ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WROC) – Sean McDermott didn’t say what Stefon Diggs said to the Bills before their game Thursday night.
McDermott did make it clear that Diggs was the reason his team took the field with an “attitude.” The pregame talk to jack up the team is something McDermott has been rotating among the veterans. This time, Diggs requested the job on his own.
“That’s what a leader does,” McDermott said. “He steps up when a team needs him to step up and speak up. I applaud him for that.”
McDermott is the one that deserves the applause. In fact, a full blown standing ovation might be in order.
Make no mistake. This was a game the Bills absolutely had to have. A loss would have sent the season spiraling. Mathematically, a loss would have dropped Buffalo to 4-4 with a ton of big obstacles left on the schedule. Even making the playoffs in that spot becomes a tough ask.
Emotionally, this team needed to right the ship. They needed evidence and success to support the belief that was preached incessantly in the locker room since the loss to New England. The Bills needed a Restore The Faith game.
McDermott had his team ready to deliver. Top to bottom. Even the bleeping punter kicked some tail Thursday night.
The moribound offense showed a ton of life and energy right off the jump. And they needed the jolt. Mitch Morse admitted he’s not sure if energy breeds execution or if good execution breeds energy, but the plan to go with energy early fueled this group.
They scored. They moved the ball. They got in the rhythm that’s been missing the last few weeks and the success snowballed. This next thought might wreck the noodle of a first grade math student, but the 24 points Buffalo scored Thursday was exponentially more impressive than the 25 they scored in New England.
I was impressed how comfortable and, more important, how decisive Josh Allen was. During the third quarter, the Amazon Prime broadcast pointed out Allen’s time to throw on average was 2.34 seconds. It was the fastest time in a game for his career. McDermott enjoyed that “every play wasn’t an adventure.” Allen identified and got to the easy stuff without delay.
That doesn’t happen on the back of QB success alone. The offensive line has to be good. One real sack (the other was the botched attempt to draw a flag at the end of the third quarter) and over four yards a carry rushing absolutely qualifies. Receivers also have to be open and not just one receiver. Against the Bucs, Allen had good options everywhere.
I liked giving Khalil Shakir more of a chance and he delivered quickly, catching three passes on the game’s opening drive. Shakir finished with career highs in catches (6) and yards (92). He’s been adept at finding the open space in limited time early this season and he’s improved a ton as a blocker. I want to see if the second year wideout can sustain the performance from Thursday night.
Gabe Davis had another flash game, but this wasn’t the typical big Gabe day. Instead of one or two 50 yard shots, Davis was persistent and surgical. He had nine receptions and only needed 12 targets to do it. There were no drops and there was yet another touchdown. With five scores, Davis trails only three other receivers in finding the end zone.
Stefon Diggs caught nine passes for 70 yards and was merely a voice in a choir.
Especially because Dalton Kincaid backed up his big day in New England with more evidence he can be a weapon to count on next to Diggs in this offense. The five catches for 65 yards aren’t all that gaudy, but he got into the end zone for the first time on a third and long play where he was exactly where his scrambling quarterback needed him to be. The second half third down conversion where Kincaid flashed the high degree of difficulty hands on the sideline is exactly the guy that likely had Bills scouts swooning during the draft process.
It’s been a while since the Bills got first round production from a first round pick. Buffalo can roll out all the tempos and personnel groupings they want. It won’t work without players and, the last two weeks, Kincaid has been a Player (capital P intended).
I’ll look forward to going back through the film on this game, but it definitely seemed like Ken Dorsey was tapping all the right keys in this symphony. Yes, I hear you. Third and goal run from shotgun on the goal line is the favorite of no one. The wins still wildly outnumbered the losses.
That includes a smart designed Allen run early in the game. I don’t want to see a return to reliance on Josh Allen, Running Back, but it started to seem the last few weeks like his brain would lock up on scrambles as he neared the line of scrimmage. “Should I run? Am I allowed to?”
Getting into a rhythm can go for individual players. I wonder if seeing space to gallop on the first run settled Allen into being more comfortable attacking open lanes. His rushing TD to put the Bills up 10-0 was a perfect decision that came at the perfect moment.
We even saw Allen slide into the sideline to finish a run! Although one or the other is more than enough for next time, McDermott was all smiles reporting that he no longer has to beat into his quarterback how discretion is the better part of valor.
The offense will get the shine from this game, but Buffalo’s defense was nearly as dominant. That’s why I had no problem with McDermott punting twice from the plus side of midfield in the fourth quarter, even if Tampa was able to make the finish a bit uncomfortable for Bills Mafia.
Mike Evans was irrelevant, save for a late TD that deflected off Christian Benford’s helmet directly between the 1 and 3 on the front of Evans’ jersey. Chris Godwin had one catch after halftime. Evans and Godwin are one of three duos that begin the weekend in the top 25 for yards receiving. The Bills did not allow them to reach 100 yards combined.
The pass rush was not dominant, so that means the back seven had to be doing their job. I thought Benford, particularly, had a good night. In the McDermott defense, good coverage is almost always a team effort. That means Dane Jackson, Terrel Bernard and even Tyrel Dodson had to be 1/11th-ing the heck out of that coverage. it’s a big rebound for a group that got carved up by the immortal Mac Jones just 100 hours earlier.
Sam Martin wasn’t even the only special teams star on Thursday. Shaq Lawson got a field goal block and got to let everyone know about it. “There was nothing hungry and humble about that,” McDermott said with a big smile, quoting one of his own cliches. Harty did what he does best, turning a poor punt into superb field position with a weaving 24 yard return in the second quarter that spotted the offense just outside the red zone.
I don’t know if the offense is “fixed.” I’m not sure if hurry up is the long term answer. It’s something the Bills haven’t put on tape much. You can be sure the Jets and Chiefs and Cowboys will roll out sterner tests after they get to see two or three games of film on the Bills this way if they hang with it.
I do think it’s a damn good identity, at least for the short term. It worked Thursday night and it was a big deal that it worked early. An identity is not something Buffalo has had most of this year (unless you count the Josh, Diggs or Die thing they’ve been running since late last season). I’d certainly lean into the up tempo stuff for next Sunday in Cincinnati and see where it takes them.
There were multiple mentions postgame Thursday of a bitter taste that wouldn’t leave easily after the loss to New England. A chip on the shoulder for the Bills that Taron Johnson said fueled them against Tampa. It’s something that he’d like to see remain as fuel indefinitely.
Fueling the car is one thing. Driving it in the right direction is entirely another. McDermott credited his staff for building the game plan, but the head coach is the one behind the wheel and this was no ordinary week. The Bills had holes in the dam everywhere following the loss to New England. Young linebackers with their heads spinning. Injuries ravaging the defensive line. An offense unsure how to best utilize a variety of talents.
McDermott was matter of fact about the job he did this week. “As a coach, you’re paid to be a problem solver. This is what we do.”
Diggs might have been a spark in the locker room Thursday night. After seeing the Bills across the board earn a vital win Thursday night, I have to believe the head coach had that flame lit and burning bright all week long.
Thad Brown is the Sports Director at WROC in Rochester. He appears alongside WIVB’s Josh Reed and Heather Prusak on Buffalo Kickoff Live.