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COMMENTARY

Bills' defense had no reason to apologize after impressive showing vs. Lamar Jackson

Vic Carucci

No apologies were needed and, for the most part, none was given in a quiet Buffalo Bills locker room Sunday.

Members of the Bills' defense knew they had held up their end about as well as could have reasonably been expected against NFL Most Valuable Player front-runner Lamar Jackson and the rest of the league's top-scoring offense.

In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to say the unit exceeded expectations in the 24-17 loss against the Baltimore Ravens at New Era Field. Yes, Jackson threw for three touchdowns. No, he did not shred the Bills with his otherworldly athletic talent that includes running as if connected to a video-game controller.

"At the end of the day, we gave ourselves a chance to win the ballgame," safety Micah Hyde said.

The Bills were in position to at least tie the game when, with 1:03 remaining, they failed to convert on fourth-and-8 from the Ravens' 16. Buffalo's offense pretty much spent the day coming up short, with Josh Allen reverting back to the off-target form he showed earlier in the season and Baltimore's defense dominating from front to back.

The game was competitive because the Bills' defense, ranked third in the NFL, essentially put a choke hold on an offense that was averaging: 33.8 points per game, 421 total yards (the Ravens had 257 Sunday, including only 95 in the first half), and 208 rushing yards (the Ravens had 118 Sunday). The Bills also pressured Jackson enough to force him to throw a high pass that was intercepted and held him to 40 rushing yards, his lowest total since the season opener.

"But we've got to come out on top next time," Hyde said.

He wasn't generically referring to the "next time" the Bills play a game or the "next time" they get a crack at the Ravens on a future regular-season schedule.

Hyde meant "next time," as in next month's AFC playoffs. With their ninth consecutive win, the Ravens improved to 11-2 and clinched a postseason berth. At 9-4, the Bills remain in contention, and thanks to the New England Patriots' loss against the Kansas City Chiefs, are still one game out of first in the AFC East. A Bills win in any of the final three games will lock up a playoff spot.

Hyde's teammates, especially those on defense, shared the sentiment there will be a playoff rematch with Baltimore.

"We know we’re going to see that team in the future," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander sad. "Obviously, we’ve got Pittsburgh next week and we’ve got to finish off the season strong to be in position to do that. But definitely, the way we’re playing, with the confidence, I definitely feel that we’ll end up probably seeing them again.

"At the end of the day, we know we can compete with anybody in this league and really beat anybody in this league."

Make no mistake. The loss hurt and no amount of praise for how well the defense performed was going to change that.

"This loss and the Patriots loss probably rank in the same category as far as two prestige teams," defensive tackle Ed Oliver said. "You're playing right there with them and, ultimately, just coming up short. That's what really ticks you off."

The scoreboard didn't say it, but it was understandable that the Bills' defense felt it had given a winning effort.

Defender after defender couldn't offer enough compliments about the game plan and the preparation for the game. The Bills set out to contain Jackson with a pass rush that encouraged him to throw by concentrating on eliminating gaps. They were mostly careful not to get too aggressive and get caught upfield while he squirted for long gains. Jackson attempted 25 passes, the highest total in his last seven games, and he had 11 carries.

"That was pretty much the game plan, to contain him and limit him as much as possible," Oliver said. "And, obviously, every game we have to stop the run. Our coaches put us in the right position. All we had to do was execute."

The Bills also focused on maintaining discipline against Jackson in the face of the considerable pre-snap motioning utilized by Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Buffalo's former OC.

"A guy on a guy, 11 on 11," Hyde said. "We obviously wanted to stop him. He's kind of the focal point of that offense. He's the one that creates a lot of big plays with his arms and his legs, so we went out there and just tried to be consistent. Do your job, and for the most part, we did that. I probably watched more film this week than I ever have in my life just because they do so much. You had to go in mentally strong, or else you'd be confused.

"It was great that everyone kind of took the game plan, took the coaching throughout the week, stayed real disciplined, stayed home, played their technique, because we know (Jackson) can go out there and be a human highlight reel at any point in time."

It was far from a perfect performance by the Bills' defense.

A blown coverage, involving safety Jordan Poyer, led to a 61-yard touchdown throw from Jackson to tight end Hayden Hurst on the opening possession of the second half. Hyde called it a "miscommunication."

But making Jackson look more human than he has been for most of the season was an obvious source of pride.

"He's as advertised, he's a great player," Hyde said. "And they've got a lot of great players around him. That offense is tough, but I feel like we held our own. We did a pretty good job, got a takeaway, got some big three-and-outs towards the end of the game to get our offense the ball back."

To take that next step, the Bills' offense must capitalize, especially against heavyweight opponents.

"We want to win ballgames," said defensive end Jerry Hughes, who had a sack and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. "We understand playing teams close and keeping guys under whatever their milestones are for the season is great. But I think it would have been great to go out there and get that W and give the home crowd what they rightfully deserve."

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