My Buffalo Blues: Week 17

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It’s Victory Monday once again for Bills Mafia and this time it comes with a playoff spot. Buffalo punched their post-season ticket with a 29-15 home win over the Falcons and a Ravens’ loss to the Rams.

For the fourth time in five years, the Bills are in the playoffs

There is plenty of cause for celebration, but the game wasn’t without its fair share of drama as the Falcons were battling to keep their playoff hopes alive too. Atlanta did a nice job with the screen game to start, taking advantage of the conditions to get across midfield on the game’s opening drive. The Bills adjusted, as you would expect from the league’s #1 total defense, and forced the punt. However, rookie receiver/return man Marquez Stevenson fumbled the punt deep in his own territory and Jake Kumerow had to scramble to find the ball in the endzone to prevent the touchdown. It wound up only being a safety but it was still a bad omen.

Yup, it was that close to being a touchdown but somehow Kumerow found it.

Buffalo’s defense would respond by forcing a quick 3 & out to give the ball to their offense and the Bills come out guns blazing. Josh Allen was dialed in to start the game, connecting to Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, and Stefon Diggs for first downs on three of their first four plays to move into Atlanta territory. Allen was slinging it confidently in the snow, with Brian Daboll sending in eight straight passes to start the game. A big throw to Davis on 3rd & 10 moved the chains and got the Bills into the red zone. A few plays later, BUF was facing a 1st & goal at the 4-yard line and Spencer Brown was hit with the “ineligible man downfield” penalty that’s plagued this offense for at least the last month. When the usually sure-handed Diggs dropped the would-be TD a couple of plays later on a missile from Allen, it looked like the penalty was going to be costly.

Josh Allen strolled into the end zone behind a well-blocked, designed QB-run

Facing 4th & goal from the 3-yard line, Sean McDermott continued his newly found aggressive approach and went for it. I like going for it in that situation because the weather sucked, you trust your defense, and it was only 2-0. Anyway, the throw to Diggs drew the pass interference flag and the Bills got 1st & goal from the 1-yard line. The trick play to Dion Dawkins was a little ambitious but the power sweep from Allen on the next play wasn’t and it put the Bills up 7-2.

The Bills’ defense was getting after it as Groot came away with the strip-sack on Matt Ryan

Despite the inauspicious start, the Bills had the lead and momentum as their defense took the field once again. Greg Rousseau has been a little quiet as of late but he showed up in a big way as he ripped the ball away from Matt Ryan near the end of the first quarter. Harrison Phillips has been playing better and better all season and he was there to scoop up the loose ball.

With conditions making the passing game difficult, it was vintage JA power football early

Buffalo took over, already inside the red zone, and Davis made another terrific catch on 3rd & 10 along the sideline. It was ruled incomplete, but McDermott actually won a challenge here as Gabe showed once again why he’s featured on the “Toe-Drag Swag” segment. A few plays later, Allen took another designed run to the house for the TD. At 14-2, it looked like the Bills would run away with it, but that’s when things got really interesting.

Atlanta responded with a solid drive that mixed in all their run angles and they were gifted an extra 15-yards thanks to an Ed Oliver roughing the passer penalty. The Bills’ defense would hold to a field goal but it was the most ATL had done all day and the lead was 14-5.

The weather was beginning to prove difficult and the run game was starting to pay dividends for BUF. The ground attack mostly carried them on this drive but Allen also connected with Diggs on a crucial 3rd & 7 to keep it moving. At that point, that was the lone completion in his last six attempts but his legs were working fine and he had back-to-back carries to get them into the red zone. Faced with a 3rd & 8 at the ATL 10-yard line, Allen tried to make a throw, back across his body, but there’s a reason going back to the middle of the field like that is frowned upon and the ball was tipped and picked off for the touchback. Josh has had a very strong season, but there have also been far too many careless interceptions this as well. This one proved costly.

Mike Davis had a very strong performance despite the limitations

Matt Ryan struck quick with a big play to Pitts who took it 61-yards inside the BUF 20-yard line. Mike Davis took it the rest of the way on 4-carries for 19-yards and the TD. And just like that, it was 14-12. It didn’t take long for bad to go to worse.

Zack Moss started the Bills’ next drive with a big gain on the ground but Allen completely airmailed Beasley on the second play of the drive and A.J. Terrell came up with a fantastic diving interception. Starting with great field position, the Falcons worked their way into comfortable range and kicked the FG to take the 15-14 lead at the half.

There was no real need to panic. Buffalo had invited ATL to hang around and so it was no surprise to see them do just that. The issue was going to be fixing the turnover problems and just finding the game flow. At the half, Allen was 8/20 passing with 2-INTs after getting off to a 6/9 start. Clearly, the passing game wasn’t going to work the way they’d hoped, but halftime is for making those adjustments. The Bills would get the ball to start the second half and they could easily put the first half behind them. Or so you would hope.

Naturally, Daboll sent the offense onto the field, passing to start the drive. It fell incomplete and then, on 3rd & 7, Allen’s pass, intended for Diggs, was tipped and intercepted again. It was a serious “Are you kidding me?” moment as Josh was now two for his last 12 with 3-INTs. Still, it wasn’t panic time but a nail-biter seemed inevitable. Fortunately, the Bills’ defense came up HUGE after the pick. They forced a quick 3 & out and took 12-yards of field position from ATL in the process.

It’s Motor time in Buffalo.

Apparently, the third interception was the one that got Daboll on board with the run game. Buffalo ran the ball eight times the drive, sending in only three pass calls, Allen scrambled on two of those. Allen slid on one of these runs and was hit while sliding but the flag was picked up. I know a lot of fans wanted that call, but I think it was the right decision to pick up the flag. It was a little late but not necessarily rough and not to the head and neck area despite Allen trying to sell it. I can see both sides, but I think it was a good no-call. Anyway, Devin Singletary has been running his ass off since Thanksgiving and it culminated with maybe a career-best performance. He was running around, over, and ultimately through defenders on the way to his first TD of the day. Bease converted the 2-pt conversion and the Bills were back up 22-15.

Once that happened, it was like the pendulum swung back to the Bills’ sideline. That previous drive had eaten the majority of the remaining 3rd quarter and the pressure was squarely back on the Falcons’ shoulders. Buffalo’s defense stepped up and forced a punt within five plays and that’s just what the offense needed to put the game out of reach.

This is probably close to taunting, but I feel him at this moment

The Bills’ power run game was setting the tone, and yes that feels weird to say. Playing with the lead and control, Buffalo just lined up and ran it like it’s something they’ve been doing all year. It seems like they finally have the right personnel groupings and packages in place to run how they want. Singletary capped it off with his second TD to make it 29-15 in the 4th quarter. The defense just had to do what they do.

The Falcons’ final drive of the game started strong and got inside the BUF 10-yard line before ending in a comical disaster. From 2nd & goal, Ryan scrambled towards the goal line and dove in for what was ruled a TD. He was so amped that he got in Jordan Poyer’s face and was flagged for taunting. Well, as all scoring plays are reviews, the TD was overturned as Ryan was ruled short of the goal line. So, they were set back 15-yards with no points and turned the ball over on downs. I would be fine with that play staying a TD but the “giving yourself up” rule is a weird one.

It’s a borderline call with the end zone right there

Ten plays later, the Bills had run the clock out and the game ended. The hard part is over, they are in the tournament, now it’s about playing well, staying healthy, and seeding.

Things to note. The offensive line has been playing very well since finding their new mix. John Felciano was moved to second string behind Ryan Bates who’s been outstanding, but he’s a valuable piece to have. Spencer Brown got a little dinged up so extra O-line depth and quality are good. Stefon Diggs appeared to take a shot to the head late in the game and he was seen shaking it off on the sidelines but did return. It’ll be interesting to see if he has to go through any concussion protocols. Dane Jackson continues to improve in Tre’Davious White’s absence and even matched up well with ATL star TE Kyle Pitts a couple of times.

Performance Grade: B

The Bills have a divisional date in the Meadowlands on deck to close out the season in Week 18 and with some potential seeding implications on the line, it’s a game they probably want to win. Health important, but going into the playoffs cold is not great either. The Jets aren’t to be toyed with either, nearly beating the Bucs in Week 17. Hopefully, that’s enough motivation to go out there and perform in the last week of a long season. If Buffalo handles their business, they should come away with the W and potentially the #3 seed in the AFC.