The Buffalo Bills’ defense looked like an entirely different unit in the second half Sunday.
After getting smoked to the tune of 284 yards and 28 points in the first half of the home opener at New Era Field, head coach Sean McDermott took over play-calling duties from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
The results were immediate: The Bills held Los Angles to 65 total yards, including just 3 rushing yards, and three points. It wasn’t close to enough in a 31-20 loss, but in an 0-2 start to the season that has featured very few bright spots, it’s at least something to build on.
“It’s a step forward for us and we need to be a complete team and come out and put two halves of football together, and that’s the next step for us,” defensive end Trent Murphy said.
McDermott said he did not make any major adjustments.
“I didn’t really change all that much, honestly,” he said. “I thought the defense played with a lot of energy the second half and the guys, give the players credit, they battled. I thought, overall, the guys battled in the second half. … It was almost the tale of two halves. I thought we battled and played some Buffalo Bills football at times in the second half, at times, not enough still. In the first half, no way was that good enough.”
Part of the defensive turnaround can be credited to an increase in pressure. The Bills got two sacks of Philip Rivers in the second half.
“I think we just played with a little bit more pride and a little bit more execution in the second half. We were able to get off the field,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “Obviously there were some big plays by Jerry (Hughes), Trent, the defensive line, getting some tackles for losses, some sacks.”
The Bills even got their first red-zone stop, after opponents had been a perfect 9 for 9 in the first six quarters of the season.
“The biggest thing that we need to work on is situational football, and that’s really the red zone,” Alexander said. “That’s been the biggest difference from last year to this year for us, is making teams kick field goals instead of allowing them to score touchdowns. Making them kick field goals makes games a lot tighter, 16-13, 19-13, whatever that would’ve equaled out to. That’s a game that we can find ourselves still in at the end and maybe go down and have a shot to win the game. … Yards really don’t matter, it’s keeping teams out of the end zone.”
The Bills actually rank 17th in yards allowed at an average of 359 through two weeks. They are tied with Detroit for dead last in points allowed per game, though, at 39.
“Nobody wants to be 0-2, but it’s my job to continue to lead this football team and also it’s my job to find the positive in there, in particular, that second half,” McDermott said. By no means was it good enough, and you can’t, like I mentioned earlier, you can’t give up 28 points in the first half and expect to win. I appreciate the way the guys stuck with it and battled, and those will be the guys that continue to stay with us. We can learn from that and we’ll learn from everything, every part of this football game, including the first half in particular, and then the second half. I thought we had some opportunities with the ball that we didn’t take advantage of.
Stat of the game: 9.2
That’s how many yards the Chargers averaged per play in the first half Sunday. After an opening three-and-out, the Chargers scored touchdowns on four straight possessions, facing third down just twice in that span.
Game ball: Lorenzo Alexander
This section is getting awfully difficult. We’ll go with Alexander, the veteran who finished with seven tackles (tied for the team lead), two tackles for loss, one sack and one pass defensed. Alexander played 32 defensive snaps and another 10 on special teams.
Quote of the day
“Never have seen it ever, Pop Warner, high school, college, pros. Never heard of it, never seen it. It's just completely disrespectful to his teammates.” – Team captain Lorenzo Alexander, on learning that veteran cornerback Vontae Davis quit in the middle of the game, later announcing his retirement.
Snap count notes
1. Zay Jones took 51 of 62 offensive snaps to lead all receivers. Self-proclaimed No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin took just 40 snaps – 65 percent of the offensive total. With just four receivers active, Andre Holmes (36 snaps) and rookie Robert Foster (29 snaps) also saw plenty of playing time.
2. Fullback Patrick DiMarco took just eight snaps. That comes a week after playing in only one snap against Baltimore. Things may change as the Bills game plan for different weeks, but right now DiMarco is not playing a big role on offense.
3. Kyle Williams is one tough dude. He played 43 of 57 defensive snaps (75 percent) to lead all defensive linemen. The knee injury suffered in the preseason does not seem to be slowing Williams down at all. Defensive end Trent Murphy also played 38 snaps (67 percent), an increase from the 28 he was on the field for against Baltimore. Newcomers Robert Thomas and Nate Orchard took six and five snaps, respectively.
4. Rookie Tremaine Edmunds once again took every defensive snap – 57 of them Sunday – he remains the only player to do that through two weeks.
5. Running back Marcus Murphy took 23 offensive snaps Sunday for the second straight game. Once again, that far outpaced Chris Ivory, who had just nine snaps. Both of those players could see their snap counts rise in Week 3 if LeSean McCoy is out or limited by the rib injury he suffered against the Chargers.
6. Linebackers Deon Lacey and Julian Stanford did not play defensively, but shared the team lead with 21 snaps each on special teams.
Things don’t get any easier, as the Bills open a stretch of four road games in five weeks when they visit the Minnesota Vikings at 1 p.m. Sunday. Minnesota opened the game as 16.5-point favorites. Going back to the 1977 season, the last year data is available on pro-football-reference.com, that’s tied for the third-largest point spread the Bills have faced in team history.
They were 17.5-point underdogs against Miami in the 1985 season finale and 17-point underdogs against the Dolphins in Week 9 of the 1984 season. The Bills were 16.5-point underdogs to the Patriots in New England’s perfect regular season of 2007. That came in Week 3. In the rematch later in the year in Orchard Park, Buffalo was a 16-point underdog in what is the worst loss in team history, 56-10.
Here are three things to know about the Vikings …
1. They might be looking for a new kicker. Rookie Daniel Carlson went 0 for 3 on field goals Sunday in a 29-29 game against the Green Bay Packers, including misses from 49 and 35 yards in overtime, both of which went wide right. The 35-yarder came as time expired.
“"It feels terrible. Obviously, I let my team down," Carlson told ESPN. "That last one was probably more just confidence after missing twice early. That's frustrating. That shorter one I should never miss like that."
2. Kirk Cousins is coming off a monster game. The Vikings, who made it to the NFC Championship Game last year, added Cousins as a free agent in the offseason. He threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns Sunday, leading the Vikings back from a 20-7 deficit at the start of the fourth quarter. Cousins became the first Vikings quarterback with 400 yards passing and four touchdown throws in a game since Daunte Culpepper on Oct. 17, 2004, against the Saints.
3. Their offensive line is beat up. Offensive tackle Aviante Collins and left guard Nick Easton are out for the season because of injuries. Center Pat Elflein has not played the first two weeks as he recovers from ankle and shoulder injuries. Then on Sunday, starting right tackle Rashod Hill left the game in the third quarter because of injury, forcing rookie Brian O’Neill into the lineup.
Story topics: Andre Holmes/ Chris Ivory/ Deon Lacey/ Jerry Hughes/ Julian Stanford/ Kelvin Benjamin/ Kyle Williams/ LeSean McCoy/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Marcus Murphy/ Nate Orchard/ Patrick DiMarco/ Robert Foster/ Robert Thomas/ Tremain Edmunds/ Trent Murphy/ Vontae Davis/ Zay Jones