By CHUCK POLLOCK, Senior Sports Columnist
More than a few times this season, Bills coach Sean McDermott has been the target of some merited criticism in this space.
But it would be profoundly unfair not to acknowledge the glittering performance his defense put forth Sunday afternoon at Highmark Stadium in dominating the Cowboys, 31-10, in a playoff-hopes-improving victory.
And it wasn’t just McDermott’s ‘D,’ the offense, under interim coordinator Joe Brady, could not have performed better.
The Bills’ seventh-year coach who, admittedly, has had his issues with game-day decisions, timeout use and officiating challenges was pretty much flawless against the Cowboys.
Let’s start with the defense.
Dallas came in averaging an NFL-best 32 points per game and a gaudy 40 during the five-game win streak coming in.
Instead, Buffalo held Dallas to a season-low 195 yards total offense and their lone touchdown was scored at “garbage time” with under three minutes to play and many of the Bills starters on the bench.
At game’s end, McDermott’s crew owned a 35-25-minute edge in time of possession while holding quarterback Dak Prescott, a strong candidate for NFL MVP, to a mere 106 net passing yards, sacking him three times and picking him off once.
As the coach pointed out, “I didn’t see a lot of their receivers running free.”
Dallas ran only 57 offensive plays, none longer than 16 yards
It was a thorough domination as the Bills’ offensive and defensive lines decidedly won both sides of the ball.
Well, all you know is that the Bills’ elite quarterback, Josh Allen, went 7-of-15 passing for only 85 net yards, but said he’d take that “10 times out of 10 if it means we’d win the game.”
And the reason, of course, was that the Bills running game was so overwhelmingly dominant. James Cook, the second-year back from Georgia, went for a career-best 179 yards on 25 carries as Buffalo mustered a season-best 266 rushing yards on 49 attempts.
To his credit, Brady followed that old football bromide, “We’re gonna run it at you until you stop it.”
Dallas couldn’t and, indeed, as the second half wore on, its defense didn’t even seem interested in trying.
Brady wasn’t tempted to call some unnecessary pass plays to keep Allen engaged, he realized full well his QB was delighted just handing the ball off.
And, best of all, that success on the ground chewed up a vast amount of clock.
ON MONDAY afternoon, McDermott was asked about his team’s success in December games over his tenure.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “I feel like schedule-wise we try to make sure the guys have a schedule that’s conducive to playing their best down the stretch. And more than anything, they’re dialed in at this time of year, not that they’re not normally. Most teams at this time are very dialed in and improve fundamentally every week.
“We took a step ahead this week, next week we need to take another step … we have to do that every week and continue to improve.”
As for the emergence of the running game against Dallas, McDermott pointed out, “The running game was here … it’s all a matter of blending the run and the pass. I think Joe did a great job of sticking with it and the offensive line stayed with it too. And to stick with it through the entire game was really their mindset last night. It was good symmetry between Joe as a play-caller and the offensive group as a whole.”
He added of Buffalo’s rushing game possibly opening up Buffalo’s attack, “Well, it can. It’s part of the overall plan, trying to be a two-dimensional offense. The threat of that is important, especially at this time of year.”
Next up, on a short week, is a Saturday night game across the country in Los Angeles against the reeling Chargers. They have fired both their head coach and general manager and have lost their elite quarterback, Justin Herbert, for the rest of the season due to a broken index finger on his throwing hand.
But no matter how easy it might look, given the circumstances, that doesn’t change the fact it’s a must-win for the Bills.
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.)
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