Ohhh, the Bills needed this one.
A week after letting an exceedingly winnable game escape in Cleveland, considerably tightening the AFC playoff race, Buffalo desperately had to rediscover its confidence.
And the Bills had to do it on the road against a once-struggling Miami team that had recovered from an ugly 0-4 start to play fairly well over the last five games and was on a two-game win streak.
A loss would have been devastating … a potential season-wrecker.
But instead, after a week of well-deserved criticism, coach Sean McDermott’s team produced its highest-scoring effort of the season, quarterback Josh Allen presented his best game of the campaign and the once-suspect rush defense stuffed the Dolphins in a 37-20 victory Sunday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium.
The triumph improved Buffalo to 7-3 for the first time in 20 years and kept it in the No. 1 conference wild-card spot, a game ahead of Indianapolis, Houston, Oakland and Kansas City (pending tonight’s game against the Chargers in Mexico City), though two of those teams figure to win their respective divisions).
THE BEST news was Allen’s performance.
He was 21-of-33 passing for 256 yards with three touchdown passes (two to John Brown, 40 and 9 yards, and one to rookie tight end Dawson Knox, 23) and an 8-yard TD run. After fumbling 11 times in the first nine games, Allen never turned the ball loose and his streak of passes without an interception has reached 163.
Buffalo’s rush defense, 21st in the league allowing 116 yards per game coming in and having allowed 147, 127 and 218 in the last three, stuffed the Dolphins with 23 yards on 13 carries.
And Brown, with 56 receptions for 817 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games, has proven to be Buffalo’s best free agent acquisition of the 16 the Bills signed.
Buffalo never turned the ball over and didn’t kill itself with penalties (5 for 50 yards). Plus, after ranking 20th in the league with only 22 sacks in the first nine games dumped Miami’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played four seasons in Buffalo, a season-high seven times.
But while this was a much-needed solid performance from the Bills, it was far from perfect.
“We did some good things and there were some things that weren’t good enough and we have to address those on tape,” McDermott said.
Even after the season’s best performance?
I’ll look at the tape … I’ll find something in there,” he pointed out.
AND HE’S right.
As impressive as the win was after what McDermott admitted, “wasn’t an easy week,”
There were a couple of concerns.
The biggest, by far, was the Bills’ continued struggles on special teams.
It isn’t without irony that Danny Crossman, Buffalo’s special teams coordinator for the previous six seasons, was fired this past off-season and on Sunday was on the opposite sideline serving that role for the Dolphins.
But his replacement, first-time coordinator Heath Farwell has seen his units failf to make an impact.
Before yesterday, the Bills ranked 23rd in the complex assessment of special teams’ overall performance that includes kickoffs, punts and returns in several categories, field goal percentage and even weather conditions.
And that ranking hardly improved yesterday as Farwell’s unit permitted Miami’s Jakeem Grant return a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown. Equally bad, Buffalo let the Dolphins recover an onside kick and only an upheld challenge on a fumble kept them for scoring on consecutive possessions.
“We worked on it,” McDermott said of the onside kick, though the Bills seemed totally unready for it. “It was a great job executing by them.”
THEN THERE was rookie third-round draft choice Devin Singletary.
Fans have been screaming for the elusive running back to get more touches and usurp veteran Frank Gore as Buffalo’s feature back, who had 11 carries for 27 yards plus a pass reception.
Against Miami Singletary got 16 touches — second-most this season — 15 carries for 75 yards (5 per try) and a catch, but reviews were mixed. He fumbled two of those touches but was bailed out when Buffalo recovered.
That stat concerns any coach for whom one is too many.
And even McDermott conceded, “Motor (Singletary’s nickname) had some fumbles there and we’ll learn from that.”
Bills fans can only hope so.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)