ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo holds a special place in Brian Daboll’s heart that goes beyond being his beloved hometown.
And while the Giants’ second-year coach won five Super Bowl rings as an assistant in New England, it’s his four-year tenure as the Bills’ offensive coordinator and the tight bond he established with quarterback Josh Allen that still resonates.
As much as Allen credited Daboll for being one of his more influential mentors, Daboll cited the quarterback as a person who boosted his coaching career.
“When you’re able to coach good players and be around good players as a coach, they help you,” Daboll said during a Zoom call with Buffalo-area reporters as the Giants (1-4) prepare to travel to play the Bills (3-2) on Sunday night.
“I’ve learned a lot from him as a quarterback, as a leader, how he handles things,” he added. “He’s a hell of a player. He’s a great friend. And I owe him a lot, too.”
If not for his time in Buffalo, where he designed the framework of an electrifying offense around Allen’s strong arm and legs, the 48-year-old Daboll might still be waiting for his first head coaching shot.
The only lament, perhaps, for Daboll is wishing the circumstances might be more ideal for his homecoming, with the offensively challenged and banged-up Giants limping to Buffalo in a less than attractive matchup for prime time.
“Certainly not how we wanted to start the season, but that’s where we’re at,” Daboll said. “So you make no excuses. You get ready to play a really good team on the road in a great environment.”
The Bills are 15 1/2-point favorites according to FanDuel SportsBook in facing a Giants opponent that will be without starting quarterback Daniel Jones (neck), features an offense that has allowed an NFL-high 30 sacks and has yet to find the end zone in the first half this season.
Bills coach Sean McDermott didn’t bother with the Giants’ struggles, saying they’re better than their record before noting his team has plenty of issues of its own.
Injuries are piling up. Buffalo’s down three defensive starters after placing linebacker Matt Milano (lower right leg) and tackle DaQuan Jones (pectoral muscle) on IR this week, where they join cornerback Tre’Davious White (torn right Achilles tendon).
McDermott was also left second-guessing the Bills’ late-arriving travel plans to England last week, which may have contributed to Buffalo’s sluggish start in a 25-20 loss to a Jacksonville opponent playing its second consecutive game in London.
The Bills are at least playing a true home game and in the Eastern time zone.
One thing’s for sure: At some point Sunday, Allen intends to approach Daboll and engulf him in a bear hug.
“Excited to see him,” said Allen, noting the two keep in touch regularly. “He’s meant so much to me in my football career, and in my life, for that matter.”
Buffalo’s fourth-year edge rusher A.J. Epenesa is enjoying a breakthrough season and is coming off an outing in which he had two sacks, batted down three passes and recovered the fumble he forced.
Epenesa placed the credit on finally feeling comfortable after his development was slowed by a fluctuating diet to find his ideal NFL playing weight, and the COVID-19 pandemic limiting his practice time.
“My first couple of years were a little slow. But I’m trying to build myself back up into the player I know I can be,” said Epenesa, a 2020 second-round pick out of Iowa. “And it starts with swagger and it starts with confidence.”
IN THE TRENCHES
While the Giants have allowed 30 sacks, including 18 in the past two games, the Bills lead the league with 21 sacks. New York’s line is thin with star left tackle Andrew Thomas (hamstring) out for a fifth straight game and rookie center John Michael Schmitz (shoulder) sidelined a second straight game.
Giants backup Tyrod Taylor will start and face his former team for the first time since his three-year stint ended in Buffalo following the 2017 season.
Taylor went 22-20 in Buffalo and helped the Bills end a 17-season playoff drought in his final year, and first under McDermott. The Bills traded Taylor to Cleveland the following offseason to pave the way for drafting Allen.
“As a competitor, any time you get a chance to go out and play, you always look forward to it,” Taylor said. “It just so happens to be Buffalo this week.”
The Giants’ defense had its first three takeaways in Miami, including safety Jason Pinnock’s franchise record-tying 102-yard interception return for a touchdown.
All was not good. Coordinator Wink Martindale’s unit was burned on three big plays, a 76-yard touchdown run, a 69-yard TD catch and a 64-yarder that coincidently led to Pinnock’s interception return.
Daboll said the Giants played a little complementary football, but lacked finish by settling for a field goal and giving the ball up on downs on two drives inside Miami’s 20.
“We gave up 10 explosive plays and didn’t get any,” Daboll said.