EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The chemistry between new wide receiver John Brown and quarterback Josh Allen was in midseason form in Sunday’s season-opener.
Brown caught seven passes for 123 yards in his Bills debut, including the winning, 38-yard touchdown pass.
Brown’s TD tops our breakdown of key plays that shaped the game in the Bills’ 17-16 victory:
1. A matter of trust.
Brown didn’t get open the way the route was designed on the touchdown pass with 3:00 left. It was a stutter-step-and-go route down the left sideline.
“It was just a double move, and the defensive guy had great position on the ball,” Brown said of Jets cornerback Darryl Roberts. “It was supposed to be thrown over the top, but the guy took the top off of it.”
Recognizing the need to adjust, Allen showed trust in Brown to stop his route short and make a play. Allen threw it as if it was a back-shoulder play, and Brown caught the ball in front of Roberts, who couldn’t change direction in time.
“The guy had great coverage, and Josh was able to see it,” Brown said. “That takes a lot of trust. The guy had great coverage, and I was just able to come back to the ball. … Josh just made a perfect throw.”
Credit Allen also for not playing it safe on a third-and-4 play. Even though the Bills would have gone for it on fourth down, Allen wasn’t thinking check down.
The Bills had an empty backfield on the play, with three receivers left and two to the right. Cole Beasley, lined up between Brown and tight end Dawson Knox, was well covered on a short, pivot route.
Give an unsung credit on the play to center Mitch Morse. He held off Jets star defensive tackle Leonard Williams with a lunging block just long enough for Allen to make the throw before Williams hit him.
It was the sixth TD catch of 30-plus yards for Brown, in his sixth year. It was his seventh career 100-yard receiving game. The Bills signed Brown in March to a three-year deal averaging $9 million a year.
2. Drive a truck through it.
The Bills’ offensive line was poor at blocking on the move last year, and Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll cut back on his gap-scheme pull blocking.
But the Bills’ line showed off some of its movement ability in the second half.
Rookie back Devin Singletary broke off runs of 23, 12 and 15 yards on the Bills’ first touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
On the last two, guard Jon Feliciano and center Morse pulled to the right, and the tackle and tight end blocked down. The Bills were in 11 personnel – three wide receivers – which put an extra defensive back on the field.
On the 15-yarder, which Singletary took to the Jets’ 3-yard line, the Bills’ back had a three-lane highway to run through. Tight end Lee Smith blocked the inside linebacker and tight end Tommy Sweeney pinned linebacker Harvey Langi inside. Morse took out safety Jamal Adams on the edge.
“It was a pin-and-pull play,” Feliciano said. “I pulled and blocked the D-end. You can feel the play go by you as it’s happening. I kind of looked up and I started celebrating. I thought ‘Motor’ was about to score.”
“It was something in the second half we really relied on,” Morse said. “The way we’re able to get out there is guys doing their job. It’s a testament to the scheme and the way the guys put themselves out there. They put us in position to work in space.”
3. Darnold’s missed chances.
The Bills led the NFL last year in fewest 20-plus pass plays allowed and fewest 40-plus pass plays allowed. The Jets’ longest completion was 19 yards.
Yes, the Bills gave up ground underneath to slot receiver Jamison Crowder, who had 14 catches for 99 yards.
Crowder is a good player. But his underneath crosses are not going to beat you. Deep passes to Robby Anderson, New York’s 4.36 sprinter in the 40-yard dash will beat you. Anderson had three catches for 23 yards.
Darnold and the Jets were gnashing their teeth over two missed deep shots on their final drive of the game.
On the first, Anderson got behind cornerback Levi Wallace down the left sideline on a third-and-1 play with 2:07 left. Wallace tried to get a jam at the line, but Anderson evaded it, and the cornerback was left chasing. But Darnold threw the ball flat-footed. Anderson had to stop, and Wallace was able to catch up and deflect the ball at the Bills’ 32.
“That’s those guys in the back staying calm and cool and never giving up,” said linebacker Lorenzo Alexander.
On fourth down, Le’Veon Bell’s second-effort run gained a yard and kept the drive going.
On the next play, Darnold went deep up the left seam again for Anderson. This time he again didn’t step into the throw enough and overthrew the receiver. Jordan Poyer was chasing the play.
“We were in a quarters concept, and they just ran a double move on the outside with their No. 1 guy, No. 11,” Poyer said. “It was a good call by them. Fortunately he overthrew it. I didn’t see him throw it. I opened up to try to catch him. That man’s fast.”
“The last couple of throws there at the end I wish I could have had back,” Darnold said.
4. Effort award.
Credit Shaq Lawson who stopped two Jets drives in the second quarter with a sack and a bat-down at the line of scrimmage, both on third down.
The sack took down Darnold for a 6-yard loss to the Bills’ 43. Without it, the Jets might have tried a 53-yard field goal. The Jets kept seven men in to block on the play, but Lawson flushed Darnold from the pocket and then caught him from behind.
“If I can get a sack against that, I can get a sack against any protection,” Lawson said. “It was basically an effort play.
“Me and Zo had a game on,” Lawson said, referring to a twist with Lorenzo Alexander. “Zo I think missed him and I had to get him.”