ORCHARD PARK — As the old saying goes, revenge is a dish best served cold. That was certainly the case for the Bills in their wet and windy 20-12 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday, avenging a Week 9 defeat to the team and improving Buffalo’s winning streak to four straight games. The Bills (10-3) remain atop both the divisional and conference standings, with another revenge game, against the Miami Dolphins coming up next week.
“Good to get a win,” said Bills head coach Sean McDermott. “In particular against a good football team, well-coached team that played extremely hard - that plays extremely hard. “
Buffalo started slowly offensively but provided stifling defense throughout the divisional win, which helped absorb some early struggles from quarterback Josh Allen and the Bills’ passing attack, leading to a significant AFC East victory.
“They’re a good defense. So I’ll start there and give them the credit,” McDermott said. “But overall, not enough early enough for us. Fundamentally we dropped some passes. We were off the mark a little bit earlier with our passing game and then just got to do a better job being more consistent there.”
It wasn’t pretty, but once again, the Bills came away with a win and remained as the class of the AFC. Here are my Five Takeaways from Buffalo’s win:
DEPLETED D-LINE STEPS UP
Without star pass rusher Von Miller, the Bills knew they were in need of a coming-of-age effort from their group of young defensive linemen, and that’s precisely what the group put forth against New York.
Powered by a two-sack performance from Greg Rousseau, who also forced a fumble, added another quarterback pressure and deflected a pass, the Bills’ front four was dominant throughout the afternoon. Buffalo consistently impacted Jets quarterback Mike White, who left Highmark Stadium in the back of an ambulance due to the abuse he took from the Buffalo defense, particularly its group of pass rushers.
Early in the game, Ed Oliver delivered a blow on White that forced him to the sideline for a play in favor of backup quarterback Joe Flacco. White returned after missing just one snap, but later in the game, he was forced to the locker room following a big hit delivered by Matt Milano, who nearly folded the New York QB in half. On the next play, Rousseau recorded his second sack of the game, forcing the ball out of Flacco’s grasp, with DaQuan Jones hopping on the loose ball for the fumble recovery. White would return to the game later, but Jets head coach Robert Saleh said after the game that White was headed for the hospital as a precaution.
“I got a lot of respect for Mike,” said Bills safety Jordan Poyer. “Shoot, you saw him on the ground. He was taking some hits. He kept coming back, and he kept battling for his team. So a lot of respect for Mike.” In addition to his critical sack-fumble, Rousseau produced an impressive stretch early in the first half when he sacked White before deflecting a pass at the line of scrimmage on the next play to help set up a third-and-long and an eventual Jets punt. With Miller now out for the year, Rousseau, who endured some injury struggles earlier this season after suffering a high ankle sprain against the Jets in Week 9, put forth an explosive effort when his team needed it most.
“Sometimes it doesn’t go the way we want it to go, but it’s always that man-whooping-man mentality and just doing our one-eleventh,” said Rousseau about the mentality of the Bills’ front four, entering the game without Miller. “Stopping the run, affecting the quarterback, and taking the ball away mentality week after week. It doesn’t really change for us.”
After beginning the season as an afterthought due to the incredible production of the Bills’ offense, Buffalo punter Sam Martin has enjoyed quite a successful campaign, including perhaps his most impactful performance of the season against the Jets. Martin was on the field to punt a season-high eight times on Sunday, totaling a net average of 49.6 yards per punt, his best mark of the season. Two of Martin’s kicks were downed inside the Jets’ 10-yard line, one at the two-yard line, and another at the six-yard line.
When Buffalo released its rookie punter, Matt Araiza, due to off-the-field issues earlier this season, it was uncertain what the team would get out of the veteran Martin. But since coming to Buffalo, the former Broncos P has done nothing but impress, and on Sunday, he affected the Bills’ winning effort in a positive way.
Tyler Bass continued his fine season with another perfect outing, finishing 2-of-2 on his kicks, including a long boot from nearly 50 yards that traveled through the wind and rain/snow mix at Highmark Stadium. Nyheim Hines also made an impact as a return man, making a few tough catches through the wintry weather and bursting out for a long return of 23 yards that set up the Bills with possession inside Jets’ territory.
The Bills’ specialists have been a strength all season, another positive sign for a potential Super Bowl contender.
SLOW START, FAILURE TO FINISH
Buffalo’s winning effort started slowly but gained steam late in the first half when Allen helped guide a seven-play, 70-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 24-yard touchdown reception from Allen to Dawson Knox. The Bills’ tight end secured the catch and leaped over Jets’ defensive backs Sauce Gardner and Jordan Whitehead and into the end zone for the score. Knox’s touchdown broke the seal, providing Buffalo with a 7-0 lead with :26 remaining in the first half.
Before the touchdown drive, Allen started the game 5 of 11 passing for 27 yards, with the entire Buffalo offense struggling to gain its rhythm.
“I think we hurt ourselves early on. Whether it be decisions or a penalty here or there just kind of put us out of a funk and put us into some second and third and long situations, which we got to stay out of,” Allen said. “I don’t know what we were on third down tonight, but I know it wasn’t good. So it’s something we got to clean up. “
Along with a few errant throws from Allen, his receivers dropped a number of passes in the early going, leading to the stagnant start.
“There are a few plays in the second half I want back,” said Dawson Knox, who appeared to drop a reception that would have gone for first-down yardage on the Bills’ final drive in the fourth quarter. “When the ball is thrown to me, I need to make plays on it.”
Buffalo gained momentum late in the first half and carried it with them into the second when it responded to a game-tying Jets touchdown drive with a scoring strike of its own. With 7:20 remaining in the third quarter, Allen crashed across the goal line from five yards out to regain Buffalo’s lead at 14-7. However, the Bills’ offensive struggles resumed after their latest touchdown.
While they had little trouble reaching scoring position as the half wore on, the Bills were unable to find the end zone again, relying on two Tyler Bass field goals, a 38-yarder and 49-yarder, to improve their final margin of victory. The Jets refused to go away quietly, using a blocked punt that traveled through the back of the end zone to inch closer before a late field goal from Greg Zuerlein cut New York’s deficit to eight with 1:18 to play. After regaining possession following Zuerlein’s made field goal, the Bills failed to gain first-down yardage and instead punted the ball back to the Jets with 53 seconds remaining, providing them with a chance to perhaps tie the game with a touchdown and a successful two-point conversion. But as it did throughout the afternoon and as it has all season, the Bills’ defense stood tall when it mattered most, forcing the Jets into a turnover on downs which sealed the win.
OFFENSIVE LINE WOES
Entering Week 14, while not on the field as a complete unit very often this season due to injuries, the Bills’ starting offensive line has been a productive group when it’s gotten the chance to work together. That wasn’t the case against the Jets, as Allen was sacked three times and pressured on many more occasions throughout the course of the game.
The weak link within the Bills’ front five appeared to be Dion Dawkins, who returned from a one-game absence and committed four penalties, three of which were ruled holding penalties. There certainly may have been some lingering impact from Dawkins’ ankle injury that forced him out of action last week against New England, perhaps leading to a few moments against New York he surely would want back. With that said, this team needs its left tackle to return to his Pro Bowl form if it hopes its offense to return to its early-season form.
This week’s Saturday-night matchup with the Dolphins may decide the Bills’ fate within the division and perhaps the conference. Miami is two games behind Buffalo after losing to San Diego on Sunday night and the Bills hope to further their winning streak while securing a stranglehold on the divisional race and maintaining their leg up within the AFC.
The Bills’ goals at the season’s outset included a divisional crown and an AFC No. 1 seed. Both are still firmly within their sights heading into the final four games of the season.
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