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Bills-Jaguars Report Card: Big plays tilt game in Buffalo's favor

Jay Skurski

Grading the Bills


Rookie Josh Allen has wheels. He set a franchise single-game rushing record for quarterbacks, finishing with 99 yards on 13 carries. He had more than 100 yards until a pair of kneel downs at the end of the game. Allen’s 14-yard touchdown run on a designed quarterback draw put the Bills up on the first play of the fourth quarter. He later raced for a 45-yard gain down the right sideline. Allen’s performance saved what was otherwise a forgettable day on the ground. LeSean McCoy largely was kept in check, finishing with 46 yards on 17 carries, with a long of just 6 yards. Chris Ivory didn’t do much against his old team, gaining 14 yards on three attempts. Isaiah McKenzie scored on a 6-yard jet sweep.


Allen’s grade on his own is higher than this, but he was hurt by missed plays around him and penalties on his offensive line, which negated some of his best throws. Allen finished 8 of 19 for 160 yards and a touchdown, but was 4 of 5 for 125 yards with a 75-yard touchdown pass to rookie Robert Foster, who finished with two catches for 94 yards, in the first quarter. Deonte Thompson was targeted three times in his first game back with the Bills, but failed to make a catch. He had a potential long gain knocked away from him in the second half.


The Bills had no answers for Leonard Fournette – or anybody else – in the first half. Jacksonville gained a whopping 8.2 yards per carry in the first half, piling up 173 yards on 21 carries. That’s the most the Bills have given up in the first half of a game since allowing 174 to the Seahawks in 2012. The Bills were out of their gaps and missing tackles far too much early. To Buffalo’s credit, things got better after Fournette was kicked out. Jordan Poyer led the defense with 10 tackles, including one for a loss.


On paper, this looked like a game the Bills’ secondary could dominate. It played out that way, too, as the Bills got a pair of interceptions against turnover-prone Blake Bortles – one by Matt Milano and one by Poyer. The pass rush came alive in the second half, with the ageless Kyle Williams leading the way with 1.5 sacks. Cornerback Levi Wallace has not looked out of place in two straight starts. Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander made two of the five passes defensed.


Punter Colton Schmidt did not have great hang time on his seven attempts, but twice pinned the Jaguars inside their 2-yard line with good bounces. Kick returner Isaiah McKenzie ran the opening kickoff 30 yards, but largely was held in check. Kicker Stephen Hauschka provided the winning points with a 22-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Hauschka now has converted 17 straight field goals. Logan Thomas gave the Bills good field position by returning a kickoff 23 yards. Getting a too-many-men-on-the-field penalty on a Jacksonville punt was sloppy.


Penalties were a huge issue on both sides, including 13 against Buffalo. We heard Sean McDermott disagree with at least one call when official Walt Coleman mistakenly left his microphone on. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll showed a few new tricks, including the call to McKenzie that resulted in a score. McDermott challenged his team to match the Jaguars’ physical approach, and for the most part, that happened.


Grading the Jaguars


Fournette was a beast in the first half, gaining 95 yards on 18 carries that resulted in a pair of touchdowns. The Jaguars’ rushing attack looked different after Fournette was ejected, as the team rushed nine times for 36 yards. Most of that was made up of scrambles by Bortles, who finished with 39 rushing yards. Receiver Dede Westbrook gained 43 yards on his lone rushing attempt, and Carlos Hyde finished with 10 carries for 33 yards.


“Woof” nicely summarizes Bortles’ season and performance Sunday. He finished 12 of 23 for 127 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions – a quarterback rating of 46.8. To be fair, he doesn’t have a lot of weapons. Westbrook (three catches, 44 yards) isn’t a true No. 1 receiver, while Keelan Cole and starting tight end James O’Shaughnessy combined to go without a catch on four combined targets. The Jaguars’ offensive line gave up three sacks, and Bortles was forced to scramble other times because of pressure.


The Jaguars did a solid job against McCoy and Ivory, but had no answers for Allen. “He caused damage running the ball,” Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. The Jaguars made just three tackles for loss. Linebacker Telvin Smith led the team with nine tackles. Jacksonville missed Marcell Dareus, who didn't play because of a back injury. Replacement Abry Jones had four tackles.


Ramsey had an interception erased because he took an illegal contact penalty. He also was beat for a 32-yard completion to Kelvin Benjamin, and made things worse by taking a facemask penalty. The Jacksonville secondary was in zone coverage when Foster burned it for a 75-yard touchdown pass. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue provided consistent pressure even though he didn’t record a sack, finishing with three quarterback hits. Safety Barry Church was partly to blame for the Foster touchdown, and took a penalty on the Bills’ go-ahead touchdown drive in the second half.


Westbrook made some bad decisions early on punt returns, failing to catch the first ball that came to him, allowing it to roll to the Jaguars’ 1-yard line. He also called for a fair catch despite no Bills being within 10 yards of him. Kicker Josh Lambo missed a 42-yard field goal that completely shifted the momentum to Buffalo. Punter Logan Cooke had a good day, averaging 45.7 net yards on six attempts.


Fournette should know better, but it doesn’t speak well to the discipline of coach Doug Marrone that his star running back is wildly throwing punches in a tie game. The Jaguars are in a free fall, and Marrone doesn’t appear to have answers as to why. Jacksonville took just as many costly penalties as the Bills. Marrone stayed on brand by punting on fourth and 1 in the first half. Granted, the ball was on the Jacksonville 30, but still. It was strange to see the Jaguars take a delay of game before the punt, backing up Cooke 5 yards.

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