For the second week in a row, Bills head coach Sean McDermott had to address his team’s shabby run defense late Sunday afternoon. Only this time, he was speaking after a defeat, a stunning 20-17 loss to the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
“That’s something we have to seriously look at,” McDermott said after the Bills gave up 174 rushing yards and had the ball run down their throats in the game-winning drive. “That’s where the game starts, up front. Run defense, you cannot allow a team to run the ball on you like that.”
If it sounded familiar, it’s because McDermott’s defense went through a similar stretch last November. The Bills gave up 264 yards, including 185 by Jonathan Taylor, in a 41-15 home loss to the Colts, leading their head coach to admit they were getting beaten at the point of attack.
“We’ve got to get that fixed,” McDermott said after that game. He had the same laments after the Jets loss, how they needed to fix their problems against the run and that it starts with him.
This makes two weeks in a row where the run defense has been an issue. They allowed 208 yards and nearly 7 yards a pop against Green Bay. It was easy to rationalize on a day when the Packers seemed to abandon the pass despite trailing by 17 points late in the third quarter.
But this time, it cost the Bills the game and a chance to get to 7-1 on the year. On a day when Josh Allen played poorly — “like s—,“ by his own reckoning — they needed their top-rated defense to make a late stop against the Jets and embattled second-year quarterback, Zach Wilson.
Instead, the Jets ran over, through and around them. The Jets were pinned at their 4-yard line with 7:53 left in the fourth after a Sam Martin punt. Four plays later, they were in Bills territory. They ran the ball eight times in a row. The Buffalo defenders knew it was coming and were powerless to stop it.
This wasn’t Jonathan Taylor or Derrick Henry. It was James Robinson and Michael Carter, carrying the load after star rookie Breece Hall was lost for the year with a torn ACL. Robinson had been acquired just two weeks earlier and was questionable for the game with a knee injury.
It didn’t matter. Robinson tore through the Buffalo defense on successive runs of 9, 7 and 16 yards. Then Carter ripped off a 17-yard run around left end, shedding a tackle along the way. The Jets kicked a go-ahead field go with 1:43 left. The Bills, out of timeouts, couldn’t respond.
“It’s tough. Obviously, somebody has got to make a play,” said linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. He certainly wasn’t the answer. Edmunds was engulfed on some plays, out of position on others, lending serious doubt to whether the Bills will hand him a lucrative contract after the season.
“They ran the ball on us and had success,” said defensive end Von Miller. “I really don’t know why. I really don’t know why we couldn’t bottle it up. We’ve been playing the run really, really well up until last week. You know, they were going to copy some of the plays that Green Bay ran, and they did. We expected that, but we didn’t expect the success that they would have, and they did, man.”
It’s true that the Bills were terrific against the run early in the season. Until the Packers game, they were allowing just 76 rushing yards a game. No running back had run for 50 yards, never mind 100. Three backs (Carter, Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon) have done it in the last two weeks alone.
They need to be better next week at home against Minnesota and star running back Dalvin Cook, who is fourth among active NFL running backs in yards per carry. We’ve been here before. The Bills struggled to stop the run at times around midseason a year ago and fixed it. They had a horrible three-game stretch in McDermott’s first season in 2017 and got it together to break the playoff drought.
There will be the usual talk about “run fits” during the coming week. It would help if they got healthy. They desperately missed linebacker Matt Milano against the Jets. It’s laudable how well the Bills have done defensively with a banged-up secondary. But on Sunday, you were reminded how vital the missing safeties, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, can be against the run.
“I promise you, next week we’ll be way more solid,” Miller said. “I will be way more solid on the run. I’ll make plays for my team to put us in a position to win.”
They’d better be more solid. Suddenly, the Bills are just a half-game in front of both the Jets and Dolphins in the AFC East, the only division in the league where all four teams are currently above .500. No team gets through an entire NFL season without encountering an obstacle.
You have to stop it before it turns into a full-blown crisis. In this case, it starts with stopping the run.
Allen’s slump reminiscent, though he overcame it last year
Allen was bad on Sunday and admitted he played poorly. He did run for 86 yards and two touchdowns, but it felt like a throwback to the old Josh, a game where his prodigious athletic skill tended to overshadow his shortcomings as a passer and decision-maker.
Allen was 18-for-34 passing for 205 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. It was his worst game since the win over Atlanta at home last Jan. 2, when he was 11 of 26 passing for 120 yards with no TDs and three picks. He rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns that day. The difference was the Bills dominated both lines of scrimmage and rushed for 233 yards as a team.
Going back to halftime of the Packers game, Allen has completed 24 of 49 passes (49 percent) for 303 yards, with no touchdowns and four interceptions. He passed for 324 yards and four TDs in the first half alone in the Bills’ 38-3 victory over the Steelers at Highmark Stadium a month ago.
Again, the standard has been raised, but this is hardly a crisis. After that Falcons game in early January, Allen went on one of the greatest playoff runs of any quarterback in history. A true crisis would ensue if Allen was injured. He grabbed his throwing elbow after a strip sack on the futile final drive, causing an instant panic among the far-flung Bills Mafia.
“There’s a slight pain, but I’ll get through it,” Allen said after the loss.
McDermott said Monday the team was still evaluating the injury. Bills fans can only hope it’s a slight pain and a momentary slump for the team’s franchise quarterback.
Brady tops 100k
Tom Brady threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cade Otton with nine seconds to play Sunday, lifting the Buccaneers to a 16-13 win over the Rams and putting Tampa Bay in a tie for the NFC South lead with the Falcons at 4-5.
The Saints host the Ravens on Monday night with a chance for forge a three-way tie atop the NFC South, which is the antithesis of the AFC East with all four teams currently below .500.
If not for the heroics, Brady would have been on a four-game losing streak for the first time since 2002, his first year as a starter. That’s also the only other time his team lost three in a row. That ’02 Patriots team snapped its losing skein with a 38-7 win at Buffalo in the infamous “Bledsoe Bowl.”
Brady also became the first NFL quarterback with 100,000 passing yards, counting the postseason. He now has a record 87,067 yards in the regular season and 13,049 in the playoffs, far ahead of Peyton Manning, who had 7,339 passing yards in the postseason.
The game-winning drive was Brady’s 55th, breaking a tie with his old AFC rival, Manning, for the most in history. He tied Manning for the most fourth-quarter comebacks with his 43rd.
Are They Owned?
It’s a dual choice for this week’s fantasy football find between Tampa Bay’s Cade Otton and Scotty Miller, the two unlikely receiving heroes during Brady’s game-winning performance in the fourth quarter vs. the Rams.
Otton, a rookie tight end out of Washington, caught four passes from Brady in the fourth quarter. With 44 seconds left and the Bucs down, 13-9, Brady took over and hit Otton for 28 yards on the first play. Six plays later, after a pass interference call put the ball on the 1, Brady tossed the game-winner to Otton, who recorded the first touchdown of his NFL career.
Otton had five catches for 68 yards. He now has 23 receptions for the season. We know what can happen when Brady forges a relationship with a tight end. Otton is rostered in only 5 percent of ESPN leagues. If you’re light at tight, he’d be worth adding to your fantasy squad.
Miller, who was a sixth-round pick out of Bowling Green of the MAC in 2019, had six of his seven catches in the last 5:43 of the game Sunday, including two in a row late in the winning drive. He had just 12 catches for 93 yards coming into the game. But like Otton, he could be a nice add if he continues to develop chemistry with the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
In ESPN leagues, Miller was rostered only .1 percent of teams as of Monday. That’s one in a thousand. He was on injured reserve for much of the 2021 season. By the way, he once had 10 catches for 108 yards for Bowling Green in a game against UB.
- Joe Mixon rushed for 153 yards and four touchdowns, and also had four catches for 58 yards and a TD, in the Bengals’ 42-21 win over the Panthers on Sunday. Mixon became the sixth player in the Super Bowl era with 200 scrimmage yards and 5 TDs in a single game. The others were Jonathan Taylor, Jamaal Charles. Clinton Portis, Shaun Alexander and Jerry Rice. Taylor did it last November in the Colts’ 41-15 win over the Bills at Highmark Stadium.
- Patrick Mahomes passed for 446 yards in the Chiefs’ 20-17 OT win over the Titans, vaulting him past Allen and into the NFL yardage lead with 2,605 yards. That’s 325.6 yards per game, putting Mahomes on pace for an NFL-record 5,535. Peyton Manning has the record of 5,477, set for Denver in 2013 in a 16-game season. Allen was ahead of that pace until throwing for 218 and 205 yards the past two weeks, the first time he’s been under 225 in consecutive weeks since 2019.
- Von Miller’s sack of Zach Wilson gave him 122.5 in his career, moving him past Simeon Rice and into a tie for 28th all-time with Cedrick Hardman. Robert Mathis is next with 123. Miller needs 19 sacks to tie Michael Strahan for 10th all-time. Former Bills great Bruce Smith is the career sack champ with 200, two ahead of Reggie White. Miller is the active sack leader. The Saints’ Cameron Jordan is second with 112 sacks. The Steelers’ T.J. Watt leads players under the age of 30 with 73.
- Bears quarterback Justin Fields rushed for 178 yards in a 35-32 loss to the Dolphins, breaking Micheal Vick’s QB record (going back to 1935) of 173, set in 2002. Fields became the first player since 1950 to have three touchdown passes and more than 150 yards rushing in the same game.
- Miami’s Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill have 1,916 combined receiving yards, the most of any tandem through nine games in the Super Bowl era. Hill had seven catches for 143 yards against the Bears, giving him 1,104 for the year and putting him on pace for 2,085, which would break Calvin Johnson’s single-season record of 1,964 yards, set in a 16-game schedule in 2012.