A column by Senior Sports Columnist Chuck Pollock
It appeared, in the early going, the Bills had moved on from the first-half malaises that had plagued them the past three games.
But, as it turns out, that was a tease … though it still finished with a happy ending.
The Bills had to surviveda 55-yard Hail May in the end zone on the game’s final play to hold off Tampa Bay for a 24-18 triumph.
Buffalo’s win put it within a half game of AFC East leader Miami, at 5-3, and kept the Bills in seventh place in the AFC, one spot outside of the last playoff spot.
After taking a 24-10 lead on the opening possession of the second half, coach Sean McDermott’s team spent the rest of the game trying to hold off the persistent Bucs.
Buffalo didn’t score over the final 19 minutes and while Tampa Bay got four breaks — two Bills penalties on fourth down — plus the fact wide receiver Mike Evans’ fourth-quarter touchdown glanced off the helmet of cornerback Christian Benford and the Bucs’ two-point conversion was deflected to tight end Cade Otton by defensive tackle Jordan Phillips.
But no matter those circumstances, they earned Tampa Bay a final possession to steal a win.
THAT SAID, early in the game, the Bills seemed to address most of the issues that had undermined them against the Jaguars, Giants and Patriots.
Start with tempo.
Buffalo’s offense moved with more alacrity than in recent weeks and quarterback Josh Allen got his throws off the fastest since he’s been a pro.
Best of all, Allen spread his targets around.
Both wideouts Gabriel Davis and Stefon Diggs each had nine receptions, Davis for 81 yards and a TD and Diggs for 70.
Rookie Dalton Kincaid, Buffalo’s lone tight end, caught five balls, one for a touchdown, while wide receiver Khalil Skakir had six receptions for a game-high 92 yards.
In addition, Allen ran more than the previous three weeks, finishing with seven carries for 41 yards. However there was one tense moment when he landed on his right shoulder at the end of a sack. He went into the blue tent but missed no time, though he appeared to favor the shoulder making a number of subsequent throws more sidearm.
IN TALKING about his offense’s performance, McDermott noted, “It was good to see the ball getting moved around and I think (offensive coordinator) Ken Dorsey called a heckuva game. The offense got in a good rhythm and that’s what I’m used to seeing, Josh and the offense looked very comfortable. It didn’t look like every play was an adventure … it looked like there were some easy plays.
“We wish we could have gotten some more points in the fourth quarter … we had them backed up but we had some penalties that cost us some yards when we had a chance to close them out.”
He added, “When you’re playing good team offense, the ball is spread around, not intentionally but the ball finds the open receiver … that’s when we’re at our best when we’re not forcing things, we’re not predetermining where the ball’s going, we’re going where the defense tells us the ball should go.”
Now the Bills get a much-needed 10-day mini-break before facing the Bengals at Cincinnati a week from Sunday night.
Other notes from the Bills 24-18 victory over the Buccaneers:
— Bills quarterback Josh Allen improved to 6-0 in Thursday night games.
— Buffalo is now 3-5 against the spread this season and hasn’t covered in the last four games.
— Buffalo’s only giveaway came when Allen’s pass was tipped by safety Antoine Winfield Jr., son of the former Bills cornerback, and intercepted by defensive lineman William Gohlston, his first.
— Dalton Kincaid, Buffalo’s rookie first-round draft choice, and the lone tight end active for the Bills in the game, caught a 22-yard touchdown pass, the first of his career.
— Buffalo’s initial sack of Bucs’ quarterback Baker Mayfield was logged by defensive tackle Ed Oliver, giving him five on the season, second on the team only to end Leonard Floyd with 6.5. The second was credited to end A.J. Epenesa, his fifth, and the third to nickel back Taron Johnson his first.
— The Bucs first sack of Allen was recorded by linebacker YaYa Diaby, his first of the season. Later outside linebacker Anthony Nelson got his second.
— Defensive end Shaq Lawson partially blocked the Bucs’ first field goal attempt, a 50-yard try by Chase McLaughlin. Later McLaughlin hit a 57-yarder.
— Inactive for the Bills were safety Damar Hamlin, tight end Quintin Morris (ankle), cornerback Kaiir Elam, linebacker Braylon Spencer and offensive tackles Alec Anderson and Germain Ifedi.
Buffalo played the game with one tight end as starter Dawson Knox is on injured reserve with wrist surgery and Morris was inactive. The lone tight end was Kincaid.
Elam, the 2022 first-rounder, was a healthy scratch and replaced on the active roster by veteran Josh Norman.
The Billls activated both Norman and wide receiver Andy Isabella from the practice squad and activated each of them.
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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