Bills must rely on momentum, QB Josh Allen for playoff push
TAMPA, Fla. — Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen stood near midfield trying to convince coach Sean McDermott to allow the offense to stay on the field on fourth down. The Bills were down 21 points on the first possession of the second half against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
McDermott didn't budge and the Bills instead ran their first run play of the game: An unfortunate fake punt with running back Matt Breida falling and losing yardage as he tried to turn the corner up the left side.
Buffalo’s 24-3 deficit seemed like a freefalling moment with no end in sight. The Bills looked broken, especially after their failed fake punt. Buffalo reached a crossroads during this moment — and turned a corner with the performance that followed.
Along with overcoming that three-score deficit before ultimately succumbing to the Buccaneers 33-27 in overtime Sunday, the Bills may have reached a moment of clarity entering the final four games of the season.
“I know the score is what the score was, but I’m damn proud of our team and how we fought in that second half,” Allen said.
Allen had a standout performance, during which he threw for 308 yards, ran for 109 yards and accounted for three touchdowns while playing on an injured left foot.
“That’s who we are," Allen said. "That’s the team I’ve known to love and to know, really. Guys that are just resilient. Guys that want to fight for each other.”
The Bills could’ve wilted. They could’ve succumbed to the pressure of their collapse this season after losing five of their last nine games and going from one of the top teams in the AFC to a team barely clinging to the seventh and final seed for the playoffs.
They could have let the Buccaneers score immediately after their fake punt. They could’ve mailed it in for next week.
Instead, they fought back.
Allen put the offense on his shoulders. The defense responded up until the final play of the game. A team that looked broken at its core relied on that core once again to find itself.
After a fourth-down stop, Allen scored a rushing touchdown. He then threw two more touchdowns in the second half and led a field-goal drive with 22 seconds left to tie the game and force overtime.
The Buccaneers scored only a field goal in the second half, then Tom Brady found receiver Breshad Perriman open on a crossing route for a 58-yard touchdown to win the game.
“It’s tough, but the resilience we have to stay in the game and continue to take one play at a time and fight back, it says a lot about the guys in the locker room,” Bills safety Jordan Poyer said. “Yeah, tough loss, but we can build some momentum off of how we played in the second half and carry it over to next week.”
Allen, who was second in MVP voting last season, finished the Bucs game with 66 touches in 76 offensive plays.
It remains to be seen whether that's a sustainable recipe for success, especially with Allen dealing with a left foot sprain, but the Bills will continue to rely on Allen to overcome some of their other shortcomings.
Buffalo has a reliable receiving core of Stefon Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis and tight end Dawson Knox, but the Bills run game has underwhelmed behind Breida, Devin Singletary and Zach Moss.
Defensively, the Bills are still regarded as one of the top teams in the NFL — even Brady praised them as such — but they tend to underwhelm in areas like getting home to the quarterback and tackling in the secondary.
Opposing teams know they can run over the Bills defense and do well against Allen if his weapons in the passing game are covered well.
If Buffalo is going to reach the playoffs and have another deep run in the postseason, it must regain its swagger as one of the NFL’s most feared teams on both sides of the football, like it had last season and entering this year.
“We’ve just got guys that want to win,” Allen said. “We want to be great.”
The Bills have four games left to capitalize on their newfound momentum in hopes of securing a playoff spot. They have a good chance to win their last three home games against the Carolina Panthers Dec. 19, the Atlanta Falcons Jan. 2 and the New York Jets Jan. 9.
But the must-win on their schedule is a rematch on the road Dec. 26 against the New England Patriots — especially after falling to them Dec. 6.
And if the Bills have to rely on Allen (who they have limited in practice this week because of his injured foot) to get it done, they will and they can.
“He’s a warrior, and everybody sees that. And when the team rallies around a guy like that, it’s going to be hard to beat,” Knox said. “The way he puts the team on his back, dealing with whatever injury he’s got right now — we’ve seen it time after time from him, so no one’s really surprised, but there’s no other guy I’d rather have lead us in a game.”
Added Poyer: “He’s a baller, and I’ll go to war with Josh any day of the week.”