ARLINGTON, Texas – Dak Prescott saw Matt Milano coming unblocked.
He somehow didn’t see 6-foot-2, 315-pound Star Lotulelei.
The Buffalo Bills’ defensive tackle intercepted Prescott in the second quarter of the 26-15 victory against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium. That was the first of two turnovers forced by the Bills’ defense, as many as they had in the previous four games combined.
“I think it took him too long to catch it,” rookie defensive tackle Ed Oliver said, laughing after the game about Lotulelei’s first career pick. “I almost thought he was going to drop it. It’s crazy how long it took him to catch it. He rumbled and stumbled for about 10 yards and finally caught it.”
Oliver also had a strip sack on Prescott later in the second quarter, which was recovered by defensive end Trent Murphy and led to the Bills’ go-ahead touchdown. The Buffalo defense could have had more. Safety Micah Hyde had an interception wiped out by a questionable penalty against defensive tackle Jordan Phillips.
Murphy also recorded a strip sack in the fourth quarter deep in Buffalo territory. The Bills didn’t recover, but the play was on fourth down, so it effectively served the same purpose.
“The film spoke for itself" Thursday, Phillips said. “We came out and did our thing, showed the world what we got, put the world on notice. … We’re built different. Short week, we knew what we had to do, we prepared well. We knew the perception of that team is hard-nosed, and they’re not at all. We are. And we showed it.”
The Bills did not commit any turnovers against Dallas. They improved to 5-0 this season when they win the turnover battle, but the Bills’ defense hadn’t forced many turnovers this season. They had 13 takeaways entering the game, tied for 23rd in the NFL.
That total included eight takeaways in four games in September, including a season-high four in a Week 3 victory against Cincinnati.
The Bills have gone without a turnover in three games this season, posting a 2-1 record in those contests, with victories against Tennessee and Washington and the loss in Cleveland.
“When it rains, it pours,” Lotulelei said. “That’s something (defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier) harps on each and every week, every day, is going after that ball. We’ve got to continue to go after it and get better at that.”
The Bills had only five takeaways in the subsequent seven games, until Thursday. That stretch included just two in the last month, one each against Miami and Denver.
They hadn’t forced multiple turnovers in a game since a victory against Miami on Oct. 20.
“They come in bunches,” Hyde said. “At the end of the day, we’ve been working a lot to try to get some takeaways. Fortunate enough, we were able to get them today and we’ve got to build off that.”
Offense is helping
The Bills are 4-3 when they don’t win the turnover battle and have won two of three games when losing the turnover battle.
That includes a one-point victory in the season opener against the Jets, when they turned the ball over four times but rallied from a 16-point deficit, and a seven-point victory against Tennessee, when the Titans' kicker missed three field goals and had one attempt blocked. It also includes a six-point loss to the Patriots.
Josh Allen's play has been critical.
In the first five games, the second-year quarterback had seven interceptions and lost two of five fumbles. He has thrown just one interception and lost just one of seven fumbles since.
Allen went five consecutive games without an interception until last week's victory against Denver, a streak of 171 consecutive passes without tossing a pick. He did not throw an interception against Dallas, and his lone fumble, on a botched snap, he picked up and drove through a pile of bodies for the first down.
“It was a big first down how it happened,” Allen said. “I mean fumbled snap, I’ve got to do better on that. But I just wanted it. I wanted it bad and I knew it put us in a good position to score points and points are a premium against this team. They have a good team. Really good defense and offense. Hats off to our defense on how they played today.”
The Bills are plus-two in turnover differential, which is 13th in the league.
The Cowboys entered the game with the top-ranked offense in the NFL.
Dallas marched 75 yards and scored a touchdown on its opening possession and was shut out until garbage time. The Cowboys missed two field goals, one of which was partially blocked by Lotulelei.
The Bills failed to score off Lotulelei’s interception, going three-and-out before Stephen Hauschka missed a 50-yard field goal.
But they cashed in after Oliver’s strip sack, the fifth time they have turned a takeaway into points this season. In all, the Bills have scored 31 points off takeaways.
“No lie, when I was rushing I was like, ‘Damn, this play’s taking a long time and he’s still got the ball,’” Oliver said, “so when I threw the rip in there, I was like, ‘He’ll probably throw it.’ But I just reached my arm out, like, if it’s coming out it’s going to be coming out right now, and just so happened I got the ball.”
Tre'Davious White leads the Bills with four interceptions this season.
Jordan Poyer, Hyde and Murphy each have one, making Lotulelei the team’s second defensive lineman with a pick. It is the first time the Bills' defensive line has two interceptions in a season since Aaron Schobel and Corey Mace in 2009.
Poyer also leads the defense with two fumble recoveries.
“Once you get one, they start to fall,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said. “We’ve just got to keep it rolling.”