The Buffalo Bills have done an incredible job of driving their fans insane on their way to one of the best records in the NFL. Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers was a perfect example of this. The Bills built a 24-6 lead in the third quarter and ended up winning the game by 10, but along way, took their fans on a bumpy ride that would have led to motion sickness.
The Bills (8-3) in the second half of this game were much like a 747 trying to land with an engine out. Buffalo kept letting the Chargers (3-8) back into the game through a number of mind-numbing mistakes. Trying to nail down the win in the fourth quarter, the Bills turned the ball over on three straight drives, giving Los Angeles plenty of opportunity. But the Chargers did not enjoy prosperity themselves and kept giving the game right back to the Bills through mistakes of their own, including several questionable coaching decisions late.
In the end, the Bills came away with a 27-17 victory because of a strong day for its defense and the rushing attack, which paced the Bills offense with 172 yards on the ground. While a game that appeared to be in hand was suddenly in doubt late in the fourth quarter, the Bills did what they needed to do to close the game out. Cornerback Tre’Davious White came up with a huge interception of LA QB Justin Herbert with 5:17 to go and the Chargers were trailing by just seven. Rushers Zack Moss and Devin Singletary then ripped off back-to-back runs of 31 and 24 yards to put the Bills in position for a clinching Tyler Bass field goal with 3:26 to play.
There is plenty for the Bills to correct as they get ready to head out west for a Monday Night matchup against the 49ers next week. But they are in good shape, still a game ahead of the 7-4 Miami Dolphins in the AFC East. They were also able to get right back on their feet nicely after the heartbreaking loss in Arizona and the long bye week in between.
With that, here are four things we learned from a weird and wacky victory Sunday at Bills Stadium:
Bills Still Have Trouble Getting Games Across the Finish Line
This was a problem last season that eventually got the Bills eliminated in January where they blew a 16-point second half lead. Buffalo’s biggest problem was that its offense had trouble continuing to score and adding on points to put games away. This season, the problem has largely been on defense as the Bills had given up the most second half points in the league entering Week 12.
Earlier this year, the Bills blew a 28-3 lead to the Los Angeles Rams and had to come from behind to win. In their last game, the Bills blew a 23-9 third quarter lead to the Cardinals, rallied to take the lead with 34 seconds left, and still lost on a Hail Mary. On Sunday, the Bills turned a comfortable 24-6 advantage into a tight contest in which they had to sweat out until under five minutes remained. Again, the collapse began with an immediate touchdown surrendered by the defense right after they opened up their largest lead of the game.
Is there a reason why this happens? It’s not like the Bills stop trying once they go ahead by a certain amount. But at some point, it stops becoming coincidence and starts becoming a trend. The Bills defense needs to do a better job of getting stops after the offense gets scores. Fortunately, the defense did do its job after after surrendering the third quarter touchdown. Despite the three turnovers, Buffalo’s defense held Los Angeles to just three points the rest of the way.
It’s the three turnovers that were the story of the second half for the Bills. All three came right in a row in the fourth quarter, over the course of seven plays. The first was a fumble by Singletary just two plays after the Bills had turned the Chargers over on downs. This was the only turnover that led to points for Los Angeles as they started in Bills territory and settled for a Michael Badgley field goal. The next Buffalo drive began with a 44-yard completion down the left sideline to Gabriel Davis to put them in scoring position. But Josh Allen fumbled the snap on the next play, then lost the ball again as he tried to pick it up off the ground. Joey Bosa, who was everywhere for the Chargers in this game, fell on the ball at the LA 22 yard line. This time, the Buffalo defense held the Chargers three-and-out and got the ball right back a minute-and-a-half later.
For a third consecutive drive, the Bills gave the pigskin away as Allen tossed an interception on 2nd and 12 from the Buffalo 38. Allen was backpedaling as he threw downfield due to heavy pressure. The pass for Stefon Diggs was underthrown and Michael Davis stepped in front of it at the LA 44. It was a complete breakdown by the Buffalo offense as the offensive line yielded too much pressure and the quarterback combined a poor choice with a poor throw. But again, the turnover did not cost the Bills as White saved the day by jumping in front of Hunter Henry for an interception three plays later on 3rd and 6.
The fourth quarter between the Bills and Chargers looked like a game of hot potato between Mr. Bean and Goofy. Neither team seemed to want to grab control of the game, and if either did, they bumbled it away in slapstick fashion. The Chargers incredibly could only muster three points out of the three turnovers the Bills gave them. The interception by White was probably the biggest play in the sequence, but the Bills were also helped by some bizarre coaching decisions from the Chargers earlier in the quarter.
The Bills finally put the game away after the White INT by driving for a game-clinching field goal. But even that was an adventure as Moss was called for a (questionable) unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a 31-yard run and an Allen run for a first down on 3rd and 9 was wiped out by a holding penalty on Dion Dawkins. The Bills are often their own worst enemy.
The three consecutive turnovers had to anger Sean McDermott, who is known for preaching ball security. The Bills have had five second half turnovers in the last two games. It’s hard to say if there’s a reason why this is happening. It’s mostly dumb luck, but you could also point to it as part of the give and take of the “Josh Allen Experience,” that eventually the wild gunslinger mentality of their franchise quarterback will catch up with them.
The good news for the Bills is that their defense didn’t falter while things were falling apart on the offensive end. Still, they incredibly gave up another Hail Mary on Los Angeles’ final drive, though this one did not cost them any points. We’ve seen this season the Bills play like their hair is on fire near the end of games. That was true once again on Sunday and something the Bills have to fix come January. But the Bills should feel good knowing their defense did not collapse and they simply need to do a better job taking care of the ball to close games out going forward.