Ageless, brilliant-minded, Papa Hemingway-bearded Ryan Fitzpatrick, manned Miami’s ship-wheel again Sunday, trying to show young whip-armed Josh Allen a thing or two about big-game fishing.
The Dolphins capsized and promptly sunk in South Florida. The Bills, in turn, righted their own ship with a sound searing of the Fins, 37-20.
It was the first game in Allen’s entire career with solid pass protection throughout, and he responded swimmingly.
The big kahuna, Allen, had his best day as a pro, spearheading the offense with three passing touchdowns – no sacks, fumbles or interceptions – one daring, agile, speedy, lunging, rushing touchdown (on third-and-7 from the 8) – and 56 yards on the ground.
John Brown’s body of work as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver is now leading the AFC in receiving. The off-season’s prize catch, Brown, is the lone wide receiver that Allen has, along with a decent complementary slot guy, Cole Beasley, and one half of one tight end in future-star-but-still-rookie Dawson Knox.
Brian Daboll was banished to the booth and seemed to see the game better, often baiting the Dolphins with predictable runs on first down, before letting out the line.
The Bills were much more efficient than fearless on offense. They ran on first down nine of the first 12 series (counting one penalty), and the only time they even looked downfield on first down was the 40-yard TD to Brown, the first completion 30 yards in the air all season for Allen. The Bills were mostly predictable and contained on offense, but executed well.
There were downsides. The Ty Nsekhe ankle injury hurts and rookie Cody Ford will be asked to pick up the slack. Devin Singletary floundered, fumbling twice but luckily got let off the hook. Granted, he did squirm and knife the Dolphins for 75 yards on 15 carries.
Early in the week, coach Sean McDermott demanded that the team play fearless. They responded on defense, suffocating the blowholes. The Bills’ fearless leader is normally quite fearful himself during most games, but was let out of his self-imposed shell against the overmatched, understocked Fins.
Defensive co-captain Tremaine Edmunds got the message and ran with it. The 21-year-old Edmunds was tremendous, took his leadership into a night-before-the-game, closed-door pep talk with his teammates, put the pressure of being a more vocal defender on his own shoulders, and then backed that up on the field putting tremendous pressure on the Old Man all afternoon.
It was a hard day at Hard Rock for the Fins and their fans; the few who showed up, except for those favoring a Fish tank. For perhaps the third roadie this year, there were arguably more Bills Mafia in attendance than homers, and surely louder, albeit a lot more to cheer for.
The Bills blitzed early and often, confounding the elderly seaman and statesman. Fans often bang that conundrum, arguing loudly to put more pressure on the QB through blitzing, then conveniently forget about the times burnt and exaggerate the tackles for losses.
Matt Milano and Edmunds, however, are built to blitz. Both are quick, lithe rushers with big-play capability and both shined. The defense had seven sacks, gave up 23 total yards rushing and only 14 points, six of which were after the game was all but over.
Milano made a big splash all day. Star Lotulelei displayed some surprising wiggle and speed. Ed Oliver showed equal parts burst upfield and hustle down it. Kevin Johnson displaced oft-skewed and skewered, Levi Wallace, for half the game, and held his own instead of his opponent.
Ex-Fin Jordan Phillips likely reeled in another million dollars with his seventh sack, and as a 340-pound DT with double-digit takedowns, probably pockets another mil with each ensuing one.
Miami running back Kalen Ballage – who once scored eight, yes, eight touchdowns in a single (non-overtime) game for Arizona State against Texas Tech and Pat Mahomes (who threw for 540 yards but lost 68-55) – entered Sunday with a league-low 2.1 yards per carry. The Bills kept him to less than half that humiliating average, with 9 wee yards on 9 insulting lugs.
Before the game, Bills fans were most worried about the Old Man in the Sea, though, returning from deep obscurity to haunt them with one last hurrah. While we couldn’t call it a dumpster fire, Fitzy played mostly like rubbish, and put up most of his numbers in garbage time. DeVante Parker somehow had 135 meaningless yards, which is often a monster stat; no small feat, and yet somehow, well, a small feat.
Special teams again raised some eyebrows and haunches. Hausch Money paid the bills this week, nailing every field goal and PAT. Andre Roberts had a wild hair taking a KO 8 yards deep out of his end zone and turned it into a wild, hair-raising 44-yard adventure. Bojo rarely had to put on his clown shoes for the Bills.
Dolphins’ return man Jakeem Grant unearthed some otherworldly speed and balance on a 101 KR TD, placekicker Jason Sanders executed and recovered a perfect surprise onside kick, and special teams coach Danny Crossman continued to curse the Bills whether coaching for or against us.
But the Bills raised their controversial (cheap) win-loss record to 7-3, good for third in the AFC and a playoff spot if the season were to end now. Buffalo went big-game fishing and speared a whopper – winning on land, air and sea – with a masterful victory.
The young upstart Allen taught the Old Man in the Sea Santiago, er, Fitzpatrick, a lesson or two about fearless leadership, strong-arming opponents and weathering the stormy season, come hell or high water.
Pete Rosen is a screenwriter in Los Angeles, lifetime Buffalo fan, and may be found blathering daily at twobillsdrive.com.