ARLINGTON, Texas – Grading the Buffalo Bills in their 26-15 win over the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium …
Running game: B
Credit offensive coordinator Brian Daboll for sticking with it. The Bills rushed 10 more times than they threw the ball – 34 to 24 – and grinded out 134 yards. Rookie Devin Singletary led the way with 14 carries that produced 63 yards and included a long gain of 26 yards. The team’s yards per carry of 3.6 isn’t spectacular, but it got the job done. Frank Gore, who played in his 222nd career game to tie Marcus Allen for fifth in NFL history among running backs, gained just 11 yards on nine carries. Quarterback Josh Allen put the game away when he scrambled for a 15-yard touchdown in the third quarter. That wasn’t his most impressive run, though. That came in the second quarter, when Allen fumbled a fourth-down snap, but managed to pick it up and fight through the Cowboys’ defensive line for 3 yards and a critical first down. After the play, he responded with a huge fist pump. It was like Allen immediately understood the sheer magnitude of that moment.
Passing game: A+
It felt like Allen arrived on the national stage. He completed 19 of 24 passes for a 79.2 completion percentage, the best of his career. His passer rating, 120.7, was also a single-game best. The entire array of Allen’s skills were on display. He scrambled when he needed to. He made at least two throws that maybe two or three quarterbacks in the entire league can make. He stood at the locker-room door and embraced each of his teammates. Simply put, he dazzled. So did slot receiver Cole Beasley in his return to Dallas. Beasley’s six-catch, 110-yard effort was huge for the Buffalo passing attack. He wanted to find a place where he could be more involved, and he’s found exactly that in Buffalo. No. 1 receiver John Brown had a quiet game, with three catches for 26 yards. His 28-yard touchdown pass, though, will be the signature play of the Bills’ signature win.
Run defense: B+
Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott had 56 rushing yards in the first quarter. He had 15 more the rest of the game. Part of that can be attributed to the score in the second half, but that doesn't take away from the job the Bills did. Defensive end Shaq Lawson made two tackles for loss against the run. Safety Micah Hyde was all over the field, leading the team with 10 tackles. Some of those came down the field, as the last line of defense. Others came closer to the line of scrimmage, like in the second quarter when he teamed with Ed Oliver to stop Cowboys running back Tony Pollard for no gain. Pollard managed to gain just 7 yards on three carries. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott hurt the Bills a bit on the ground, gaining 25 yards on four attempts, most of which were scrambles.
Pass defense: A
Here's an example of numbers not telling the whole story: Prescott finished the game 32 of 49 for 355 yards. Of course, a lot of that production came when the Bills were more than happy to give up short completions between the lines in order to keep the clock moving. After a couple of early penalties, Tre'Davious White held his own in a tough matchup with Amari Cooper. The Cowboys' star did have eight catches for 85 yards, but he was held out of the end zone. The rotation between Kevin Johnson and Levi Wallace continued at cornerback. Johnson had two of the Bills' nine passes defensed, as did linebacker Matt Milano. The best part of the pass defense was the pass rush. Prescott was hit seven times and sacked four times, with rookie defensive tackle Ed Oliver registering two. Trent Murphy also had a sack, while Lawson and Jordan Phillips split another one. That pressure led to big plays – Oliver's forced fumble on a sack was recovered by Trent Murphy. A rushed throw by Prescott was intercepted by defensive tackle Star Lotulelei – seriously. Murphy forced a fumble that led to a turnover on downs.
Special teams: C
The Bills have themselves a big kicking problem. Stephen Hauschka was shaky, to put it kindly, against the Cowboys. It’s hard to figure out what’s wrong with Hauschka, who appears to be healthy. Anything from 50-plus yards looks like an impossible ask at the moment. If the outcome were different Thursday, I’d wonder about Hauschka’s job security. At it is, the Bills have to hope with some extra rest before the final four games of the season, he can straighten things out. Hauschka did produce touchbacks on all six kickoffs, which was a good thing. Punter Corey Bojorquez had another solid game, with a 42.0 net average on three punts. Return man Andre Roberts averaged 27.0 yards on two kick returns. Roberts did let a punt bounce deep in Buffalo territory, allowing the Cowboys to down the ball inside the Bills’ 5-yard line. Lotulelei got credit for blocking Dallas kicker Brett Maher’s 35-yard field-goal attempt at the end of the first half.
There are still some things I’d like to see McDermott clean up. He blew a timeout in the first half before an extra point, which is inexplicable. The Bills had to use another timeout early in the third quarter after Allen got sacked. McDermott got lucky in that his attempt at a timeout before Maher’s field-goal attempt wasn’t granted. So it wasn’t perfect, but it sure was good enough. The moment wasn’t too big for the Bills. Tired as it may be as a motivational ploy, the “nobody believes in us” idea is inspiring McDermott’s team. Daboll dialed up the perfect play at the perfect time on Brown’s touchdown throw to Singletary. One ask for the Bills’ OC: Burn the page in the playbook that calls for Allen to expose himself on designed runs. Those aren’t gaining enough yards to make the big hits Allen is taking worth it. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier probably isn’t getting enough credit. Just like in the win against the Giants in Week 2, the Bills gave up a long touchdown drive to start the game, then made the necessary adjustments defensively. That they did so on the road against the best offense in football is even more impressive.
Story topics: Andre Roberts/ Brian Daboll/ Cole Beasley/ Corey Bojorquez/ Devin Singletary/ Ed Oliver/ Frank Gore/ John Brown/ Jordan Phillips/ Josh Allen/ Kevin Johnson/ Leslie Frazier/ Matt Milano/ Micah Hyde/ Sean McDermott/ Shaq Lawson/ Star Lotulelei/ Stephen Hauschka/ Tre'davious White/ Trent Murphy