For four straight weeks, the Buffalo Bills went through what has been the worst stretch of the season -- and one that will be tough to top. They lost four games in a row, rookie quarterback Josh Allen suffered a multi-week injury, and the offense reached all-world levels of futility in scoring only 34 points over the four-week stretch.
Well, at least for one Sunday, the Bills lifted themselves out of the abyss while scoring more points than those four games combined. With a convincing 41-10 victory over the New York Jets, the Bills improved their record to 3-7 on the season.
How did it all happen, and what does it mean moving forward? Seven observations from the Bills' "upset" victory over the Jets:
1) The Matt Barkley game
- For those of you that bravely found yourselves in front of the television to watch yet another quarterback start a game for the Bills that had all of six practices to his name before the start, you were rewarded with the best offensive performance of the season -- and it might not even be close. Barkley came out swinging with a 47-yard reception to Robert Foster, it left the Jets stumbling, and the Bills not only delivered the knockout punch -- they continued to parade around the ring until the officials told them that they had to go home. Barkley had a pair of scary throws that were dangerously close to interceptions, but they were the lone exceptions to a terrific afternoon and the best start of his NFL career. The quarterback was on fire all game long, with his most impressive throw going over the middle of the field to Zay Jones in tight coverage for a touchdown -- Barkley's second of the day. Beyond just the surprise of the performance in leading the Bills to a blowout victory, it's now fair to wonder what's next for Barkley. Despite it only being a one-game sample size, Barkley showed more in 60 minutes of action than Derek Anderson and Nathan Peterman combined in all of their time on the field. Barkley, with a loud statement to the Bills coaches on only six practices, gave about as much incentive as they could find to moving forward with him as the backup to rookie Josh Allen. The rookie is set to return, barring any setbacks, after the bye week against the Jacksonville Jaguars on November 25, and there isn't any reason to have Anderson, even if healthy, active as the primary backup. Barkley has earned that for the time being, and Anderson can help Allen in the meeting rooms and on the sidelines as was initially intended for the 35-year-old. And I don't think there are many out there that believe that Barkley should be the starter moving forward, but just in case that there is at least one out there, it's not going to happen -- and nor should it. This season is all about the development of Josh Allen, and one random win over the Jets in a 3-7 season makes calling for something like that incredibly shortsighted -- especially considering general manager Brandon Beane would never, ever let that happen unless there was an injury to his rookie quarterback. Barkley deserves all the praise for doing what he did against the Jets in the one week and should be the backup to Allen. Plus, years from now, after all is said and done, you'll remember where you were for the Matt Barkley game.
2) Is Peterman's time with the Bills over?
- Barkley's performance cinched it. If the Bills were at all on the fence on what to do with Nathan Peterman upon the return of Josh Allen, Derek Anderson, or both, they now have clarity. Once they get the green light from the medical staff on Allen, the Bills should need to release Nathan Peterman off of the active roster. That's about as blatant a move as they need to make, considering they can use that roster spot on another position that they can try to develop with a young player. The question they now must ask themselves is if they should be done with Peterman all together, or if there is something there that they want to continue to develop. The odds are that if they're going to bring him on the practice squad following his release from the roster, that no team out there is going to claim him on waivers after seeing what he's done with quite a few opportunities now. After bringing Robert Foster on to the active roster, the Bills do have an empty spot on the practice squad that they can use for Peterman if they so desire. If the decision were solely up to head coach Sean McDermott, I think Peterman probably hangs around on the practice squad. Since Brandon Beane didn't technically select Peterman, there is less of a connection to the young quarterback, and he might be more apt to let Peterman loose. It all depends if they believe that there is a glimmer of hope anywhere with him, and if one day he can develop into a solid backup in the league. The head coach has distanced himself from Peterman in recent weeks in press conference settings. Even so, McDermott has quite a difficult decision on his hands about if he's going to fight for Peterman to stay with the organization in a much smaller capacity.
3) Zay Jones has his statement game
- Over the past six games of the season, we've seen steady improvement from a player that the Bills desperately need to pan out in some capacity. That player is wide receiver Zay Jones, the team's second-round pick in 2017, and after being on the field with competent quarterback play for the first time since the progress has started, Jones delivered a statement game. The days of not trusting his hands and not gaining separation are in the past, and Jones exploded -- in relative numbers that can only mean 'exploded' with this current Bills offense -- for eight catches, 93 yards, and a touchdown. In doing so, Jones has established a new career-high for both receptions and yardage in one game, but the best part for the Bills is that he was open a double-digit amount of times for Barkley to think he had enough of a window to throw it to him. The second-year receiver is playing with so much more confidence than he was last season and it shows. Especially recently in the NFL, wide receiver is becoming one of those positions where young players are starting to become more of a late bloomer because the adjustment from college to NFL is so steep. Perhaps that's what happened with Jones, as he's now focused on winning on all the little things to put himself in a position to be a capable playmaker for the team. While it might be too much to expect for him to become a dominant top wideout on the team, he has all the ability to grow into a consistent and dependable second receiver that can have games like the one he just had. Slowly, Jones is erasing the question mark that had been next to his name for who should be a starter in 2019.
4) LeSean McCoy finally busts loose
- The Bills have been a frustrated bunch for weeks now, and there might not have been a single player more frustrated than running back LeSean McCoy. There hasn't been much room to run on the ground, and because of how little room there was on many attempts when there was a shred of daylight McCoy would even try to make the play bigger just because the offense desperately needed it. And in doing so turned what could have been a positive gain into a neutral or negative one. In Week 10, after Barkley backed the defense off with his first play of the game and a deep pass, McCoy finally had some breathing room at the line of scrimmage. The runner had his first 100-yard game of the season and was moving around like the player we have seen the past couple of seasons. I don't know if it's a sustainable thing for McCoy with Josh Allen due to come back against the Jaguars, but getting him back, happy, and perhaps re-invested in what they are planning for this season is as important as anything if they want the offense to continue to grow. By not trading McCoy, the Bills made a statement in saying that they believe he's more important to them on the field than any potential draft pick they could have gotten as compensation. If the Bills want Allen to grow, they'll need their top runner to help him out along the way, and to stop trying to do too much. This outcome will go a long way for the Bills when Allen is back on the field for them.
5) The youth of the defense shows off
- Once more for the Buffalo Bills, the defense continued to prove how good of a unit they are -- with only a pair of minor setbacks throughout the 2018 season. Even more encouraging, the youth of the Bills defense played a humongous role in the outcome and in shutting down the Jets as well as they did. Tre'Davious White did his job the same way he had been all season long, but getting the types of performances like they did from weakside linebacker Matt Milano, nickel cornerback Taron Johnson, and even first-time starting cornerback Levi Wallace has to have the coaching staff feeling excellent about where this is all headed even past this season. Milano, except for one or two games, has been a star all season and should be considered for the Pro Bowl with how impactful he's been -- specifically in forcing turnovers. Johnson, the rookie fourth-round pick, has shown all season that he belongs with how well he tackles and with his ability in coverage. The Bills made the bold move to have Wallace, the undrafted rookie, go from the practice squad to the starting lineup and were rewarded with at least one big pass breakup and probably another handful of good moments upon watching the tape. If you combine those with how the potential of middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, defensive end Shaq Lawson playing as well as he has this season, the Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer safety duo that is still in the prime of their careers, and rotational defensive tackle Harrison Phillips giving some high-quality snaps when on the field -- it's easy to see. The Bills are creating something that is sustainable with the loss of older, veteran players -- and it isn't unfair to say that the defense in totality is ahead of schedule.
6) Give their offensive line their due
- The last month of the season has been brutal for the offensive line of the Buffalo Bills. After perhaps their worst showing as a unit of 2018 last week, they came out and played one of their best games of the season against the New York Jets. The headline act of the game for the starting five was with rookie left guard Wyatt Teller, who was making the first start of his career. Upon the initial viewing, it looked as though he was doing his job and then some for the Bills, though I won't be able to get an accurate gauge until I can watch him on every snap on Tuesday with the coaches film. As a unit, though, they were creating big lanes to run, they were giving Barkley time to be decisive in the pocket, and they were working well as one. If the Bills can come away from this season with two locked in starters along the offensive line in left tackle Dion Dawkins and Teller, it will make their lives that much more comfortable in the upcoming offseason in not having to replace 80-percent of their starting five. Also, good on Dion Dawkins for having the nimbleness required to come away with a touchdown catch as he did on Sunday. To do it so close to home, too, had to be an extraordinary treat for both him and his family. As for the line, they have to build on this performance -- and they've got a tough test right out of the bye week against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
7) Kelvin Benjamin's best days look like they're behind him
- The headline says it all. It's sad for the Buffalo Bills because they invested a sizable resource in him at last year's trade deadline, but it's a valid sentiment nonetheless. In multiple opportunities to prove otherwise in the 2018 season, Benjamin has been an unreliable target and one that is begging for his role to be lessened by young players that the team will have to assess in the offseason. Nothing that Benjamin has done in ten games is worthy of the thought that he should be brought back in any capacity for the 2019 season. The Week 10 win over the Jets, with many of his offensive teammates having the best game of the season, Benjamin's zero catches and a booted potential touchdown on a throw that was in his hands significantly stand out. And worse yet for him, it's likely going to have a substantial impact on his free agent outcomes in the offseason. Since the first few weeks, I've seen a much better effort from Benjamin in the smaller areas of being a receiver, which makes me wonder if all the injuries that he's incurred over the years have taken their toll, and if he can ever be the same guy that he was at the beginning of his NFL career. He's not getting separation because he can't make distinct enough cuts, he doesn't have the speed to get that separation, and he's not winning the contested catches that used to be on his calling card. So, if he can't do all of those things, what is he? The answer in the coming weeks might be something like this: He's a receiver with a dwindling amount of snaps that will likely be on another roster in 2019.
Bills MVP: QB Matt Barkley
- You really couldn't give it to anyone else after doing what he did after only ten days on the job. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll also deserves some praise for his creative attack all game.
Bills LVP: WR Kelvin Benjamin
- Terrelle Pryor was a close second, but Benjamin's zero-burger was the winner.
Up Next: The Bills (3-7) have a Week 11 bye, and then return home to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, November 25 at New Era Field.
- The 41-10 victory over the New York Jets was therapeutic for all parties linked to the Buffalo Bills. The players proved that they could put together a big day like this one, the coaches needed some much needed short-term relief given how the last four games have gone, and the fans can take a bit of a breath in knowing that the worst stretch of the season might be behind them. Now, with a bye week on the horizon, the Bills can finally get back to what this season is all about -- and that's to get rookie quarterback Josh Allen back on the field and to develop him in a low-pressure season. With a high degree of offensive success in this week, now all parties know that its possible for Josh Allen to do the same -- especially with a relatively weak schedule in the final six games. Finding out everything they possibly can about Allen over these last six games means everything to the Bills and their offseason, from how they prepare to develop him with offseason programs, to what they need to focus on in both free agency and the draft. Doing anything other than figuring out what the keys are to help put Allen in a situation to be a successful quarterback would be counterproductive for the long-term. The result against the Jets was one that they needed from an offensive perspective, and it will make the season that much more insightful as to how to shape the offseason with Josh Allen -- the most significant investment this franchise has made in the past two decades.