MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Josh Allen slapped himself in the side of the helmet after firing a pass into Frank Gore’s feet.
It was third-and-3, late third quarter, deep in Buffalo territory, and the incomplete pass along the left sideline forced the Bills to punt. They were leading the lowly Miami Dolphins by 16 points. But Allen referenced this play in particular when explaining the linchpin that keeps the Bills’ offense either purring along or stalling out.
“It usually comes down to minute, minor details,” Allen said. “Missing Frank out of the backfield. A throw here or there. A decision that I make here or there.”
There were plenty of mistakes, missed opportunities and instances when the Bills failed to take full advantage of the situation, even as Allen enjoyed one of the most complete games of his young career, leading the Bills to their highest scoring output of the season while thumping the Dolphins, 37-20, on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. The victory improves Buffalo’s record to 7-3 for the first time since 1999.
A week after coach Sean McDermott’s obvious but spot-on observation – “we’ve got to score more points” the coach said after a dispiriting loss at Cleveland – and with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll calling plays from the box rather than the field, the Bills scored early, often and finished the job in the fourth quarter, rather than hanging on for dear life like usual.
This was the Bills’ most comfortable victory of the season, but it was also far from peak performance.
“Obviously, putting 37 points up is great,” Allen said. “Still a few things I’ve got to clean up, a few easy misses here and there.”
Allen completed 21 of 33 passes for 256 yards, tied a career high with three touchdown passes and ran for another, his seventh on the ground this season.
His 117.1 passer rating was the highest of his career.
Allen mixed in the usual smattering of errant passes, but he didn’t throw an interception for the fifth consecutive game. Or fumble.
“I thought he played well,” McDermott said. “There were certainly plays he wants back. There are 60-some plays, roughly, in a game. There’s going to be some of those.”
John Brown, meanwhile, had nine catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns, all season highs.
Even Stephen Hauschka bounced back, hitting all three of his field goal attempts, including one from 51 yards, after missing twice in last week’s 19-16 loss to the Browns.
It was a massive step in the right direction – the Bills haven’t lost consecutive games all season, the mark of a playoff team.
But there remains plenty of room for improvement.
“We had to eliminate the mistakes that we were making,” Brown said. “We wanted to be more dialed in than we’ve ever been. But we haven’t played our best game yet. That was our best game, but we still have a lot of corrections to do.”
The Bills scored on their first four possessions, but three of those drives ended in field goals, two of them stalling in the red zone.
Devin Singletary fumbled twice, though both were recovered by the Bills, while rushing for 75 yards on 15 carries.
The defense sacked Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick seven times, its highest sack total of the season, and gets credit for its first takeaway in three games, an aspect it’s working to improve. But it wasn’t exactly a forced fumble. Allen Hurns simply dropped the ball after a catch for a long gain, short-circuiting a drive that began with Miami recovering a surprise onside kick.
Jordan Poyer nevertheless hopped on the loose ball and the Bills made Miami pay, scoring a touchdown for a 23-7 lead with 90 seconds remaining in the first half.
Then Dolphins wide receiver Jakeem Grant returned the ensuing kickoff 101 yards for a score.
The Bills allowed the Dolphins to hang around – just as they’ve struggled to close out games against several bad teams this season – at least until Allen hit Brown with a 9-yard touchdown pass with 10:43 remaining in the fourth quarter, providing a three-score cushion.
This was the first game all season when the outcome, in the fourth quarter, was never truly in doubt, even as the Dolphins drove inside the Bills’ 5-yard line in the final minutes, before being stopped on fourth down.
“I’ve never seen a perfect game,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “Obviously, the kickoff return allowed them to jump back in it, and then having an onside kick, they kind of got a feeling. We gave up a couple of big plays. But it happens. It’s an NFL game. And it’s all about how you respond to that.
“Bad teams allow that Miami team to come back and probably either win that game, or it’s very close at the end. But we were able to withstand their surge and capitalize and then obviously get to a point where the game was never really in contention there at the end.”
The Bills earned this victory, and they and their fans deserve to enjoy it.
But there’s plenty of room for improvement.
And everyone knows it.
“It’s great that we won today,” Allen said, “and it’s great that we got to (win) number seven, but again, we’re looking for number eight now. So I’ve got to learn, got to grow, got to continue to find places where we can get better at.”
That’s the right mindset – striving for excellence and improvement, even in victory – the one that leads to sustained success.
“We celebrate for 24 hours,” McDermott said, “and I’ll be sure to let them know what we can improve on.”