ARLINGTON, Texas – For the longest time, the Buffalo Bills heard the doubters.
They said the Bills hadn't beaten anyone even as they piled up enough wins to sit atop the AFC wild-card playoff contenders. They questioned whether they truly had a big-time quarterback. They saw their defense as good, but not necessarily great.
Nice team, nice coach, but nothing to take quite as seriously as, say, the New England Patriots or Baltimore Ravens.
Then along came the "Thanksgiving Beatdown."
With millions of television viewers watching at Thanksgiving gatherings throughout the nation, the Bills scored a 26-15 victory against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.
"It was obviously a nationally televised game, so everybody gets to watch us play," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "And I think it may have broke some of the national narrative of us not playing anybody. We came out here, played a really good team that was supposed to pretty much blow us out today, and we played a good game on all three phases.
"At some point, people have to start respecting us and giving us credit for going out there and beating the people that are in front of us."
The point should be now.
With a 9-3 record, the Bills figure to need only one win in the next four games to secure a playoff berth. They have won nine of their first 12 for the first time since 1996 and are 5-1 on the road for the first time since their AFL days in 1966.
Asked what kind of statement the Bills made, center Mitch Morse said, "Very big, very big." Asked whether the rest of the country knows something about the Bills it didn't know before, he said, "I hope so. If not, it's their fault."
"I'm not worried about that," said wide receiver Cole Beasley, who joined the Bills last March as a free agent from the Dallas Cowboys and showed up his old team with six catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. "We can lurk from the depths as much as you want, that's cool. People can sleep on us all day long. We prefer it that way."
Chances are, many of those folks got their wake-up call Thursday, especially from Josh Allen.
Quarterback play doesn't get much bigger than what he did against the Cowboys. Allen had a career-best completion percentage of 79.2 in throwing for 231 yards and a touchdown, with no turnovers. He had a passer rating of 120.7, also a career high.
Additionally, Allen did his usual magic with his legs, running for 43 yards on 10 carries. It was those legs that factored heavily into his biggest moment and arguably the turning point of the game near the end of the half. On fourth-and-1 from the Cowboys' 30, Allen fumbled the snap, picked up the ball in the middle of a forest of bodies and lunged for the first down.
After getting the first down, he did a huge fist pump. That seemed to tell the doubters, "Deal with us because we aren't going anywhere."
On the next play, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll came up with some trickery that was surprising to see given the short preparation for the game. He called a double reverse, with Andre Roberts running to his left to take the handoff and then pitching to John Brown, who was running to his right before stopping to throw a perfect 28-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Devin Singletary to give the Bills a 13-7 lead. Brown became the first receiver in Bills history to throw for a TD.
"That was a big first down, and how it happened, fourth-and-short and fumbling the snap," said Allen, whose eighth consecutive game with two or more touchdowns set a franchise record. "I wanted it really bad. I knew that it put us in a good position to score points. Points are at a premium against this team. They've got a really good team -- great defense, a really good offense, but hats off to our defense, how they played today."
The Bills' defense played one of its best games as well, forcing two turnovers and pulling itself together after the Cowboys marched for a touchdown on the opening possession.
That did plenty to put to rest any discussion about the actual strength of the strongest part of the Bills, because the Cowboys had the top-ranked offense in the NFL.
But in so many ways, this game will be remembered for Allen's performance. He was poised. He was in control. He was efficient.
Nothing he saw across the line appeared to faze him in the least.
"It being a shorter week, those are usually tough," Allen said. "But we stuck to what we liked, and putting in some game-plan stuff for their defense. Our guys went out there and executed, and to ask that from them on a short week, they did a phenomenal job, from route-running, to concepts that we put in, to blocking schemes."
On the double-reverse TD play, Allen said Daboll was trying to tell him in his headset to not run the play if the Cowboys were in zone but that the communication system "cut out" before those words could be fully uttered. With a wry smile, Allen told reporters after the game, "It was zone," and still went with the play because he "loved the play call."
The Bills understood they were seizing a huge opportunity by having their best game of the season on the biggest stage.
"I think it just comes down to execution," Alexander said. "I mean, I think we sometimes complicate this game and it gets back to just the fundamentals, out-executing people. ... We've just been building and climbing this whole season to continue to get better. And obviously as our schedule starts to get really tough because we start playing some top-tier, elite teams -- you think about obviously the Patriots and the Ravens that we have next week -- we're in a position where we're playing confident, playing good football and you have to be able to play like that if you want to beat some of those teams."