The Bills started it late Thanksgiving afternoon. Their unexpected, but thoroughly enjoyable, evisceration of the Cowboys in Dallas commenced a great weekend of televised football the collegiate highlight of which came 48 hours later.
— Buffalo’s victory was incredibly significant beyond the fact that they improved to 5-1 on the road for the first time since 1966.
First, and most critically, in a down year for the AFC, at 9-3, Buffalo, currently the conference’s No. 1 wild-card, is one win in its last four games from a playoff berth. To be sure, the Bills are now facing a tough three-game stretch, home against Baltimore (10-2), at Pittsburgh (7-5) and New England (10-2) before a season finale at New Era Field against the Jets (4-8).
Of course, there was more to the impressive win over the Cowboys than mere playoff position.
Two key Buffalo players had their coming-out parties before a national TV audience.
Quarterback Josh Allen, the seventh overall draft pick in 2018, and defensive tackle Ed Oliver, the ninth selection last April, hadn’t been playing as high first-rounders early this season.
Allen, in his second year, despite the Bills’ 4-1 start, had five touchdown passes and seven interceptions with a passer rating in the mid-70s and a penchant for fumbling. But, in the last seven starts he’s thrown for 11 touchdowns with one interception — including a stretch of five straight games without a pick — with a passer rating just over 100 (158.3 is perfect) while rushing for five TDs. He’s still fumbled 12 times in as many games, but has lost only three.
Against Dallas, on the largest possible stage, the game wasn’t too big for him. Allen was a glittering 19-of-24 passing with a TD pass to Cole Beasley and a 15-yard touchdown run.
Oliver, in the first five games, was Mr. Invisible. He totaled five tackles and two quarterback hits. However, over the past seven games, in reduced playing time, he has 17 tackles, five sacks, a forced fumble, four tackles for loss and five quarterback hits while beginning to make the impact Bills coaches expected. As with Allen, against the Cowboys, Oliver stood out before a huge audience with two sacks, a forced fumble, four tackles, a pass break-up and a quarterback hit.
If that game is who those two are going to be, it bodes well Buffalo’s future.
ON SATURDAY, at the collegiate level, there was an instant classic: Auburn 48, Alabama 45.
With five national championships in the past 13 seasons, the Crimson Tide have become the team that many love to hate because of their inordinate success.
I have nothing against Alabama football … except for those five titles in nine seasons AND Nick Saban.
It started when he was coach of the Dolphins. He was 9-7 his first year (2005) after being lured away from LSU. But the next season, after a 1-6 start, he rallied Miami to four wins in five games. But on Nov. 20, Alabama fired coach Mike Shula and immediately speculation began that his successor would be Saban.
By the time the Bills and Dolphins met for the second time that season in Game No. 14, he was being asked about the Alabama job in every press conference. His answers were condescendingly arrogant and adamantly dismissive.
Seventeen days after the Bills beat Miami, 21-0, at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Saban became the Crimson Tide’s 27th head coach.
In fairness, nobody expects the real truth when an already employed coach is asked about an open job.
What was bothersome in Saban’s response to questions about the Alabama position was the self-righteous indignation in his answers, as if his character was being assassinated.
Hence, my aversion to the Tide, at least while he’s coach.
Indeed, one of my all-time college football moments came at the end of the 2013 Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare Stadium. No. 1 Alabama, the two-time defending national champion, was playing at No. 4 Auburn.
The game was tied at 28 with one second remaining in regulation and Saban called for a 57-yard field goal attempt to win it. The kick came up short and Auburn returner Chris Davis caught it nine yards deep in the end zone and took it all the way for the winning touchdown. The NCAA only counts the return as 100 yards, but that 34-28 loss ranks as the most galling of Saban’s career … much to my delight.
But while I’m not a fan, there’s no denying his acumen as a coach and recruiter.
When he lost quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — the likely No. 1 overall draft pick in next spring’s draft — to a season-ending hip injury, Mac Jones stepped in and put up impressive numbers including Saturday against Auburn.
However, his four touchdowns were offset by two “pick sixes,” one a 29-yarder, the other a bizarre 100-yard score as the pass bounced off the receiver’s back and into the hands of a Tigers defensive back who went the distance.
But Saban was also bitten by field goal attempts … twice.
First, with Auburn having used its timeouts, officials reviewed a Tigers reception and the seemingly needless clock stoppage left Auburn one second to hit a 52-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
Saban claimed that was unfair … and it sure seemed to be.
Then, with two minutes left, Alabama kicker Joe Bulovas’ game-tying 30-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright and fell harmlessly, securing Auburn’s victory and ending the Tide’s bid for the College Football Playoff.
It was a great afternoon.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)