Bills report card: Defense bullies Jets to win division but team's goal is Super Bowl
ORCHARD PARK - Not since the Hall of Fame days of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith and the Super Bowl teams of the early 1990s have Buffalo Bills fans had the opportunity to celebrate the clinching of an AFC East division championship at home.
But on a cold and blustery night at Highmark Stadium, they partied like it was, well, not 1999 as the song once said, but certainly like 1991, which was the last time the Bills have won back-to-back division titles.
However, as exciting as it was for that chilled-to-the-bone crowd to revel in the victory, something they were deprived of last season when fans were barred from the building during the regular season because of COVID-19, one message rang out loud and clear.
This 2021 season was not about winning the division; it was always about winning the Super Bowl, and the only thing the Bills accomplished Sunday night with their hard-fought 27-10 victory over the New York Jets was the chance to begin the quest for the elusive Vince Lombardi Trophy at home next week.
Bills report card:Defense bullies Jets to win division but team's goal is Super Bowl
“Nobody at the end of their careers looks back and really figures out how many times you won your division,” said quarterback Josh Allen. “I think the main goal is the Super Bowl and winning the division just gives you an opportunity to do that. So that’s really our focus. It’s great, it’s fine, hats and shirts are cool, but at the end of the day, we’ve got a lot more work to do.”
Allen didn’t have one of his best nights, to be sure, but it really didn’t matter given how absolutely dominant the Buffalo defense was. It flat-out embarrassed the Jets, limiting them to four first downs and 53 net yards, finishing off a stupendous season as the NFL’s No. 1 unit in fewest points allowed, fewest total yards allowed, and fewest passing yards allowed.
“It really don’t matter who we play; they can line up whoever,” said defensive tackle Ed Oliver, speaking to the confidence this defense is playing with as it heads into the postseason and not caring who they play in the wild-card round, either the Chargers or the Patriots.
Here’s how I graded the Bills’ performance:
PASS OFFENSE: C
So far, January has not been a good month for Allen. Lousy. weather in both games was a factor, but he has really struggled in the victories over Atlanta and New York, and both of those teams are terrible on defense. It’s a night and day difference between these two last two games and the game he played at New England, which may have been the best of his career.
Allen finished 24 of 45 for 239 yards and two TDs which isn’t terrible, but he left a lot of plays on the field and he admitted as much afterward. Still, he also played turnover-free after a three-pick debacle last week, so that was certainly a positive.
Stefon Diggs made a great catch for a TD on the first drive and finished with eight catches for 91 yards, but there wasn’t much from anyone else. Dawson Knox made a great grab for 28 yards in a key moment when the Bills were leading just 13-10 late in the third and needed a spark. Gabriel Davis had a mostly horrific night, catching only three balls on 14 targets. Not all were catchable, but several were and he dropped them.
Up front, the line was very good. They played their third straight game without allowing a sack as Allen almost always had time to go through his reads. His issues had to do with inaccuracy and not being on the same page at times with his receivers.
RUN OFFENSE: B+
Devin Singletary ripped off a 40-yard run on the first drive of the game to set up Diggs’ TD, then had some struggles in the middle portion before re-emerging in a big way in the fourth quarter when he ran for one score and caught a pass for another. He finished with 88 yards and a 4.6 average per carry.
Once again, Allen played a big role in the run game as he ripped off a couple big gainers, including a 32-yarder that started the drive to the first TD in the fourth quarter that essentially locked up the victory.
The line was solid and when the numbers were added up, there were 170 yards and a 5.2 average per attempt. Ryan Bates moving into the starting lineup seems to be the piece that had been missing.
PASS DEFENSE: A+
Zach Wilson must be glad he doesn’t have to play a game for another nine months because it might take him that long to recover from the beating the Bills gave him. They had nine sacks for 82 yards in lost yardage, outrageous numbers that represent the biggest of the Sean McDermott coaching era.
And what was important is that it wasn’t all on blitzes. The front four, no matter what the combination, was eating all night. The line got sacks from Mario Addison (2), Oliver (1.5), Boogie Basham (1), A.J. Epenesa (1) and Jerry Hughes (0.5), while Jordan Poyer (2) and Matt Milano (1) got theirs via blitzes.
With so much heat up front, the secondary didn’t have to cover for very long, but when Wilson managed to get rid of the ball, there was rarely anyone open. The only misplay came in the second quarter when Keelan Cole caught a crossing route in front of Poyer and scampered 40 yards for the Jets’ lone TD. Otherwise, New York had two other receptions of at least 10 yards. Wilson finished 7 of 20 for 87 yards, but just five net yards after the 82 yards in sacks.
RUN DEFENSE: A+
The Jets never really gave their running game a chance because they fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter, and they ended up having the ball for only 23 minutes. RBs Michael Carter and Tevin Coleman combined for 25 yards on 14 carries, and 10 of those yards came on one play by Carter. Wilson broke out of the pocket twice for 24 yards.
The Bills defensive line, in addition to the sacks, was strong at the point of attack all night as the Jets offensive line could not create any gaps. The 48-yard total tied for the second-best this season for the Bills. They allowed 44 to the Saints and 48 to the Texans.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F
The highlight of the night for the kicking teams was Cam Lewis blocking a first-quarter punt – the Bills' first since 2016 - which gave the Bills a drive start at the Jets' 35, though they wound up doing nothing with it. Rookie Marquez Stevenson was inactive, presumably because the coaches didn’t trust him on a wet and windy day to cleanly field kicks. That, of course, is a problem.
Isaiah McKenzie was deep on a punt in the first quarter and made a poor decision not to field it, which cost valuable yards and forced a drive start at the 7. Soon thereafter, he was benched in favor of the reliable Micah Hyde who ran back three for 29 yards while letting a couple others hit the ground rather than risk a fumble.
Matt Haack finally did what he’s primarily paid to do: Punt the ball. If that’s what you want to call what he was trying to do. He hadn’t attempted one since the Panthers game, a span of 151 minutes, 44 seconds, but he was finally called on midway through the second quarter. He hit a line drive into the wind and it was downed at the Jets 19, and it never got better for him. He finished with a 30.3 net average on seven kicks.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the normally reliable Reid Ferguson flubbed a long snap which Haack couldn’t handle and that gave the Jets the ball at the Buffalo 22 in the third quarter.
For good measure, Siran Neal had a holding penalty on a second-quarter punt that forced a drive start at the 18. It was an absolute travesty in the kicking game.
It sure felt like this game should have been over in the first half, but the Bills weren’t real efficient on offense after their opening TD drive, and they allowed another bad team to hang around way too long.
There were some questionable play calls from Brian Daboll that didn’t work out. Following the blocked punt, the Bills failed to make a first down and failed on fourth down, wasting a great scoring chance. And as the game wore on, especially moving into the wind, Daboll couldn’t get Allen out of his funk.
I’m a little over Sean McDermott’s “let’s try to draw them offside” tendency on fourth-and-1. You’re playing the Jets; either go for it, or punt and go play defense. He burned a timeout playing that silly game, and not having a timeout at the end of the first half was a problem. And then McDermott had to burn one on offense in the third quarter.
On defense, what can you say? Leslie Frazier’s guys were incredible and they put forth one of the greatest defensive performances in team history in allowing just four first downs and 53 yards.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.