Matt Milano has a simple philosophy to playing defense: Always be around the ball, and good things will happen.
The results show the Buffalo Bills’ second-year linebacker is on to something. Milano had another interception in Sunday’s 24-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars at New Era Field. That gives him three on the season, which is tied for the NFL lead among linebackers.
“It’s something I always talk about, being around the ball, good things happen,” he said after the win. “It might not happen this game or the next game, but if you consistently do it, good things are going to happen.”
It’s not just interceptions, either. Milano leads the NFL with three fumble recoveries. His nine tackles for loss rank fourth among linebackers, and his seven passes defensed are tied for the Bills’ team lead.
“Everybody in this locker room respects him for him,” safety Micah Hyde said. “Big moments in games, he's able to consistently do that. We've come to expect that.”
Milano’s interception Sunday was a classic example of being in the right place at the right time. Blake Bortles’ pass intended for Keelan Cole wasn’t a bad one, but it bounced off the receiver’s hands and into the air. Milano was there to make the play.
“It's contagious. Once one guy gets a sack, somebody else wants one. Once one guy gets a pick, the whole secondary starts talking about it,” he said. “It's on people's minds.”
Milano was able to play 67 of 70 defensive snaps Sunday (96 percent) two weeks after suffering a concussion against the New York Jets.
“Definitely good to have that bye week,” he said. “I never really had symptoms of a concussion, they just said it looked bad on the field. It's good now.”
Milano has established himself as an every-down linebacker in his second season, and he is proving to be a steal as a fifth-round draft pick. Along with Tremaine Edmunds, the Bills have two linebackers who can play in all situations, which is a luxury for a defense.
“We don't play dime,” Hyde said, referring to a package with six defensive backs on the field at the same time. “When I first got here, that was kind of eye-opening. In the past, third and long, you'd put dime on the field to cover a tight end, cover another receiver, cover a speed back. We don't do that here, because those guys are able to do that.
“It takes a lot of pressure off us in the back end because we know it's not like we have to lean to help those guys. They're going to handle their own. Matt's always in the right place at the right time. I feel like every game, he's got three tackles for loss and a pick.”
Hyde might be exaggerating a little, but the point remains that Milano is a playmaker.
“Trying to play fast and be consistent. That's the biggest thing for me is being in the right place at the right time and just doing my job overall,” he said. “The big plays look good, but it's all the little stuff in between that really matters.”
The Bills are ninth in the draft order with a 4-7 record. They are ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a tiebreaker among the four teams with the same record.
Stat of the game: 2-0
That’s the outcome of the turnover battle, in Buffalo’s favor. It’s the second straight game the Bills have been plus-2 in the turnover battle. Not surprisingly, it has led to the first two-game win streak of the season.
Game ball: Josh Allen
It wasn’t a sparkling statistical performance for Allen, who finished 8 of 19 for 160 yards and one touchdown passing. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story, though, as Allen was hurt by some plays that weren’t made by his receivers and some penalties on the offensive line. He added 99 yards on 13 carries, with another touchdown. That set a franchise record for rushing yards by a quarterback, and his 75-yard touchdown pass was the longest ever by a Bills’ rookie. After missing four games with an elbow injury, Allen came back and made progress, which for the Bills is the best thing to come out of Sunday’s win.
Quote of the day
“My expectations were that I’d be back, I’d be better mentally and obviously physically with the elbow holding up, and I just wanted to go out there and complete the ball where it needed to be completed and make plays when plays needed to be made. I trust the guys around me, and that’s kind of what we did.” – Allen on his expectations after being out for a month.
Snap count notes
1. Zay Jones continues to dominate playing time among wide receivers, taking 95 percent of the offensive snaps (55 of 58). After that, Isaiah McKenzie and Robert Foster got 33 snaps each, which was ahead of veteran Kelvin Benjamin (23) and newcomer Deonte Thompson (16). Andre Holmes played just five snaps.
2. Defensive end Trent Murphy played 38 snaps, which was 54 percent of the defensive total. He was questionable entering the game with a knee injury. Fellow defensive end Shaq Lawson, who was questionable with an elbow injury, played 26 snaps, a number that likely would have been higher had he not been ejected in the third quarter.
3. Ryan Groy played 34 snaps at guard, replacing an injured John Miller, who got the game’s first 24 snaps. Groy served as the top interior backup with Vlad Ducasse inactive.
4. The Bills made it through the game with just three healthy cornerbacks after losing Lafayette Pitts to a head injury early in the first quarter. Tre’Davious White and Levi Wallace each played 67 of 70 defensive snaps, while nickel cornerback Taron Johnson played 43. It helped that the Jaguars were run heavy.
5. The bye week did LeSean McCoy some good. He was used on 64 percent of the Bills’ offensive plays, 37 snaps, which left less work for Chris Ivory (19 snaps) and Marcus Murphy (two).
The Bills head to South Florida riding a two-game win streak. They’ll meet the Miami Dolphins at 1 p.m. Sunday. Here are three things to know about the 5-6 fish:
1. The playcalling of coach Adam Gase has come into question. Miami blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead Sunday in losing to the Colts, going three-and-out on their final two possessions. Starting with 8:26 remaining and the ball on their 25-yard line, Gase called for two short passes that fell incomplete and then a draw play on third and 10 that lost 5 yards. The entire possession took 43 seconds. After the Colts tied the game, the Dolphins ran two plays that went for no gain, then again called a draw play on third and 10 that left them well short of the first down. The Colts drove to the game-winning field goal on the ensuing possession.
2. Ryan Tannehill looked good in his return from a shoulder injury. Tannehill went 17 of 25 for 204 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Colts, which makes it all the more puzzling why Gase took the ball out of his hands late. "I'm a competitor, so I want the ball in my hand. I want to make that play, but I understand the situation," Tannehill told ESPN of the third-down draw plays.
3. Xavien Howard is a ballhawk. The Dolphins’ top cornerback intercepted Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck on back-to-back passes in the first half Sunday. That gives Howard nine picks in his last 16 games, the most in the NFL over that span, according to the Dolphins.
Story topics: Deonte Thompson/ Isaiah McKenzie/ Josh Allen/ Kelvin Benjamin/ Lafayette Pitts/ Levi Wallace/ Matt Milano/ Micah Hyde/ Robert Foster/ Shaq Lawson/ Taron Johnson/ Tre'davious White/ Trent Murphy