When the Buffalo Bills surrendered a picture perfect throw and catch from Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston to Mike Evans, you thought the game was over. After all, over the last three years, fans have been conditioned to seeing a late go-ahead score for the opposition to result in a loss for the Bills.
Except for this time, it didn’t.
The Bills kept a level head, marched down the field and tied the ball game so quickly that it left them time for the defense to stand out — to which they did. At the end of it all, the Bills collected a 30-27 victory and are now 4-2 on the regular season,
How did we get here? Seven observations from the Bills win:
1) Tyrod Taylor deserves a little bit of blame, and a whole lot of credit
- I’ll be the first to admit that over the past three seasons, I’ve given my share of criticisms towards Tyrod Taylor’s game. By this point, we all know what he is as a starting quarterback — and that’s someone that can make a few fascinating plays with his legs, make a throw or three that are great, and that won’t cost his team the victory by turning the ball over. He’s also a good enough quarterback to help a team sneak into the playoffs… and his effort down the stretch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was indicative of that. He certainly had his share of warts in the early going. He wasn’t the most accurate of passers, and it was a slow start in all for the passing offense against a pretty bad pass defense. However, on the third-and-long play when he scrambled away from multiple defensive linemen and found Nick O’Leary wide open for a huge play, you’re reminded that maybe only a few other quarterbacks in the league have the ability to escape that play and find the open man down the field. Then, with all, that’s been correctly written about his inability to lead a team to a comeback win… Taylor did just that. Following the seemingly back-breaking touchdown catch from Mike Evans, the three-play drive with just over three minutes to go and down seven points was nothing short of spectacular from the Bills. First play, with fans wanting Taylor to prove he could do it in a big spot, he spots Deonte Thompson and nails him for a 44-yard reception to have the Bills knocking on the door of a touchdown. He trusted the rookie Zay Jones on the next play for another nine yards, and then LeSean McCoy finished the job with a touchdown run from seven yards out. Then with a shortened field, they collected a key first down on a third-down attempt to help run out the clock even more, and give the Buccaneers next to no hope of tying up the game. Again, Tyrod Taylor is not perfect, and he’s probably not the franchise quarterback for the Bills. However, he is the quarterback of a 4-2 team… and a team that has a head coach and general manager that have said multiple times that they believe they can win this season. To those that are holding on hope to Nathan Peterman starting… do yourself a favor and follow the advice of Elsa and Anna: Let it go. Taylor isn’t being removed from the starting lineup unless he’s either hurt, or the Bills are way out of the playoff race — and the latter doesn’t seem to be all that likely based on what we’ve seen through six games.
2) Thompson steals the show… and deserves to start
- It’s hard to find a better candidate of what encapsulates the 2017 Buffalo Bills more than wide receiver Deonte Thompson. Signed on Tuesday, we didn’t really know what to expect from the new addition to the offense. All we knew was that he is a speedy receiver, started games for the Chicago Bears earlier this season, and that he spent a total of four training camps with starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor between Baltimore and Buffalo. From an unwanted entity to the only 100-yard receiver for the Buffalo Bills in six games this season. Perhaps my favorite stat: Thompson has more Bills receptions (4) than practices (3) with the team this season. He certainly provided the speed aspect to his game, and Taylor showed that he trusted Thompson by delivering a pass to him in a huge spot late in the fourth quarter. For the Bills and their overall lack of production at the wide receiver position this season, you cannot ignore a breakout game from a veteran player. Thompson’s 100-plus yard outburst should earn him even more time on the field — and I don’t think it should come at the cost of any Jordan Matthews playing time. I thought this could be the week that we see a little bit more from rookie Zay Jones — but an early drop defined his day. To his credit, he made a pair of receptions — including the one on the game-tying drive. However, something just isn’t right at this point. I’m not saying they should do away with his playing time entirely, but, I think Thompson should see more snaps next week against the Raiders until Jones proves to become a bit more dependable. You don’t want to bury his confidence, but, they also need production — and they aren’t getting it from him. Let Thompson take over for the most part until Jones figures it out, and more importantly until Taylor fully trusts him.
3) Tre’Davious White steps up and makes another big play
- The defense was getting bruised out there by the Tampa Bay passing attack — whether it be with DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans, or with a breakout game by first-round pick OJ Howard. It was not pretty, and Jameis Winston showed how good of a player he was to pick apart the Bills with some play action and accurate strikes to all areas of the field. Winston truly lived up to his part as a former first overall pick. The Evans touchdown to take the lead, for instance, was a thing of beauty. However, you have to give credit to the defense — and most notably, rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White. The defense knew they needed to make a big play with still 2:28 to go in the then tie game, and White stepped up. Adam Humphries was looking from some extra yardage, White came over from the sideline and swiped the ball from the receivers arms clean — and then even recovered it to not only thwart the Buccaneers from winning the game but to give his own team a chance to win it in regulation. The offense followed up, and the rest is history.
4) McDermott, Bills must learn from end of half debacle
- It wasn’t all great for the Bills. For instance, they made almost a game-losing mistake at the end of the first half by not getting any points with some awful clock management. The Bills got the ball with 23 seconds left in the half and one timeout. They improved their field goal position by eight yards, promptly called a timeout, and had 11 seconds left before the end of the half. It should have been enough time to either take a shot to the end zone or throw a pass to the sideline, and then to kick a field goal. Coming out of the timeout, Tyrod Taylor decided to throw a short pass into the flat that was nowhere near the sidelines, Jordan Matthews was tackled, and the clock ran out before it could be set and the Bills could spike it. Coming out of a timeout, that is inexcusable and certainly, cost the Bills three points — and perhaps even seven if they were aggressive enough to throw a pass to the end zone on that play. Head coach Sean McDermott took the blame for that decision, as he should have because he believed he could get that play done and then the field goal through the uprights within the time allotted. However, why that play call? What were they looking to gain by throwing it in the flat to a covered Matthews? Furthermore, why aren’t they being a little more aggressive in that situation with a ‘tweener amount of time left on the clock? It was all quite bizarre, and one that McDermott needs to learn from and think to himself, ‘Well, that could have cost us the game.’
5) LeSean McCoy is finally back
- Heading into the matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, all the potential was there for LeSean McCoy to bust loose and finally return to the form we saw from him in Week One against the New York Jets. The matchup was correctly taken advantage of, and the McCoy of old was back. He looked like he actually had some open space to run and the offensive line was providing a good push up front. If it wasn’t for his lost fumble, McCoy would have been in contention for the MVP of the game for the Bills considering how his impact on the game gave the Bills offense some life, too. Going against another beatable defense, this could be the beginning of a nice little roll for the Bills star running back.
6) Cornerback depth almost cost the Bills again
- For the second game in a row, only dressing four cornerbacks on game day almost came back to haunt the Buffalo Bills. Against Cincinnati, they were already a man down with EJ Gaines unable to play and went in with only White, Shareece Wright, Leonard Johnson, and Greg Mabin. Johnson got hurt, and the Bills had only three the rest of the way — to which the Bengals took advantage and it helped them win the game. Two weeks later, we almost saw the same thing happen. With only White, Gaines, Johnson, and Wright dressed on game day, the Bills saw EJ Gaines go down with an injury and had to put Wright in the game, leaving them with two extremely beatable cornerbacks in Wright and Johnson. Winston and the Buccaneers took advantage, consistently targeting Wright in the second half and almost mounting a comeback win as a result. The Bills need to hope White and Gaines stay healthy, they need to build some improved depth on the roster, and they might want to think about dressing five cornerbacks on game day because it almost came back to bite them for the second game in a row.
7) How did OJ Howard get so open?
- One of the most shocking defensive gaffes of the game was when Winston found a wide open OJ Howard for a touchdown reception. There was quite literally no one around him, so the question is obvious… what the heck happened? Well, rather than giving you my take on it, I’ll just let Lorenzo Alexander break down what they call the “Oh ****” screen:
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) October 22, 2017
So, the play action burned them a bit — which has been a problem for the Bills, and something the defense will likely see more of. If the linebackers don’t show a little more depth in play action in coverage, we might see more plays like this one this season. Remember this play, because we’re likely to see more teams run it.
Bills MVP: QB Tyrod Taylor
- Taylor’s drive at the end of the game to tie it and his 53 rushing yards helped the Bills get into position to win the game. Deonte Thompson and LeSean McCoy were also considered here.
Bills LVP: CB Shareece Wright
- As soon as he came in the game, the Bills were really struggling to stop James Winston and the Buccaneers passing attack. They better hope EJ Gaines doesn’t have to miss any time, which seems to be a sentence I’ve written way more often than Bills fans would have cared for.
Up Next: A crucial AFC contest with the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, October 29 at New Era Field.
- The Buffalo Bills are 4-2 on the season… who would have thunk it? I certainly didn’t, and I give this team a lot of credit for doing things that we haven’t been accustomed to in quite some time. They’re taking advantage of their opportunities at home, they’re forcing turnovers to change the outcome of a game, and they know how to close out their opponents. They’re also beating good teams along the way, too, which is why this year’s 4-2 record — as opposed to last year’s 4-2 start with Rex Ryan — feels completely different. They have a huge opponent next week against the Oakland Raiders at home, and the way they’re playing, you’d be foolish to believe that they don’t have a chance to win that game. It’s going to be a big outcome with a lot of playoff implications on the line — but it’s also an early-season game that Bills fans have been dying to see in Orchard Park for quite some time. It wasn’t pretty, and they almost lost to Tampa Bay, but at the end of the day… they got the job done. Tyrod Taylor, the offense, and the defense deserve credit for making a big play when they needed it the most, and the Bills are a lot further on than most of us thought they would be.