The Bills’ defense put forth a noble effort in Sunday’s loss in Miami, holding down the Dolphins offense while six regulars were out with injuries. But they’d better hope some of those players get back soon, because things won’t get any easier at 1 p.m. Sunday when they play at the Ravens.
For the second straight week, the Bills will face a quarterback coming off a record-setting game that inspired early MVP talk. On Sunday, it was Tua Tagovailoa. Now they have to face Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, who is off to an historic start and making a compelling early case for MVP.
Jackson had 218 yards passing and four TD throws in the Ravens’ 37-26 win at New England. He also ran for 107 yards and a score. He now leads the league in passing touchdowns with 10 and is tied for fourth in rushing yards with 243 yards — with a league-leading 9.3 yards a carry.
It was the second week in a row that Jackson had 200 yards passing and 100 rushing, and a record seventh time he’s had a 200-100 game (eight counting playoffs). No other player in NFL history has more than three such games. Cam Newton did it three times.
Jackson also became the first player in NFL history with three passing TDs and 100 yards rushing in consecutive games, and the first with at least 10 TD passes and 100 rushing yards in his first three games. He’s the third player to throw four touchdown passes and rush for 100 or more yards in a single game. Newton (2015) and Randall Cunningham were the others.
The Ravens passed the Bills as the highest-scoring team in the NFL with 99 points in three weeks. The Lions are second with 95 after a 28-24 loss at Minnesota. The Bills are third with 93 points after failing to score 27 for the first time in 10 games — since the loss to the Pats in the wind.
“No one has to tell me about Lamar Jackson,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “I believe in him. I love him. I just believed him the first day we drafted him, the first day we talked about drafting him. I felt like he could be everything he is.
“What’s he, in his fifth year now?,” Harbaugh said. “So, his process as a quarterback in terms of preparation has taken another step. He’s always been going this way. That’s another step in that direction. I think he’s really kind of gotten to a point where he’s really kind of found himself in terms of his quarterback preparation process.”
Skeptics wondered if Lamar’s attention might be diverted by his lingering contract squabble. Jackson is playing on the final year of a five-year deal that pays him $23.02 million this season, about half what a top quarterback is paid in today’s ever-expanding QB market.
Baltimore has reportedly offered Jackson more total money than Kyler Murray ($230 million) and Russell Wilson ($245 million). Evidently, Jackson is seeking a deal similar to the one Deshaun Watson got from the Browns, a fully guaranteed five-year contract worth $230 million.
Such fully guaranteed deals are rare in the NFL, but the pressure is mounting on the Ravens organization with Jackson playing the best football of his career and looking poised to win a second MVP award. In 2019, he became the second-youngest player to win MVP at age 22.
Jackson presents a more formidable challenge to the Bills’ top-ranked defense than Tagovailoa did last weekend. He can terrorize a defense with his arms and his legs. His accuracy was an issue earlier in his career, like Josh Allen, but he’s become a much better pocket passer.
The Bills can take some comfort in the fact that they’ve contained Jackson fairly well in their two meetings. Jackson was 16 of 25 passing for 145 yards and three touchdowns and one interception in a 24-17 win in Buffalo in 2019. He ran 11 times for 40 yards that day.
In the divisional round of the playoffs the next season, the Bills shackled Jackson in a 17-3 win. He passed for only 162 yards with one interception— a memorable 101-yard pick six by Taron Johnson with the Ravens down by seven at the Buffalo 9-yard line late in the third quarter.
But Jackson seems like a different player and more polished passer than he was just two seasons ago, much like Josh Allen. It’s another fascinating collision of young superstars, one that the TV moguls probably wish was being presented as a prime-time night affair.
Ask the casual football watcher to name the two most exciting players in the NFL and they might respond, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. For the second week in a row, the Bills game will feature the NFL’s top two in TD passes. Jackson leads with 10 and Allen is tied for second with nine.
If the Ravens hadn’t melted down in the fourth quarter against Miami, the Bills might be facing the only unbeaten team in the AFC on Sunday. That unbeaten team, of course, is the Dolphins, who take their 3-0 record on the road Thursday night to play the reigning AFC champion Bengals.
That’s some cruel scheduling for the Dolphins, who will have only three days’ rest after their exhausting win over the Bills in oppressive heat in Miami. Their defense will be hard-pressed to stop Cincinnati after the Bills ran 90 plays and held the ball for 40:40 on Sunday.
The winner of the Bills-Ravens game could very well be tied for first place in the conference after next week’s games. In fact, there could be as many as half a dozen AFC teams tied at 3-1 after four weeks in one of the most balanced starts in recent memory.
Following Brian Daboll’s Giants suffering their first loss of the season to the Cowboys on Monday night, there are only two unbeaten teams remaining in the NFL — the Dolphins and Eagles.
The Eagles have been the story of the NFC through the first three weeks. I felt compelled to revisit the remarkable start of Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts, who had another terrific performance in a 24-8 road victory at Washington that ignited even more MVP talk.
Hurts passed for 318 yards and three touchdowns against the Commanders. He had 279 yards passing and all three TDs in the first half. A week earlier, he had passed for 250 yards in the first half of a win over the Vikings. Imagine his stats if the Eagles weren’t nursing big leads.
Through three weeks, Hurts has passed for 719 yards in the first half alone. Josh Allen is second in first-half passing yards after three weeks with 580 — 139 fewer than Hurts. NFL Research reported late Sunday that Hurts had become the first player in history with at least 900 yards passing and 150 yards rushing through the first three games of a season. (Allen nearly accomplished the feat, too, but has only 113 yards on the ground.)
Wouldn’t it be fun to see Hurts and Allen, two electric athletes, in the Super Bowl? Glen Macnow, the venerable Philadelphia sports radio host, tells me Eagles fans love the idea. Macnow, who was raised in Buffalo, said many Philly fans see the Eagles and Bills as similar franchises.
Is he owned?
This week’s fantasy find is Packers rookie wideout Romeo Doubs, who had eight catches (on eight targets) for 73 yards and a touchdown in Green Bay’s 14-12 win at Tampa Bay.
Doubs, a rookie from Nevada-Reno, was the first Packer besides the departed Davante Adams to catch eight passes in a game since Randall Cobb did it in Week 1 of the 2018 season. He was picked 132nd overall in the 2022 draft, 16 spots before the Bills took Khalil Shakir of Boise State.
Shakir was third in the Mountain West in receiving yards last season with 1,117. Doubs was fourth with 1,109 yards receiving. Chances are they were very close on many draft boards last spring. Maybe the Bills were looking at Doubs as a possibility if the Pack hadn’t pounced.
As rookies, the difference between the two is opportunity. Green Bay veteran Sammy Watkins is out for the season with another of his perpetual injuries. Rookie wideout Christian Watson, who was Green Bay’s second-round pick, is also sidelined by injury.
Doubs got his chance and leads the Packers with 14 receptions and 137 yards. He’s quickly gained the confidence of Aaron Rodgers, who has been searching for reliable targets since his former favorite receiver, Adams, signed a big free-agent deal with the Raiders in March.
“We called some plays for him and he made some nice catches,” Rodgers said. “The thing about Romeo that gives you confidence is the majority of the time, he catches the ball with his hands.”
As of last week, Doubs was rostered in just 16 percent of ESPN leagues and starting in 1.2 percent. You can never be too deep in wideouts in fantasy. Anyone who looks to be a favorite of Aaron Rodgers has a place on your roster.
According to NFL Stats, Allen’s 63 passes against Miami were the fourth-most in history by a player who didn’t throw an interception. The Bills ran 51 more plays than the Dolphins, the second-most in a loss, including playoffs, since at least 2000.
Talk about parity. The Raiders are the only winless team after three weeks (and Adams isn’t happy). It’s the first time since 1959 that only one team was winless after three weeks in the NFL. And there were only 12 teams in the league back then. There’s amazing balance these days.
The Lions scored in each of the first 11 quarters of the season. Elias, who has better resources than me, reports that it’s the longest such streak, excluding overtime, to start a season. The previous record was held by the 1998 Niners and, get this, the 1920 Buffalo All-Americans.
More ancient history: Lamar Jackson isn’t likely to finish top five in rushing yards – but if he did it, he could become the first player to finish top five in TD passes and rushing yards since Frankie Sinkwich did it for Detroit 1944. The first to do it was the legendary Bronko Nagurski for the Bears in 1932. Bronko threw three TD passes. There were 42 in the entire league that season.
The battle of the Bays was the first game in NFL history that featured two starting quarterbacks with at least three MVPs on their resume. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has four MVPs, including the last two, and Tom Brady won three times.
The Eagles’ DeVonta Smith, who didn’t catch a pass in the season opener, caught seven balls from Hurts for 156 yards in the first half alone Sunday. Smith, who won the Heisman two years ago at Alabama, finished with eight catches for 169 yards, both career highs.
A few more Bills notes to end it: Buffalo’s defense leads the league in total yards per game (214.0). They’re second in sacks (11) and fewest yards per play against (4.1). The Bills had 11 different players who caught a pass against the Dolphins, a new franchise record.
Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning journalist who joined the News 4 team in 2020 after three decades as a sports columnist at The Buffalo News. See more of his work here.