MINNEAPOLIS – Go ahead. Pile on the criticism and the doubt and the point spreads. The Buffalo Bills love it. Or, at least, for as long as it lasted.
“If you’re going to look past us to the next week, well, we’re going to show you how the Buffalo Bills play football,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said.
The Minnesota Vikings have a Thursday night showdown against the Los Angeles Rams. Some have billed it as a preview of the NFC Championship Game. But the Vikings had other business they were supposed to take care of first on Sunday: embarrassing an opponent they were favored to beat by at least 16.5 points.
Instead, it was the Bills who did the embarrassing with a 27-6 victory their most optimistic supporters never saw coming. So be warned, Green Bay Packers, these Bills – even after all of their stumbling through the better part of eight quarters – apparently mean business.
“You turn on the TV, you look at the paper, across the boards from every sports channel, no one’s picking the Bills,” Hughes said of what he and his teammates saw all week. “The NFL is not like college. It’s not where someone can write up wins on a blue board. You’ve got to come out here and play four quarters of football and let the chips fall, because anything can happen.”
This is how rare what happened Sunday was: The Bills, according to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, became only the fifth NFL team since 1990 to win as an underdog of 15 points or more and the first do so by more than seven. The Bills have won three times as a double-digit underdog, and the one that seemed closest to comparing to Sunday's surprising win was in 1984 when, at 0-11, they beat the 7-4 Cowboys, a 10-point favorite.
And the most encouraging part was the way the Bills – who did all of their scoring on their first five possessions – won.
They won with dynamic play from rookie quarterback Josh Allen, who threw for one touchdown and ran for two others, sending a clear message that the franchise has a legitimate reason to anticipate a long and prosperous future with the seventh overall pick of the draft.
They won with dominant play from a defense – which had coordinator Leslie Frazier calling plays again – that through two games had been a huge disappointment. The Bills forced three turnovers, with the first two leading to 10 points. They also put a chokehold on an offense that was supposed to have one of the best receiver duos in the league in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, and intended to take full advantage of them with the heavy free-agent investment in quarterback Kirk Cousins.
“It was just a great week of preparation,” Hughes said. “Our coaches do a fantastic job of giving us information. And it was great to see the guys put the extra work in to communicate, come in after practice on Wednesday and Thursday to watch a little bit more film together as a unit so we could communicate and play as one, unison group.”
Sure, the Bills had suffered the worst season-opening loss in the 59-year history of the franchise and had a player retire at halftime in Week 2, and had the head coach yank play-calling duties from his veteran defensive coordinator. And, sure, on Sunday morning, they scratched their top running back from the lineup with sore ribs.
But they also had a whole lot going for them, beginning with Allen’s talent. Rough edges? You know it. But this is a kid who can do things with his passing arm and his legs and his leadership that the Bills haven’t had at quarterback in a long time.
Three snapshots from Allen’s performance highlight a day that will be remembered for a long time in Bills history:
- His 10-yard touchdown sprint – on which he showed far more speed that one expects from a 6-foot-5, 237-pounder – to cap the game’s opening drive.
- His hurdling (yes, hurdling) linebacker Anthony Barr, covering an amazing five yards in the process, on the way to a 10-yard gain on third-and-nine. “Did you see that hurdle?” a still wide-eyed safety Micah Hyde asked. “I jumped off the bench, man. I think I was on the field trying to dab him up. It was a huge play. Don’t do it again, though.”
- His rollout and 55-yard connection with wide-open running back Chris Ivory – starting for injured LeSean McCoy – on the same drive as the hurdle to help set up Allen’s 1-yard touchdown keeper to make it 24-0.
“Hey, that kid’s got something that you don’t see from many rookies, man,” offensive tackle Jordan Mills said. “His enthusiasm, the way he works every day. He’s going to have mistakes, but he’s going to make plays. And he’s going to get better and better and better.”
The Bills’ defense was supposed to have significantly improved after the free-agent signings of linemen Star Lotulelei and Trent Murphy (and a cornerback named Vontae Davis, who quit in the middle of last week’s loss against the Los Angeles Chargers), and the drafting of linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. On Sunday, it finally played that way.
Maybe the Vikings weren’t worthy of all of the hype they had received before the season and even after a 1-0-1 start. Maybe the Bills weren’t deserving of all of the wrath they incurred.
Either way, Buffalo’s season has suddenly become a whole lot more interesting with one game left in what was thought to be the most daunting portion of the schedule.
“People can say what they want,” Mills said. “It’s about what we think about each other and sticking together, and as long as we’ve got that camaraderie and that playoff-caliber mindset, we're going to be fine.”