Pegula proud of 8-3 Bills, but still `a long way to go'

Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary picks up a few yards before Broncos defensive back Alexander Johnson tackles him on Sunday at New Era Field.

ORCHARD PARK — Bills owner Terry Pegula happily made his way through the locker room congratulating each person he met after his team improved to 8-3, marking Buffalo’s best record through 11 games in 23 years.

“Real proud,” Pegula said. “Good run. Got to keep going.”

Declining to say whether he could have envisioned such a turnaround happening in the two-plus years since hiring coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane, Pegula said he likes what he sees following a 20-3 win over Denver on Sunday.

“I’m just watching the season and enjoying it, you know,” he said. “That’s all I’ve got to say. We’ve got a long ways to go.”

That’s true in various respects.

After beating up on some of the NFL’s weaker teams, including the still-winless Bengals, the Bills haven’t clinched anything just yet while entering the meatiest part of their schedule. Starting with a game at Dallas (6-5) on Thursday, Buffalo’s next four opponents currently have winning records, with three of them division leaders.

From a longer-term view, Pegula’s comment echoes refrains often repeated by McDermott and Beane. The two arrived in Buffalo in 2017 with a singular vision of patiently and methodically rebuilding a franchise that had lost its way during a 17-year playoff drought, at the time was the longest active streak in North America’s four major professional sports.

Though the Bills snapped that drought in the new regime’s first season, McDermott and Beane proceeded to overhaul a roster that currently features just 12 holdovers from 2017. The objective, as McDermott has said, is not making the playoffs once every few years, but rather establishing a foundation of a team that can sustain success on a long-term basis.

This year’s Bills are not at that point yet, with Buffalo’s eight wins coming against teams entering this week with a combined record of 21-67. And yet, there are glimpses of an identity taking shape on both sides of the ball.

Buffalo’s defense, which opened the season returning 10 starters, has consistently been among the NFL’s best the past two years. It’s coming off a game in which the Broncos punted eight times while managing 134 yards offense — and just 40 in the second half.

The Josh Allen-led offense is also beginning to find its rhythm — and more importantly, the end zone — more often — since unveiling a no-huddle element during a 37-20 win at Miami two weeks ago.

The Bills have totaled 424 yards offense in each of their past two games — the first time they’ve topped 400 in consecutive outings since Weeks 15 and 16 in 2016. Allen has five touchdowns passing over the past two games, and answered questions about his inability to go deep with 34- and 40-yard TD passes to John Brown.

And Buffalo’s ground game has suddenly found its legs in combining for 402 yards rushing over two weeks, including 244 against Denver.

“We just had to find what we do,” receiver Isaiah McKenzie said of the faster-paced offense. “When we play fast, that’s what we do best.”

He’s eager to see how Buffalo stacks up against a higher caliber of competition.

“All these opponents are tough,” McKenzie said. “The next few weeks is going to show who the real Buffalo Bills are.”

WHAT’S WORKINGA reignited pass rush that’s generated 11 sacks over the past two games after managing 15 in its previous six.

WHAT NEEDS HELPAvoiding penalties. Bills were flagged a season-high 12 times for 90 yards against Denver. That was the sixth time Buffalo has committed eight or more penalties.

STOCK UPRookie running back Devin Singletary had season bests with 106 yards rushing on 21 carries while being on the field for 57 snaps in continuing to take over the starting duties from veteran Frank Gore.

STOCK DOWNAndre Roberts muffing a punt before recovering the ball at his 11, on the same play in which Buffalo’s Lorenzo Alexander was flagged for an illegal block above the waist.

INJUREDC Mitch Morse was listed as limited in practice Monday after hurting a finger on his right hand. S Siran Neal is set to return after being cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol. WR Robert Foster did not practice after hurting his hamstring following a 22-yard catch in the first half. RT Ty Nsekhe missed the game and is listed week to week due to knee injury.

KEY NUMBER49 — Broncos’ net yards passing allowed, the fewest allowed by Buffalo since giving up 36 in 24-16 loss to Atlanta on Sept. 25, 2005.

NEXT STEPSBills travel to Dallas for first Thanksgiving Day game since 35-21 loss at Detroit in 1994.

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