Defining moment awaits the Buffalo Bills in Game No. 272
One more win and they're AFC East champs. They could miss the playoffs, too. Here's why the past is the key to the present for these 2023 Bills if they're thinking Super Bowl.
Invincibility filled players on the offensive side of the ball immediately the night of Dec. 21, 2021 After the infamous “Wind Game” loss vs. the Patriots the prior week, after falling into that 24-3 hole to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at halftime, ex-Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll decided to unleash Josh Allen in all of his fury. We detailed this turning point of a scene. The head coach’s ball-control dreams were politely tucked into a manila envelope and filed away to collect dust.
It was time to fully maximize this weapon at quarterback. Sean McDermott, to his credit, signed off on the change.
The result: One of the best stretches of offensive football in team history. The seven-game run was more of an all-out pillage that included a tar-and-feathering of the sport’s greatest coach ever, Bill Belichick, in the wild-card round. That 47-17 win was the first “perfect” game in NFL history. Buffalo scored a touchdown on all seven of its possessions before the final kneeldown. They didn’t face a single fourth down. Yes, the Bills peaked… peaked… and peaked… right through one of the greatest games in NFL history the next week. Right to those fateful 13 seconds when, of course, McDermott kickoff’d, Kodak’d and killed this team’s eventful coronation.
As one player said: “It’s like you make a good batch, but then he just adds a drop of poison in there and it makes the whole thing bad.”
Two years later? Bravado is fueling players again in Orchard Park. But not in who you’d expect.
Whereas Allen misfired on half of his pass attempts in a (much-less-convincing) 27-21 win over the (much-less-talented) Patriots, the defense feasted with four turnovers. Whereas Allen was frustrated when told to draw the Patriots offsides on fourth and 2 from the 45 — and even more frustrated with his own performance — the Bills leaned into a field position brand of football. The logic was easy to follow. Hard to imagine the immortal Zappe-to-Reagor connection spontaneously erupting in the fourth quarter. The Bills again relied on the run and a defense that’s been gaining a lot of confidence.
Afterward, the team’s gem of a midseason pickup — cornerback Rasul Douglas — made a declaration.
“We got our identity now. We know what we’re capable of doing.”
Offensive players essentially said the same thing two years ago.
Once again, the Bills’ identity has sharpened over the final month of a season. Four straight wins have set this team up for one of the biggest games in the McDermott era. “Game 272,” as the league calls its flexed final primetime, pits the Bills against the Miami Dolphins. They could either earn the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs with a win or miss out on the playoffs completely. If the Steelers beat a No. 1-seeded Ravens team with nothing at stake, if the Jaguars beat the 5-11 Titans and they lose to Miami, a club quarterbacked by Josh Allen somehow will not be joining the 44 Percenters in the playoffs. Which would be the ultimate gut punch. Nearly half of the NFL makes the postseason these days.
There’s no denying this is a completely different operation than the one that romped into those 2021 playoffs.
This is a team built more specifically in McDermott’s vision.
For better? For worse? We’re about to find out.