It has been everything.
In one instance or another, the offense, defense and special teams have each taken turns in playing a hand in Buffalo’s six losses, all of which have been decided by six points or less, including two in overtime.
And that leaves coach Sean McDermott using the team’s long-awaited bye week off to come up with some necessary solutions if the inconsistent Bills (6-6) intend to mount a late-season playoff push.
“They’re all different situations. But it’s what we’re trying to do to get solved and move forward as a football team,” McDermott said. “We’re this close.”
And yet, the three-time defending AFC East champions are also so far away in a season in which injuries have depleted a defense of three key starters, a stagnating offense led to McDermott firing coordinator Ken Dorsey two weeks ago, and with special teams meltdowns playing a factor.
The Bills enter the week sitting 10th in the AFC standings, and have relinquished the tiebreaker edge with losses to Denver (6-5) and AFC South-leading Jacksonville (8-3). Just as concerning, Buffalo’s schedule doesn’t get any easier, with the team traveling to play Kansas City on Dec. 10, followed by a home game against Dallas.
If there is a bright side, it involves a Josh Allen-led offense that’s suddenly showing signs of clicking under interim coordinator Joe Brady. After going six straight without topping 25 points, the team’s longest stretch in games Allen starts, the unit has combined for 66 points and 898 yards in its past two.
“I’m extremely confident in our guys,” Allen said, following a 37-34 overtime loss at Philadelphia on Sunday. “The men that we have in this locker room, we understand where we’re at. So we’ve got good things going.”
Allen’s four turnovers played a major role in Buffalo’s season-opening 22-16 overtime loss to the Jets, in a game Buffalo’s coverage unit allowed Xavier Gipson to return a 65-yard punt to clinch the win. A slow-starting offense — Buffalo's first eight possessions ended with six punts, an interception and a touchdown — also cost the Bills in a 25-20 loss to Jacksonville, in Week 5.
A special teams miscue was the difference in a 24-22 loss to Denver. After missing from 41 yards, Broncos kicker Wil Lutz got a do-over and hit a 36-yard field goal as time expired after the Bills were flagged for having 12 men on the field. And kicker Tyler Bass had one field-goal attempt blocked and missed from 48 in the loss to Philadelphia.
Then there’s a defense that has allowed opponents to engineer game-winning drives in the final two minutes or overtime in losses to Philadelphia, Denver and New England.
The defensive collapses are what sting the most for McDermott, who took over the play-calling duties this season.
“That’s something we take very seriously, that I take very seriously,” McDermott said. “I think the defense has played, for a majority of our season, well enough to win in those situations.”
But not well enough.
What’s concerning is the Bills having a lengthy track record of memorable collapses under McDermott before this year.
The worst came in the 2021 season playoffs, when Buffalo blew a three-point lead in the final 13 seconds of regulation of an eventual 42-36 loss to Kansas City.
The Bills also dropped a heart-breaker on DeAndre Hopkins' 43-yard TD catch with 2 seconds left in a 32-30 loss to Arizona in 2020. And then there was 2021, when Allen lost his footing and was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 from Tennessee’s 3 in the final seconds of a 34-31 loss to the Titans.
Coincidentally, the losses to Arizona and Tennessee also happened with Buffalo entering its bye week. In 2020, the Bills responded by closing the season with six straight wins. In 2021, Buffalo followed the loss to the Titans with a win at Miami.
Since 2020, Buffalo is 13-4 in games coming off a loss, and a combined 14-2 in regular-season outings played beyond Dec. 1.
“We’re 6-6 and we know we’d rather have a better record than we have,” McDermott said, in relating the message he delivered to his players before taking the week off. “We are who we are, and the encouraging thing is all the goals that we set for ourselves are still within our reach.”
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
John Wawrow, The Associated Press