Not to minimize a rousing and urgently necessary Bills victory, but my main takeaway from Sunday afternoon is that it’s too bad Josh Allen can’t play against the Dolphins every week.
Allen had one of the finest games of his young career at Hard Rock Stadium, completing 21 of 33 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns — and rushing for a fourth TD — as the Bills brushed off the Dolphins, 37-20.
That makes three times the Bills have scored 30 points with Allen at the helm. All three came against Miami. He has tossed three TD passes twice in his two years. The other was in last year’s finale vs. the Dolphins, when he had three TDs passing and two more on the ground. His three highest-rated passing games: All against Miami.
So we have to be wary about drawing conclusions off Dolphins games, especially when they’re in an undeclared and not entirely effective campaign to tank the season for a high draft pick.
What’s the point of tanking, anyway? People made "Tank For Tua" shirts in Miami before the season assuming that Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa would be the clear No. 1 pick. Now Tua is hurt again, reviving concerns about his ability to stay healthy, and LSU’s red-hot QB, Joe Burrow, is now the perceived No. 1 target. Burrow for Burrow, anyone? Bust for Burrow?
The Dolphins aren’t even the worst team in the NFL, which complicates matters. But they looked the part against the Bills. They can’t run the ball. Their pass blocking stinks. Their defense had Bills receivers running wide open all day. Hey, I’m fond of Ryan Fitzpatrick, but you have issues if he’s your best player and salvation.
This game was as predictable as the loss at Cleveland last week. Oddsmakers weren’t buying into the Bills at 6-2, and they didn’t have much faith in Miami despite a two-game winning streak. The fact that the Dolphins could win two in a row says more about the sorry state of the AFC than their competence as a team.
Still, the Bills took care of business in a game that was seen as a “must-win.” I don’t know how urgent any game can be when Bills management didn’t have enough faith to make them better at the trade deadline. But a loss would have been an embarrassment and exposed them as a total playoff fraud.
They got to 7-3 for the first time since 1999 (they hadn't even been 6-4 through 10 games since 2000). They’re still an average team, but they beat the teams they’re supposed to beat. The Bills now have seven wins against teams with an aggregate record of 15-54 — not including the winless Bengals’ late afternoon game Sunday at the Raiders.
It’s hard to quibble with 7-3, regardless of how you got there. But six of the seven wins have come against defenses currently ranked in the bottom 10 of the league. They haven’t beaten a quarterback of any consequence, unless you consider Fitzpatrick elite.
Sunday was an encouraging step for Allen, however. He was poised and accurate, and did much of his work from the pocket after reverting to bailing out too soon in recent weeks. He had the sort of game the Bills desperately needed, one where he was physically dynamic and not simply a careful game manager.
Allen didn’t throw an interception for the fifth game in a row. His ball placement was as precise as it’s ever been, a couple of errant heaves notwithstanding. His prodigious arm strength was on display when he hit John Brown in stride with a laser along the right sideline for a 40-yard touchdown that made it 13-0 early in the second quarter.
It was his longest touchdown pass since the 38-yarder to Brown that beat the Jets in the opener. The Bills haven’t made enough big plays in the passing game this season, which is one of the main reasons they haven’t been able to put away bad teams and nearly lost games this season to the Jets, Bengals and Miami.
Things get decidedly more challenging from here. Their next five games are all against teams ranked in the top half of the NFL in scoring defense, the stat that matters most. Denver is fifth, Dallas sixth, the Ravens ninth. We’ll know a lot more about Allen and the offense a few weeks from now.
If they can win two of those three games, they’ll be 9-4 and in terrific shape for a playoff berth. The Broncos come to New Era Field next week. Considering their dysfunctional offense, that could be the easiest game of the next five. So you might consider this another “must-win,” like the Dolphins game.
They’ll need to be sharper to beat the better teams on their schedule. At times, they seemed to lose focus against the Dolphins. The normally efficient pass defense blew a couple of coverages. The special teams fell asleep on an onsides kick and allowed a kickoff return for a TD. They weren’t alert when the Dolphins scored a touchdown with the wildcat later on.
Coach Sean McDermott was pleased with the victory, but he knows they can’t have those lapses against the more formidable opponents. His players know their coach has high standards and won’t tolerate the silly mistakes.
“They’ll probably tell you,” McDermott said. “They know me well enough. They don’t have to worry about that with me. We’ll celebrate for 24 hours, and I’ll be sure to let them know what we can improve on.”
One of the softest 10-game schedules imaginable is now behind them. Things get a lot more difficult now, and we’ll find out if the Bills have more in them. Regrettably, what they don't have is any more games left with Miami.
Jerry Sullivan is a sports columnist with over 30 years experience in Western New York, as well as the host of The Jerry Sullivan Show from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. weekdays on 1270 AM The Fan. Follow him on Twitter @ByJerrySullivan or respond via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.