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Thad Brown: Bills raise concern, but earn title shot

todayJanuary 1, 2024 2

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The Bills deserve to be excited about their chance next week in Miami.

This was a team that seemed dead in the water five weeks ago. Buffalo was 6-6 with less than a 20 percent chance to make the playoffs. The Bills fought their way out of it with four straight wins. Tough wins. Road wins. Wins over playoff teams. It’s a helluva gutty run.

And the reward is a winner take all match for the AFC East against a Dolphins team that’s losing key pieces left and right. Buffalo is a 2.5 point favorite on the road. They should be. I’ll believe in their fight over most other teams and (spoiler alert) I’ll pick them to beat the Dolphins.

I’m just not sure it’s fair to expect the Bills to accomplish much more this season.

Rasul Douglas certainly paid off Brandon Beane’s deadline trade for him against the Patriots. Two interceptions–one for a touchdown–and he created a third. This was Douglas at his best. He’s a cobra as a corner. Always looking for a chance to strike. Bailey Zappe left Orchard Park with fang marks everywhere.

On a defense best known for bend, don’t break, Douglas is built only for the breaking. It’s a fascinating add. He’s not better than Tre White, but as a number one corner, he’s a better attacker than White. The thing Douglas does well, he does better than anyone Sean McDermott has ever had on his Bills defense.

Taron Johnson was asked about what makes Douglas so dangerous. He started to say Douglas has to have a low care-factor, but thought better of it because it’s not the right answer. Douglas might jump routes guilt free, but this is a player who takes his craft as ultra seriously as anyone.

Douglas had a better explanation for what goes through his mind with the ball in the air.

“If you keep making plays, no one is gonna say anything,” the veteran said plainly and wisely. “Steph Curry keeps taking crazy shots, but he keeps making them. What you gonna say as a coach? You’re gonna be like, ‘All right. Keep shooting them’.”

There were other heroes from the defense. Terrel Bernard made good on a couple of free runs for sacks courtesy well-schemed McDermott blitzes. Christian Benford perfectly Peanut Punched the only turnover of the day that didn’t involve Douglas.

Ed Oliver’s Captain America season featured another ridiculous highlight. The grace of his diving, one handed interception almost makes you wonder if the Bills should have him running routes. Then again, Oliver added another sack against New England and is within a half sack of his first double digit season. Let’s just enjoy his greatness as is.

And how about Sam Bleeping Martin? He paid tribute to Tiger Woods’ birthday by sticking wedges all afternoon. All six of his punts were downed inside the 20. Three inside the 10. Two pinned New England at the five yard line or closer. No punter every had more kicks without once leaving the ball outside the 20 yard line. As punters go, he was a weapon.

For all the above success, I can’t help but walk away from Highmark Stadium slightly more concerned about the Buffalo big picture. The team that made Taylor Swift sad and Dak Prescott inept has lost a good chunk of the swagger and the reason is obvious.

The offense is cracking. Again.

Buffalo scored 20 points (and would have had more if they needed it late), but the first three scoring drives were 4, 14 and 24 yards. James Cook was pedestrian with 16 carries for three yards a pop. The one long drive was mostly catching Kyle Duggar with a slow reaction at the snap in man coverage. Give Dalton Kincaid credit for making Duggar pay, but it was much more New England mistake than Buffalo success.

Josh Allen doesn’t look anything like Josh Allen. He hasn’t thrown for 250 yards in his last four games, a first for him since 2019. Granted, the Bills didn’t need him much in the thrashing of Dallas.

Last week, he faced one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses. This week, he caught an average New England group without top safety Jabril Peppers. The pass game was sloppy and unproductive both weeks. Allen even threw in a classic Chaos Josh facepalm level interception in both games that will have his critics frothing.

McDermott was asked what the issue might be with Allen’s struggles the last few weeks. “If we knew, we would have fixed it by now,” was the answer. The same thing repeated in press conferences after rough games under Ken Dorsey. Yep, we’re back here again. And McDermott has already played the firing a coordinator card.

Stefon Diggs has not been anything close to a number one receiver. He’s now up to six of seven games with less than 50 yards receiving and no more than five receptions. To be a number one receiver, you must be actually on the field. Diggs’ snap counts were at 46% and 60% the last two games–a career low with the Bills. The numbers aren’t in for this week as of late Sunday, but it’s unlikely that number took any kind of a large jump.

Allen to Diggs in particular and the passing game in general has been the Bills fastball, but there’s no gas left on this heater. I thought the run game put up a good fight against the NFL’s top run D. Buffalo’s defense had big plays falling out of their ears. But that’s the offspeed stuff for the Bills. Curves and sliders alone don’t last long in the playoffs.

The good news is the Bills weren’t the only team winning ugly from among the AFC contenders. As mentioned above, Miami lost two defensive starters to injury and Tua Tagovailoa didn’t finish on Sunday. A game that, by the way, the Dolphins lost by FIVE(!) touchdowns. The Chiefs closed their game against one of the NFL’s worst defenses with eight straight drives that failed to reach the end zone. Everyone else in the AFC wild card picture not named Houston is on at least plan B at quarterback.

Baltimore has separated from the AFC pack, but if the Bills handle their business next week, they won’t have to worry about the Ravens for a while. A win next week earns a two-seed. That means two home games of proving Buffalo is the best among the AFC’s second class. And THEN, the Ravens. Maybe.

When the Bills got hot in 2021 after a sluggish midseason, they won four straight by at least 12 points each. Buffalo rolled into the playoffs with steam. This team isn’t doing that. This team has struggled to survive two last place teams on second string quarterbacks the last two weeks. It’s hard to imagine that same team winning three straight games against playoff caliber teams.

The Bills don’t have to win three straight. They have to win one at a time. The first one probably comes next week in Miami. If the Bills lose to the Dolphins, they would need a loss by Jacksonville or Pittsburgh to slide in as a wild card. The Jags face a last place Tennessee team. Pittsburgh is in Baltimore and the Ravens have already cliched homefield advantage. It’s very possible they don’t play any key starters. The back door likely won’t be open for Buffalo.

They probably won’t need it. The Bills haven’t been pretty. They’ve certainly raised some concern. But they’ve won the games they had to win. The result is an opportunity to end up right where Western New York thought they’d be all along: atop the AFC East with a reasonable chance to contend for a Super Bowl.

​ The Bills deserve to be excited about their chance next week in Miami.

This was a team that seemed dead in the water five weeks ago. Buffalo was 6-6 with less than a 20 percent chance to make the playoffs. The Bills fought their way out of it with four straight wins. Tough wins. Road wins. Wins over playoff teams. It’s a helluva gutty run.

And the reward is a winner take all match for the AFC East against a Dolphins team that’s losing key pieces left and right. Buffalo is a 2.5 point favorite on the road. They should be. I’ll believe in their fight over most other teams and (spoiler alert) I’ll pick them to beat the Dolphins.

I’m just not sure it’s fair to expect the Bills to accomplish much more this season.

Rasul Douglas certainly paid off Brandon Beane’s deadline trade for him against the Patriots. Two interceptions–one for a touchdown–and he created a third. This was Douglas at his best. He’s a cobra as a corner. Always looking for a chance to strike. Bailey Zappe left Orchard Park with fang marks everywhere.

On a defense best known for bend, don’t break, Douglas is built only for the breaking. It’s a fascinating add. He’s not better than Tre White, but as a number one corner, he’s a better attacker than White. The thing Douglas does well, he does better than anyone Sean McDermott has ever had on his Bills defense.

Taron Johnson was asked about what makes Douglas so dangerous. He started to say Douglas has to have a low care-factor, but thought better of it because it’s not the right answer. Douglas might jump routes guilt free, but this is a player who takes his craft as ultra seriously as anyone.

Douglas had a better explanation for what goes through his mind with the ball in the air.

“If you keep making plays, no one is gonna say anything,” the veteran said plainly and wisely. “Steph Curry keeps taking crazy shots, but he keeps making them. What you gonna say as a coach? You’re gonna be like, ‘All right. Keep shooting them’.”

There were other heroes from the defense. Terrel Bernard made good on a couple of free runs for sacks courtesy well-schemed McDermott blitzes. Christian Benford perfectly Peanut Punched the only turnover of the day that didn’t involve Douglas.

Ed Oliver’s Captain America season featured another ridiculous highlight. The grace of his diving, one handed interception almost makes you wonder if the Bills should have him running routes. Then again, Oliver added another sack against New England and is within a half sack of his first double digit season. Let’s just enjoy his greatness as is.

And how about Sam Bleeping Martin? He paid tribute to Tiger Woods’ birthday by sticking wedges all afternoon. All six of his punts were downed inside the 20. Three inside the 10. Two pinned New England at the five yard line or closer. No punter every had more kicks without once leaving the ball outside the 20 yard line. As punters go, he was a weapon.

For all the above success, I can’t help but walk away from Highmark Stadium slightly more concerned about the Buffalo big picture. The team that made Taylor Swift sad and Dak Prescott inept has lost a good chunk of the swagger and the reason is obvious.

The offense is cracking. Again.

Buffalo scored 20 points (and would have had more if they needed it late), but the first three scoring drives were 4, 14 and 24 yards. James Cook was pedestrian with 16 carries for three yards a pop. The one long drive was mostly catching Kyle Duggar with a slow reaction at the snap in man coverage. Give Dalton Kincaid credit for making Duggar pay, but it was much more New England mistake than Buffalo success.

Josh Allen doesn’t look anything like Josh Allen. He hasn’t thrown for 250 yards in his last four games, a first for him since 2019. Granted, the Bills didn’t need him much in the thrashing of Dallas.

Last week, he faced one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses. This week, he caught an average New England group without top safety Jabril Peppers. The pass game was sloppy and unproductive both weeks. Allen even threw in a classic Chaos Josh facepalm level interception in both games that will have his critics frothing.

McDermott was asked what the issue might be with Allen’s struggles the last few weeks. “If we knew, we would have fixed it by now,” was the answer. The same thing repeated in press conferences after rough games under Ken Dorsey. Yep, we’re back here again. And McDermott has already played the firing a coordinator card.

Stefon Diggs has not been anything close to a number one receiver. He’s now up to six of seven games with less than 50 yards receiving and no more than five receptions. To be a number one receiver, you must be actually on the field. Diggs’ snap counts were at 46% and 60% the last two games–a career low with the Bills. The numbers aren’t in for this week as of late Sunday, but it’s unlikely that number took any kind of a large jump.

Allen to Diggs in particular and the passing game in general has been the Bills fastball, but there’s no gas left on this heater. I thought the run game put up a good fight against the NFL’s top run D. Buffalo’s defense had big plays falling out of their ears. But that’s the offspeed stuff for the Bills. Curves and sliders alone don’t last long in the playoffs.

The good news is the Bills weren’t the only team winning ugly from among the AFC contenders. As mentioned above, Miami lost two defensive starters to injury and Tua Tagovailoa didn’t finish on Sunday. A game that, by the way, the Dolphins lost by FIVE(!) touchdowns. The Chiefs closed their game against one of the NFL’s worst defenses with eight straight drives that failed to reach the end zone. Everyone else in the AFC wild card picture not named Houston is on at least plan B at quarterback.

Baltimore has separated from the AFC pack, but if the Bills handle their business next week, they won’t have to worry about the Ravens for a while. A win next week earns a two-seed. That means two home games of proving Buffalo is the best among the AFC’s second class. And THEN, the Ravens. Maybe.

When the Bills got hot in 2021 after a sluggish midseason, they won four straight by at least 12 points each. Buffalo rolled into the playoffs with steam. This team isn’t doing that. This team has struggled to survive two last place teams on second string quarterbacks the last two weeks. It’s hard to imagine that same team winning three straight games against playoff caliber teams.

The Bills don’t have to win three straight. They have to win one at a time. The first one probably comes next week in Miami. If the Bills lose to the Dolphins, they would need a loss by Jacksonville or Pittsburgh to slide in as a wild card. The Jags face a last place Tennessee team. Pittsburgh is in Baltimore and the Ravens have already cliched homefield advantage. It’s very possible they don’t play any key starters. The back door likely won’t be open for Buffalo.

They probably won’t need it. The Bills haven’t been pretty. They’ve certainly raised some concern. But they’ve won the games they had to win. The result is an opportunity to end up right where Western New York thought they’d be all along: atop the AFC East with a reasonable chance to contend for a Super Bowl. Read More NewsRochesterFirst  

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester firefighters were at the scene of a rollover crash inside Riverside Cemetery Monday morning. A red pick-up truck can be seen on its side near a gravestone in the cemetery as several Rochester police vehicles are seen in the area. The cause of the crash and the condition of the driver are unclear at this time. News 8 has reached out to the Rochester Police […]

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