Bills report card: Josh Allen nearly pulled off heroic win and season hinges on his injury
TAMPA, Fla. - That right there, ladies and gentlemen, is what a franchise quarterback looks like.
Josh Allen has had better statistical games than the one he put forth Sunday night at Raymond James Stadium, but never in his nearly four years in the NFL has he played a game quite like this when you factor in the deficit he faced, and the competition he was up against.
Playing on a damaged foot that was protected by a boot when he entered the press room afterward, Allen almost single-handedly pulled off the greatest victory of his career, and what would have certainly been the best win of Sean McDermott’s coaching tenure.
Unfortunately, his heroics did not result in a victory because Tom Brady did what he always does against the Bills - he beat them, this time with a 58-yard TD pass to Breshad Perriman that gave the Buccaneers a 33-27 overtime victory, as heartbreaking a loss as the Bills could have suffered.
“Josh is one of the toughest competitors, one of the most resilient football players and people I've been around,” center Mitch Morse said. “Never seen him point a finger except at himself. A guy you can rally around, a guy who's in pain. I mean, you saw the pain he was in and he was still asking for QB runs, still asking to put it on his back and when you have a guy like that step into a huddle, you're so prideful of having a quarterback like that.
“You want to do everything in your power to help him lead our team down the field. So this will be a game that we can learn from, an extremely tough loss. But Josh Allen is a competitor, and if anyone questioned that after today, they weren't watching the same game we were.”
Allen said of his foot injury, “I'm not quite sure. I guess we'll do some more tests tomorrow, but I finished the game on it so I don't think it's going to be a big deal. It’s pretty sore. It’s football.”
Well, we’ll have to wait and see, but all the Bills can do is hope for the best because at 7-6, their season is hanging in the balance and if Allen is hampered, or can’t play, they’re in big trouble.
Here’s how I graded the Bills’ performance:
PASS OFFENSE: A-
The biggest question to come out of this game was, where was the offense in the first half? It was completely non-existent and was partially responsible for the 24-3 deficit the Bills were in at the break. But then in the second half, things began to click and Allen got into a tremendous rhythm and the result was 308 passing yards and two TDs.
Tampa Bay’s defense manhandled the Bills offensive line in the first two quarters as Allen was constantly under pressure and he was sacked three times while the Bills went 0-for-5 on third down. No one was getting open, and it looked like the second half would be a formality.
But Allen used his legs to jump-start the offense in the third quarter, and that in turn helped open things up through the air and he began to find big-time completions, none bigger than his TD passes to Dawson Knox and Gabriel Davis in the fourth quarter. Cole Beasley caught nine balls for 64 yards and Stefon Diggs had seven for 74 yards and he should have drawn at least two pass interference penalties, but didn’t.
The disappointment of the night came on the possession to open overtime when Allen missed Diggs on a third-down throw and that opened the door for Brady to deliver the dagger.
RUN OFFENSE: B
There was no running game outside of Allen in the first half as he had the only four rushes which totaled 43 yards. But in the second half, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll tried to get the backs involved and Devin Singletary had four carries for 52 yards, and Allen continued to bite off big chunks either on scrambles or designed runs.
His 18-yard TD scamper got the rally started in the third quarter, cutting the gap to 24-10, and he had a few other big chunk plays during the scoring drives in the fourth quarter that enabled Buffalo to tie the game. The final total was 173 yards, with Allen gaining 109 of that, the second-highest total of his career.
I’ve said for weeks that I was puzzled by Allen’s lack of activity in the run game, and Daboll finally decided to utilize his legs. Unfortunately, the one big worry we always have is that he’ll get hurt, and he did, apparently on his 23-yard run in the fourth on the play before his TD pass to Knox.
PASS DEFENSE: D-
Brady toyed with the Bills in the first half as he was 19 of 26 for 211 yards and a TD, and then after a sluggish second half where he couldn’t get much of anything going, he stepped up in the biggest moment of the game and completed all four of his overtime passes, the last the 58-yard TD strike to Perriman.
On the play, it looked like LB Tremaine Edmunds lost coverage as Perriman cut over the middle and once Perriman caught the ball, not only did he outrun Edmunds, there was no one else in the secondary close enough to save the touchdown.
Chris Godwin was a constant problem as he caught 10 passes for 105 yards, and Mike Evans caught six for 91 including a great grab on his TD on a play where Micah Hyde was late getting over. Rob Gronkowski, shockingly, didn’t kill the Bills, but he still had five catches for 62 yards.
Dane Jackson survived, but he was nailed for a pass interference penalty, as was Levi Wallace, though both were dubious at best.
RUN DEFENSE: C
The Bucs opened the scoring when Leonard Fournette broke a 47-yard TD run in the first quarter, a play that looked quite familiar to some of the big runs the Bills gave up earlier in the season to Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor. Fournette had a few other sizable gains and finished with 113 yards and a 5.9 average per carry.
However, only 41 of his yards came in the second half and overtime and because of that, the Bucs weren’t able to chew up the clock and it helped the Bills get back into the game. Tremaine Edmunds led the Bills with 12 tackles as he was much more active than last week in the loss to the Patriots, but that last play defending Perriman will haunt him.
Jordan Poyer had 10 tackles, Matt Milano nine and Micah Hyde eight. Up front, Harrison Phillips appeared to play another strong game as he had to fill the void left by the absence, once again, of Star Lotulelei. Other than Phillips, there wasn’t much to see from the defensive line, particularly Jerry Hughes who seems to have disappeared lately.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Before the game, some fans on Twitter were complaining about the Bills’ lack of gadget plays lately. I think they meant for the offense, not special teams, but lo and behold, the Bills dipped into their bag of tricks and faked a punt early in the third quarter when it was still 24-3. It failed miserably as Matt Breida took a direct snap and lost three yards.
Punter Matt Haack got off to a poor start, but he rebounded and finished with a 46.0 net average on six punts, four of them downed inside the 20 including his last, a magnificent 63-yarder that pinned the Bucs back at their six. Not that it mattered because they scored moments later.
Marquez Stevenson and Isaiah McKenzie were both active, but Stevenson handled the return duties and he had one 29-yarder on a kickoff and two punt returns for nine yards. The biggest key is he handled the ball cleanly. Tyler Bass made all of his kicks including the game-tying 25-yard field goal with 22 seconds left.
Sean McDermott made a couple dubious punting decisions. The first was signing off on the fake, which failed. And then late in the third, still down 24-10, he opted against going for a fourth-and-3 at the Bills' 45. Haack got off a great punt that was fair caught at the 10, but the Bucs turned around and drove 84 yards to a field goal that, at the time, seemed to drive the final nail in the coffin for Buffalo as it increased the Bucs lead to 27-10. As it turned out, McDermott’s faith in his team to rally was rewarded.
McDermott also must have delivered an impactful halftime speech because the Bills were a different team in the second half. Still, that does not let him off the hook for the terrible showing the Bills had in the opening 30 minutes.
On offense, Brian Daboll did not call a running back run until the third quarter, and the play-calling was suspect early. But he really got into a groove in the second half and the Bucs could stop the Bills, at least not until the final possession.
Defensively, Leslie Frazier’s guys had a rough night as they allowed 488 yards, 26 first downs, and Tampa Bay was 8 of 16 on third down. When the defense needed to make a stop at the end, it failed.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.