Josh Allen looks happy after a win, photo from the Buffalo Bills
By Chuck Pollock, Senior Sports Columnist
The Bills needed this one.
A week after a miserable performance losing to the Steelers in last Saturday’s preseason game, they pretty well addressed most of the concerns that defeat exposed yesterday against the Bears at Soldier Field in the exhibition finale.
Buffalo prevailed 24-21, but it was the 17-10 lead the Bills had at intermission that encouraged coach Sean McDermott that the sky wasn’t falling as so many of the team’s fans concluded after the embarrassment in Pittsburgh.
The most glaring improvement was in penalties committed.
Against the Steelers, Buffalo’s first and second stringers were flagged 12 times in the opening 30 minutes. Versus the Bears, the Bills were called only twice, an illegal block-in-the-back and an offensive pass interference.
But what likely relieved McDermott most was that quarterback Josh Allen played only one possession, produced a touchdown — a 2-yard run by Damien Harris — while emerging from four preseason series and 28 snaps unscathed, completing 12-of-17 passes with no touchdown tosses or interceptions.
“I told the guys,” McDermott said afterward, “they came in with the right mindset, they were ready to play, had the right amount of energy coming into the game and pretty much sustained it.”
Of Allen’s 12-play, 72-yard scoring possession, McDermott admitted that was all he needed to see. “We didn’t get into details during the week as to how much (the starters) would play. We just wanted them to come ready to play and see certain things. That’s part of the reason why I didn’t call plays on defense, I wanted to have my eyes available and see certain things. And, for the most part, I saw that early.”
The news wasn’t quite as good for backup QB Kyle Allen, who played the whole game, other than the first series.
After turning the ball over four times against the Steelers — three interceptions and a lost fumble — he had two more giveaways against Chicago (interception, fumble), but did complete 18-of-34 passes. He threw three TD passes against the Steelers (two late in the fourth quarter) and Bears.
ON DEFENSE, one question appears answered, but the biggest one remains and might only be decided for the worst possible reason: attrition.
Middle linebacker Tyrel Dodson played most of the first half and hardly distinguished himself with only two tackles. Terrell Bernard, the position’s other main candidate, didn’t play at all in preseason due to a hamstring injury . Veteran A.J. Klein, a liability in pass coverage, now is the only challenger to Dodson as second-year pro Baylon Spector left the field Saturday also with hamstring injury.
Things seem a bit more settled at the No. 2 cornerback spot where last year’s sixth-rounder, Christian Benford, got the start, followed by veteran Dane Jackson. The odd man out was the 2022 first-round pick, Kaiir Elam, who mostly played with the reserves and continues to struggle to earn a starting job. If he doesn’t, he’ll be seen as a critical blown choice by general manager Brandon Beane.
But McDermott maintains that the No. 2 spot is “still an open competition … we’re gonna grade the film and see how they played,” and that Elam is “still in the mix.”
THEN there were the special teams … which, for the second straight week, weren’t at all special. Against the Steelers, Buffalo’s kicking units surrendered a partially-blocked punt, a 54-yard punt return and muffed a kickoff return.
They were no better versus the Bears who conjured a 56-yard kickoff return and blocked another punt, this one handing Chicago a touchdown.
McDermott admitted concern over those performances.
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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