The first question to Dion Dawkins after the Bills inexplicable loss to Denver was a standard locker room opener: what’s the feeling after a tough loss?
“Losing sucks,” Dawkins said. “We’re a bunch of winners, but we’re losing.”
The truth is the Bills are only winners in the past tense. That’s what they used to be.
A home game against a losing team like the Broncos is exactly the type of game the old Bills could bumble through and still win. They might turn it over four times. They might commit a killer penalty or two, but the Bills have Josh Allen and a coaching staff that’s ready for every situation. They would always find a way.
That team is now a memory. The current Bills are an average football team wasting an uber-talented quarterback. The only difference between the Bills and Chargers is which ocean is closer.
Don’t get me wrong. Allen is as responsible as anyone for what’s gone wrong in Buffalo. I can’t defend an iota of his second quarter interception. The read seemed wrong. The decision seemed wrong. The placement was wrong. The situation was wrong. He donated three points to an offense that was squeezing every ounce of talent just to stay on the field.
I was squarely in the camp during the offseason that thought it would be better for Allen to dial back the hero stuff running the ball. I fully understood driving through a linebacker for two extra yards or going airborne on second down in the first quarter of week six is a big part of what makes Allen who he is. I still thought, for the long term sake of the franchise and the franchise quarterback, Allen would be smarter to act like a mere mortal more often on the football field.
I’m starting to believe that was incorrect.
Allen has still been the player in blue and red most likely to rescue a snap or a drive or even a game. He remains among the league leaders in touchdowns and QBR. He also doesn’t look comfortable on lots of plays, despite an offensive line that has been significantly improved all season.
The Bills are certainly doing something wrong with their number one star, but it’s not fair to pin all that regression outside of Allen. Elite QBs get paid the exorbitant money because they are expected to succeed through coordinator, supporting cast and philosophical changes. Asking Allen to protect himself a bit more shouldn’t break him.
Mismanaging the star quarterback (if that is the case) wasn’t the worst piece of coaching courtesy Sean McDermott’s staff Monday night. It might not even make the top ten.
Having 12 men on the field to negate a missed field goal that won the game is Drought level ridiculousness. Multiple players on the field goal block team and McDermott said they regularly practice defending a scramble drill field goal. They said there was talk on the sideline during all the timeouts that it might be coming. The Bills still couldn’t get it right.
McDermott also failed to challenge the Courtland Sutton first down catch before Denver’s last TD. I’m not sure if he wins that challenge. I think he might lose it, but it was close enough a play in a gigantic enough situation that a challenge was warranted. Spend the time out and see if you force Denver into a field goal. As it turned out, three points for the Broncos on that drive instead of six almost certainly prevents a loss.
Then, there was the nonsensical benching of James Cook after his fumble on the opening play of the game. I’m all for sending a message about ball security–especially on a team with turnover issues–but Cook had gone 239 consecutive touches without a fumble since putting the ball on the ground during his first professional touch in the 2022 season opener.
I have to assume keeping him on the bench for a quarter and a half had to do with something beyond the fumble. Cook isn’t a star, but he’s easily the top back for the Bills. Not using such an asset is bad for everybody, as Cook proved by rolling up 28 yards on four touches the moment he got back in the game. Benching a player like that seems unnecessarily punitive, even petty.
The offense as a whole remained same ol’, same ol’ for 2023. Buffalo’s three touchdown drives covered 81, 54 and 75 yards. They looked effortless. Of the other eight possessions, four ended in turnover and three failed after 13 yards or less.
Once again, there were a variety of culprits that killed drives. Yet another Gabe Davis drop turned into an interception that cost at least three points. Even Dalton Kincaid stunningly joined the butterfingers party to force a punt two drives later.
Allen botched a handoff that turned into a fumble and failed to hit an open Khalil Shakir on a fourth down try early in the second half. I liked the choice to go for it by McDermott, thinking the offense needed a jolt of confidence. Allen often makes throws on the run seem easy even when they aren’t. The miss on fourth down was a reminder how tough they can be.
The defense again played damn good considering half the week one starters are gone, with Micah Hyde and Christian Benford the latest not to answer the bell. That is, they played damn good until it was time to finish off a game.
Like Tyrod Taylor (almost) and Mac Jones, Russell Wilson did everything he needed against the Bills defense to put Denver in front twice in the fourth quarter. The 54 yards on the final Broncos TD drive was Denver’s longest of the game, topped only when Wilson moved the ball 57 yards for the eventual game winning field goal.
Half those 57 yards came on a Taron Johnson pass interference penalty I thought had a case to not get called. I’m biased against that call in general. I hate that QBs can intentionally throw a ball incorrectly and be rewarded. Johnson got his head around to find the ball as he’s making contact. I think that can be grounds to avoid the flag, even if I understand that flag probably gets thrown ten times out of ten.
If the pass interference was a bad break, Buffalo still got a ridiculously good one on the Cook fumble that bounced right back to him in the midst of a 42-yard run. There is no blaming officials for this loss. The Bills got exactly what they deserved.
McDermott, Ken Dorsey and the rest of the coaching staff remain full of issues that don’t have answers. That’s not entirely because those coaches lack sufficient brainpower.
They just don’t have the players. There are no closers on defense with a game on the line. Von Miller was ineffective again in game six since his return from last year’s ACL tear, despite one tackle that doubled his total for the season (golf clap). Buffalo let Wilson flip and dump his way to nine fourth quarter points.
With Pat Surtain on the other side to all but erase Stefon Diggs (three catches, 34 yards), the passing game turned average. Allen finished with only 177 yards and one TD against two interceptions. In a stunning about face, Cook and Latavius Murray matched those 177 yards rushing to help the offense save face. Remember when the passing game was the fastball? At home against a 3-5 team with one elite corner, the Bills could barely find the strike zone.
It’s easy to find answers when the offense is humming. When there’s a Cole Beasley to pair with Diggs. It’s easy to find answers when the defense is loaded on all three levels. When the secondary could roll out All-Pros at both safeties and CB1. That’s not a knock on McDermott or Dorsey. That’s just underlining the fact that good coaches aren’t much without good players.
If you don’t believe me, just ask Bill Belichick.
That Bills team with all that talent is gone, through both failed roster management and unfortunate injuries. Gone with it is likely the playoff berth most of pro football assumed was fait accompli before the season.
Buffalo is 5-5. They’re average. That’s who they are now.