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The 6-2 Bills are 'doing something right,' but is it enough for postseason run?

Vic Carucci

There is work ahead.

Even the least cynical of observers would say the Buffalo Bills have a great deal to improve through the second half of their schedule.

But a 6-2 record, the Bills' best start since going 7-1 in 1993, also means there's no need to apologize.

"Listen, man," tight end Lee Smith said after a 24-9 victory against the lowly Washington Redskins on Sunday at New Era Field, "when you're sitting at St. John Fisher College at training camp, I think any of us would have signed up for 6-2, right? It's a testament to everyone in this organization, from the top down, that we got here.

"You don't get to 6-2 on accident. You're doing something right."

The list of what the Bills have done right might not be exceptionally long, particularly when compared with other NFL teams with similar or better records. However, it's long enough to put them on track for a second postseason appearance since 2017.

Surpassing the New England Patriots for first place in the AFC East remains a pipe dream. But having the best mark among wild-card entries is realistic, provided the Bills make strides where necessary.

The biggest is an offense that lacks explosiveness. The Bills had 268 yards in offense against the Redskins, their second lowest total of the season behind the 253 yards in last week's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. That was the main reason the Redskins, who fell to 1-8 and had rookie Dwayne Haskins making his first pro start at quarterback, managed to hang around far too long. It was a one-score game until Devin Singletary's two-yard touchdown run with 2:21 left in the game.

Nevertheless, the Bills, as they've done for most of the season, came to life in the fourth quarter.

"I think it's about finishing games, and we're one of the best fourth-quarter teams in the league when it comes to offense and defense," fullback Patrick DiMarco said. "So if we're close in any game, you can't take us out of the game."

With a game plan devoted to a ground attack and asking little of Josh Allen's throwing arm, Singletary had the best performance of his brief NFL career with 95 yards on 20 carries. But Frank Gore was stopped on three consecutive runs from the Redskins' 1 before Allen kept for the score to give the Bills a 17-3 lead with less than five minutes remaining in the second quarter. In the third quarter, Gore was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 from the Washington 24, keeping the Redskins in the game.

Allen has had some fourth-quarter heroics this year, but his passing has yet to carry the team from start to finish. He threw for 160 yards and a touchdown Sunday and completed 70 percent of his season-low 20 pass attempts. He didn't have a turnover, which has been a problem, but did have two fumbles and didn't lose either.

Allen insists he's OK with playing more of a complementary role. "We're moving the ball, scoring points and, ultimately, winning the football games; that's all I care about," Allen said.

His teammates share the feeling. They seem to have no issues following Allen's lead, even when he has the wobbly moments that raise questions about whether he has what it takes to be the franchise player they expected to get with the seventh overall pick of the 2018 draft.

"You go 6-2 and you win the football game, 24-9, your quarterback had a lot to do with it when you play pro football," Smith said. "He's a captain of our football team for a reason as a young player. It's not just because he's our quarterback, it's because he's our leader."

As such, Allen understands there is no room for complacency. Feeling good about a sixth victory is fine as long as it doesn't lead to overconfidence.

"Obviously, there still are things that we need to learn from and grow from," Allen said. "There's still times where I, myself, have to make sure I'm still pushing our guys and make sure that we're still striving to be the best that we can be. So, at the end of the day, we're 6-2 and it feels good. But I think everybody's got the same mindset right now that we're still hungry, we still want to grow, we still want to learn to try to be the best team we can."

The Bills have a chance to take some significant steps with more games against beatable opponents. Their next two games, on the road, are against the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins. After that, they're back home to face the Denver Broncos. Those teams are a combined 6-19.

The Bills could have nine wins, which could very well be enough to make the playoffs, by the time they face the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day.

"We have to continue to play the way we did and just clean up some things here and there that's going to allow us to get those wins moving forward," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "We have guys that can make plays. We have the belief in ourselves that we can make a run. But at the same time, we have to keep things in perspective and understand that it's week to week, day to day, and we can't get too far ahead of ourselves."

"Thankfully, we haven't hit our peak yet," DiMarco said. "So I'm excited to see where we're going."

If that destination is the postseason, the Bills are still more likely to get there on the strength of their defense than their offense.

After an atrocious showing last Sunday in allowing the Eagles to rush for 218 yards, the Bills' run defense got off to a shaky start by permitting Adrian Peterson to run for 101 yards on 10 carries in the first half. However, it limited him to only seven yards in the second half.

The Bills also had four sacks Sunday. One was by tackle Jordan Phillips, who coach Sean McDermott said was in the starting lineup rather than No. 1 draft pick Ed Oliver because "he earned it."

"We're not there yet," DiMarco said. "We've still got work to do, but that's every team in this league. What do they say? Real football doesn't start 'til November, December? So we're getting there now, and it's time to really pick up our game."

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