The Buffalo Bills didn’t just fail to record a sack of Sam Darnold on Sunday. They never even laid a finger on the New York Jets’ rookie quarterback.
For the first time all season, the Bills failed to record a single quarterback hit. It’s just the second time in 2018 that they failed to record a sack. Over the three games prior to Sunday, Buffalo had at least three sacks and eight quarterback hits in each, helping the team to a 2-1 record over that span.
“It was a big letdown. We didn't perform the way we normally do,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said. “It shows on the scoreboard. We let our team down at home when (rookie quarterback) Josh (Allen) is playing some really good football. So we've got to do a lot better job getting after those guys and just fight through all those holding calls.”
What Hughes meant was the lack of holding calls against the Jets. They were flagged just once for holding, and the penalty was declined after the Bills came up with a third-down stop.
“Same stuff I've been battling all year. Guys getting a lot more handsy on me,” Hughes said. “It's part of the game. You either call it or you don't. You've just got to keep playing hard. It's been like that all season, honestly. Yeah, it's frustrating. It certainly takes a toll on you. It wears you down as a pass rusher, as a defender. When the chips are stacked against you, you've got to just keep going harder and harder.”
The Jets also deserve credit for keeping things clean for Darnold.
“They moved the pocket a couple downs early on. They checked to some runs on third down. So it was really hard to get a beat and put some pressure on him,” Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “On first and second down, they moved him around. We didn't sack him, but he was running around a little bit. It wasn't just like he was comfortable sitting back there all day and letting stuff go.”
Darnold finished 16 of 24 for 170 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
"We probably could’ve done some things to help our rush a little more, but right up until that last drive, I think they had 120 yards passing, so it wasn’t like the passing game was hurting us," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "We were getting what we wanted in the run game. We thought we were defending the pass well, not giving up plays down the field. The game plan was going according to plan, we just needed to make one play on the final drive that could’ve helped us. Even before that, making a play somewhere along the way."
On the occasions the Bills did get pressure, Darnold moved around enough to elude it. That included a 9-yard scramble in the first quarter. At the end of that play, he suffered a foot injury that caused him to miss a series. His mobility did not appear to be compromised the rest of the game, though.
On the game-tying touchdown early in the fourth quarter, Darnold scrambled right to avoid pressure, first from Hughes and then from a diving Kyle Williams. He spun around, went all the way back across the field and made a perfect throw to Robby Anderson for a 7-yard touchdown catch.
“We knew he could move around a little bit,” Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds said. “We just have to do a better job getting off the field. That starts with us. We just have to get him down. A good rush comes with good coverage, so like I said, we just have to do a better job next time.”
The Bills are currently sixth in the NFL Draft order with a 4-9 record. They are behind San Francisco (3-10), Arizona (3-10), Oakland (3-10), Atlanta (4-9) and the Jets (4-9). According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the team has an 86-percent chance to pick in the top 10 (up from 58 percent) and a 32-percent chance at picking in the top five (up from 10 percent).
Stat of the game: 47-27
That was the difference in average drive start, with New York starting near midfield and the Bills 20 yards behind them. The Jets had kick returns of 51 and 86 yards to set up scoring drives. “That’s not a recipe for success right there,” coach Sean McDermott said of the disparity.
Game ball: Tremaine Edmunds
The rookie linebacker got his first career interception to end a New York drive in the Bills’ red zone. Edmunds also led the Bills with eight tackles, one of which went for a loss. With Matt Milano out for the season, the Bills will need Edmunds to make more of those game-changing plays the final three weeks.
Quote of the day
“We’ve got to protect the quarterback and run the football with somebody other than our quarterback. We’ve got to take a hard look at that. It’s been an issue. I know that when the quarterback is your leading rusher, it’s not a healthy thing week in and week out. So we have to make sure we put him in position to make plays.” – Bills coach Sean McDermott, on the team’s struggle to run the ball with somebody other than rookie quarterback Josh Allen.
Snap count notes
1. There was a new leader in wide receiver snaps. Undrafted rookie Robert Foster played 73 of 76 offensive snaps, and it might have been even higher had he not sat out a play in the second half after limping off the field. Zay Jones was next with 69 snaps. That’s a good sign of just how far up the depth chart Foster has moved himself.
2. On the other end was fellow rookie receiver Ray-Ray McCloud. He played just one offensive snap, and none on special teams. McCloud has a lot of work to do if he wants to be part of the 2019 plans.
3. Corey Thompson got two defensive snaps, while Deon Lacey and Julian Stanford played only on special teams. Why is that significant? Milano suffered a significant injury late in the game. And Thompson could be the guy who steps in.
4. Shaq Lawson and Trent Murphy had nearly a 50-50 split of playing time. Lawson took 28 snaps and Murphy took 26.
5. Rafael Bush replaced Taron Johnson as the team’s primary nickel cornerback. Bush played 37 of 54 defensive snaps. Ryan Lewis played seven snaps, briefly replacing an injured Levi Wallace.
After Allen’s development, draft position will be the most interesting thing to watch over the final three weeks of the season. Sunday’s home game against Detroit will be big in that regard. The Lions come in 5-8 after beating Arizona on Sunday. Here are three more things to know about the team:
1. Matthew Stafford is still around, but not putting up his usual big numbers. In Sunday’s win over the Cardinals, Stafford threw for a season-low 101 yards. Over Detroit’s last three games, he’s thrown just one touchdown and three interceptions. Stafford has been a constant in Detroit since being the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2009. In the Super Bowl era, only 44 quarterbacks including Stafford have played 10 seasons with one team and started at least one game in each of those seasons. The Lions are tied to Stafford for at least one more season because of his contract.
2. Darius Slay accomplished a career first Sunday. The All-Pro cornerback scored his first career touchdown, returning an interception 67 yards. Slay stepped in front of Cardinals receiver Trent Sherfield to intercept rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, then raced down the right sideline. Slay had three passes defensed against Arizona, making it the 11th time in his career he’s had at least that many in a game. Slay now has three interceptions and 12 passes defensed this season. That’s down from an NFL-leading eight interceptions and 26 passes defensed last year as he’s played through injuries.
3. Ziggy Ansah might be done in Detroit. The Lions’ pass rusher suffered a right shoulder injury Sunday against the Cardinals. He’s heading into unrestricted free agency this offseason, and Lions beat writers are of the opinion it will be best for both sides to move on. Ansah had 14.5 sacks in 2015, but has just 18 since then, missing 11 games because of injury.