By Chuck Pollock, Senior Sports Columnist
After the Bills thrashed Dallas, one of the NFC’s elite teams, 31-10, last Sunday at Highmark Stadium, the broadcast media found a new mantra.
“Boy, I wouldn’t want to be playing Buffalo right now.”
Well, you didn’t hear any of that last night at Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium where the Chargers were leading in the last half-minute until the Bills kicked the field goal to swipe a 24-22 victory that averted a loss which would have pretty much trashed their playoff hopes.
The reality is, though, it’s not how, but in the immortal words of Al Davis, “Just win baby.”
And Saturday evening, Buffalo improved to 9-6 and, for at least a few hours, was propelled into the top seven — read “playoff berths” — of the AFC.
That could change as soon as this afternoon.
If the two non-division-leading 8-6 teams — Indianapolis and Houston — beat Atlanta and Cleveland, respectively, Buffalo would fall back to eighth but still project to have a 75% chance of making the postseason. Part of that was the 34-11 upset the Steelers hung on the Bengals Saturday afternoon, making both teams 8-7.
The Bills have put themselves in this position by winning three straight games, two of the impressive variety, at Kansas City and home versus the Cowboys.
But that latter victory came with consequences.
Buffalo made it look so easy, it wasn’t hard to speculate a little bit of complacency would set in.
Then, too, the Bills had a short week — only six days of prep time — and faced a cross-country flight. However, the Chargers had lost Justin Herbert, their elite starting quarterback, for the season with a broken index finger on his throwing hand and, after enduring a 63-21 embarrassment by the Raiders at Las Vegas, both the head coach and general manager were fired.
Hence, the Bills’ media “experts” predicted a blowout.
BUT COACH Sean McDermott offered a word of caution to not be swayed by one impressive performance.
He said, knowing the performance against the Cowboys would be hard to duplicate, “the good teams do it more than once (and) if you’re not on your ‘A’ game it shows up rather quickly.”
McDermott also pointed out the Chargers were coming off nine days rest, were embarrassed by the loss to the Raiders and that teams often get a boost after a coaching change.
One thing he failed to mention was that of LA’s nine losses, five were by three points-or-fewer … it became six Saturday night.
There weren’t a lot of puffed-out chests in the Buffalo locker room where the most common reaction to the triumph was “Phew.”
And as McDermott admitted, “I’ve known of Giff (Smith, Chargers interim coach) for years and the respect he has around the league. I knew he’d have them ready and that they’d play hard … which is exactly what they did.”
Nonetheless, the Bills not only stayed alive to make the playoffs, they can also still win the division, comfortable in knowing they hardly played their best — losing the turnover battle 3-0 and being out-possessioned 33 minutes to 27 — but, in a “must-win game,” it was good enough.
OTHER NOTES as the Bills head into next Sunday’s game against the Patriots at Orchard Park:
— Bills quarterback Josh Allen threw for one touchdown (a 57-yarder to Gabe Davis) and ran for two more, the 11th time this season he’s had one of each, an NFL record. On the season, Allen has thrown 27 TD passes and rushed for 13 scores giving him an NFL-leading 40 touchdowns.
— The Chargers first takeaway came when Bills wide receiver Deonte Harty fumbled a punt when hit by LA safety AJ Finley with linebacker Amen Ogbongemiga recovering to set up a touchdown. Their second came when Allen was intercepted for the 15th time, this one by safety Alohi Gilman, his first of the season. Giveaway number three came midway in the fourth quarter when running back James Cook fumbled when hit in a scrum with Nick Williams recovering.
— The Bills’ sacked quarterback Easton Stick five times. Tackle Ed Oliver got two and now has 8½ on the season. Cornerback Rasul Douglas, tackle Poona Ford and middle linebacker Terrel Bernard each got their first.
— The Chargers only sack of Allen was shared by linebackers Tui Tuipolotu and Eric Kendricks.
— A defensive holding penalty on Bills cornerback Christian Benford cost him the interception he made on the play.
— Buffalo safety Taylor Rapp had game highs in tackles (9) and solos (7). Nickel back Taron Johnson, Bernard and Benford each had seven yackles.
Oliver, besides his second sack being the game winner, also topped the game in tackles for loss and quarterback hits with two each.
— Inactive for the Bills were safety Micah Hyde (neck/stinger), defensive end A.J. Epenesa (ribs), running back Ty Johnson (shoulder) and offensive tackles Alec Anderson and Germain Ifedi. Rapp replaced Hyde as starter. The Bills also activated veteran running back Leonard Fournette to the roster.
Three Chargers starters were also inactive, wide receiver Keenan Allen and cornerback Deane Leonard both with heel injuries and tight end Donald Parham.
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.)
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