to the ugly victory that counts all the same as the ones that were much more appealing to the eyes earlier in the season. Thanks to the win, the Bills have a 5-5 record and are still within earshot of the playoffs and essentially buried Cincinnati’s AFC Wild Card hopes in the process.
How did it all happen? Seven observations from the Bills’ 16-12 win:
1) The defensive line keyed the victory in the second half
- While the Bills offensively failed to put the game away with any of the chances that they had in the second half, the game was put away because of the effort of the defensive line. Whether it was Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Jerel Worthy, or even the inside linebackers chipping into help after the defensive line set the table, the Bills completely stopped the Bengals in the final 30 minutes. Just how good? The Bills held the Bengals to just 110 total yards in the second half. That in itself is an incredible accomplishment. However, 73 of those 110 yards came in the final drive of the game for Cincinnati, where the only thing Cincinnati could do was throw underneath passes as the Bills prevented anything from getting behind the defense. That means, over the span of the first 27:30 of the second half, the Bengals gained 37 yards over five offensive possessions. That’s exactly 7.4 yards per drive, and up to that point, the Bengals ran 17 plays with an embarrassingly low 2.2 yards per play. They forced four straight three-and-outs over the third and fourth quarter. Even still, the Bills let them stay in the game because the offense couldn’t put them away. Just like they had been doing the entire second half, the Bills defense secured the victory at the end of the game — a fitting end for the way the game played out. The inconsistent Bills defensive attack had one of their truly great games and it keyed the victory, but they’re going to need a lot more from the other side of the ball if they want to sniff the playoffs.
2) The offense disappeared in the second half
- It wasn’t for a lack of yardage, because the Bills were actually a lot more proficient at stringing together than the Bengals were. The trouble is, they just couldn’t put the ball in the end zone despite a huge chance to in the fourth quarter. The Bills, keyed by their rushing attack, had the ball on Cincinnati’s five-yard line with a 1st-and-goal opportunity. A three-yard run got them down to the two-yard line, but the Bills couldn’t punch the ball in because they inexplicably threw the ball twice in a row. They had to settle for a field goal, keeping the Bengals within four points. Later on in the game with under three minutes to play, the Bills had a 3rd-and-3 at Cincinnati’s 39-yard line. Tyrod Taylor rolled right, spotted an open Percy Harvin, and flat out missed him. Had he capitalized on it, the Bills would have gotten themselves a new set of downs, and likely wouldn’t have needed to depend on the defense to close out the victory like they did. The passing offense was a major disappointment, especially considering how well they played against a much better defense in the Seattle Seahawks.
3) *Except for Mike Gillislee
- If it weren’t for the play of Mike Gillislee and the offensive line blocking in front of him, the Bills might not have been able to get anything going in the second half. Once LeSean McCoy left the game in the second quarter with a dislocated thumb, Gillislee entered the game and impacted the game immediately. He was decisive, explosive, and helped get the Bills within two yards of what could have been the game-clinching touchdown. Instead, inexplicably, they went away from the run in a key moment — even after that’s what helped get them down to the two-yard line. If McCoy is limited in any capacity, they’ll need the impressive Gillislee to keep the same playing level that he showed today.
4) Gilmore deserves credit, as much as some don’t want him to have any
- Stephon Gilmore has certainly had his warts in the 2016 season. He has struggled quite a bit at times, but to try and criticize him for his overall performance in Cincinnati would be a reach. Was it a perfect performance? No, it wasn’t. He was half-a-tick too late in reacting to Tyler Boyd, and a perfect throw from Andy Dalton gave the Bengals their only passing touchdown of the game. However, Gilmore also flipped the field for the Bills by roping in an interception and returning it down to three-yard line. Then, at the end of the first half, he plucked a pass out of the air and ended the Bengals chances for points in that situation. I’ve read some fans insinuate that Gilmore doesn’t deserve credit for the interceptions, because they were too easy. While the degree of difficulty wasn’t the highest, to try and strip Gilmore of forcing two turnovers in a tight game is baffling. The Bills certainly made it interesting, but as far as Gilmore is concerned, fans complaining about his overall performance are just complaining to complain.
5) McCoy, Woods injuries loom large
- If I would have told you ahead of the game that the Bills won despite injuries to both LeSean McCoy and Robert Woods, you would have called me crazy. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have given myself the time of day, either. However, the Bills lost both players early on and had to try and move the ball without them. They were able to on the ground, but some Tyrod Taylor inaccuracy mixed with an uninspiring group of options to throw to really prevented the passing attack from ever lifting off. After the game, it was announced that McCoy requires surgery but is expected to play against Jacksonville. As for Woods, he was on crutches in the locker room, and his outlook for next week seems a bit murkier than McCoy’s. The Bills are going to have to figure something out through the air, because the combination of Charles Clay, Marquise Goodwin, Percy Harvin, and Justin Hunter just didn’t get the job done against a poor Cincinnati pass defense. The frustration continues for the Bills with the inconsistent passing attack, after a regression from the solid performance in Seattle.
6) Clay is a lost soul in this offense
- The frustration over Charles Clay’s lack of inclusion in the passing offense is warranted, but its not going away anytime soon. Since his last “big” game in Week Six (five receptions, 52 yards), Clay has essentially disappeared. Over the last four games, Clay has a grand total of 12 receptions for 67 yards. A lot of it is the fault of the quarterback, who misses Clay running wide open at least a few times per game. However, it also seems Clay has lost a step — judging off Taylor’s misfire to the tight end on the flag route Clay ran to the right sideline. He’ll mix in an occasional catch, but he’s a tertiary option in this offense. On Sunday, he averaged 4.6 yards per catch — which was his highest average of the last three weeks. The first 10 games of the season have proved it, and any more production than that should be considered a bonus. He is criminally underutilized, but that’s the identity of this offense in 2016.
7) Groy stayed under the radar
- One of the biggest keys to the game was in the middle of the Bengals defensive line, with defensive tackle Geno Atkins likely going up against center Ryan Groy, who was making his first start in place of the injured Eric Wood. Groy, despite being taken advantage over the final two drives against Seattle and costing the Bills dearly, kept his name clean during the game. The Bills didn’t allow Atkins to make too much of an impact, which means that Groy did his job, and that the offensive line provided the necessary help to the rather green Groy. The Bengals didn’t properly take advantage of a matchup in their favor, which was one of the many keys to the Bills victory on Sunday.
Bills MVP: DL Kyle Williams
- Williams was sensational all game long, and helped key a Bills victory with huge stops throughout the second half, and really the entire game.
Bills LVP: S Robert Blanton
- An inexplicable personal foul call mixed in with poor play at the safety position should have warranted a benching for the rest of the game. As James Ihedigbo gets more comfortable, I expect Blanton to see less and less time on the field on defense.
Playoff Update: Through Week 11, the Bills are 10th in AFC Standings, two games out of the final Wild Card spot. Miami (6-4), Pittsburgh (5-5), and Indianapolis (5-5) are all ahead of the Bills in addition to the two Wild Card teams.
Draft Order Update: Through Week 11, the Bills hold the 14th overall draft pick in the first round. If Green Bay wins on Sunday night, they will have the 13th selection. Coming into the week, Buffalo was 9th in the draft order.
Up Next: Sunday, November 27 vs. Jacksonville (2-8) at New Era Field, 1:00 p.m.
GIF of the Game:
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) November 20, 2016
- It wasn’t ideal, but a win is a win. Under any normal circumstances, the effort the Bills put forward in totality wouldn’t warrant a victory. However, it just turned out that they went up against a team that played even worse than they did — and that was much of the defense’s doing. Either way, the Bills have moved up in the AFC standings and are now only two games out with six games to go. The work isn’t over, and they’re going to need a lot better of an effort and plenty of wins to have a shot at ending the playoff drought, but the Bills handled their business on the road and secured a victory against a team hoping for the same. The cruel injustice of playing in the same division as New England yields this dose of reality: Even after beating the Bengals and worsening their record to 3-6-1 on the season, the Bengals are still closer to a playoff spot (1.5 games back in the AFC North) than the Bills are. They’ll need to continue to win the games they’re supposed to — which are three of the final six games (Jacksonville, Cleveland, and New York), and then beating two of the three teams that are challenging for the playoffs just like they are (Oakland, Pittsburgh, Miami). That is their path. Anything other than fulfilling those tasks will result in a 17th straight season without the playoffs. No matter how poorly they played on Sunday, though, they handled their business down the stretch of the game, and you can’t take the victory away from them. The Bills live to fight another day.
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