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Backups on defense give an inspired effort in defeat

Jay Skurski

Grading the Bills in their 13-6 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday at New Era Field …

Running game: C-

It’s never a good thing when your leading rusher is a wide receiver, as was the case Sunday. That’s what happens when you sit your best running back, which the Bills did with rookie Devin Singletary. Receiver Isaiah McKenzie took a couple of jet sweeps for 30 yards to lead Buffalo. Frank Gore carried six times for 26 yards. His 4.3 yards per carry was his best since Week 12 against Denver. T.J. Yeldon carried seven times for 18 yards. He had runs of 12 and 10 yards, but also was stopped for a 7-yard loss. Yeldon’s other carries went for 2, 2, 1 and minus-2 yards. Singletary fell just 31 yards short of becoming the Bills’ first rookie since Marshawn Lynch in 2007 to have 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Josh Allen missed out on the one rushing touchdown he needed to join Cam Newton and Kordell Stewart as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to record 20-plus passing touchdowns and 10-plus rushing touchdowns in a season.

Passing game: D

This won’t shock you, but the Bills would be in a lot of trouble if Allen were to get hurt. Backup Matt Barkley went 18 of 35 for 232 yards and two interceptions. He also lost a fumble. Barkley’s most extensive action since he lit up the Jets in Week 10 last year showed that performance was the definition of catching lightning in a bottle. He’s a backup for a reason. Duke Williams led the Bills with six catches for 108 yards. He was targeted 12 times. That will surely lead to more fans calling for Williams to be active on a weekly basis. Rookie tight end Tommy Sweeney had a strong game, finishing with five catches for 76 yards. Sweeney’s numbers would have been better, too, if not for a bogus offensive pass interference penalty. Yeldon added 24 yards on three catches. Robert Foster concluded a massively disappointing regular season by failing to make a catch on four targets against the Jets. Allen finished the season with an 85.3 passer rating, an increase of 17.4 points from 67.9 as a rookie. That's the largest increase of any starting quarterback in the NFL.

Run defense: A-

The Bills’ backups held Le’Veon Bell to 41 yards on 16 carries – an average of 2.6 yards per rush. That’s not exactly the type of return on investment the Jets expect for nearly $15 million in salary this season. Credit the Bills for the inspired defensive effort. Defensive end Corey Liuget, who took some snaps at defensive end, led the team with six tackles, including two for losses. Rookie defensive tackle Ed Oliver had a tackle for loss against Bell on the Jets’ first offensive drive. Cornerback Taron Johnson and middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds combined to stop Bell for no gain on third-and-2 from the Bills’ 33-yard line out of the Wildcat formation on the opening drive. That forced a field goal attempt that was missed. Bell’s longest run went for 12 yards. Bilal Powell added a 14-yard run for the Jets in the second quarter. New York’s longest run came on an end-around when receiver Vyncint Smith raced to the Buffalo 1-yard line before being knocked out of bounds.

Pass defense: B+

Playing with a makeshift secondary that saw usual slot cornerback Taron Johnson working outside and backups at every position, the Bills held up well. Levi Wallace had an interception against Jets quarterback Sam Darnold in the first quarter. Unfortunately for the Bills, Wallace injured an ankle on the play and did not return. Rookie safety Jaquan Johnson had what would have been his first career interception called back when fellow safety Kurt Coleman was penalized for unnecessary roughness. “Playing lights out,” starting safety Micah Hyde said of the backups who came into the game. “They are out there giving it their all. Guys went down and we had some guys in positions they aren’t used to being in. They were out there playing fast, flying around. That’s all you can ask. It’s good to see some guys get their hands on the ball. The standard doesn’t change when the other guys come in, and so I’m proud of those boys.” Defensive end Trent Murphy ended the season on a high note, sacking Darnold twice. Defensive tackle Vincent Taylor recorded a pass defensed.

Special teams: C+

Punter Corey Bojorquez’s up-and-down season ended on a bit of a down note. Bojorquez punted six times for 215 yards, a net average of 34.4 yards per punt. He placed two punts inside the Jets’ 20-yard line and forced punt returner Braxton Berrios, who came into the game leading the league in punt-return average, to make four fair catches. Kicker Stephen Hauschka made both his field goals, from 28 and 29 yards, respectively. Those are chip shots in the NFL, but on a tough, wet day for kickers, Hauschka came through. His counterpart, Sam Ficken, missed from 51 and 34 yards. With Andre Roberts out, Isaiah McKenzie worked as the Bills’ return man. He returned just one punt for 4 yards and made one fair catch. He probably should have made another, but let it bounce, backing up the offense. McKenzie returned three kickoffs for 65 yards. Foster and Darryl Johnson Jr. made tackles on special teams.

Coaching: A-

Sean McDermott made the wise decision to play it safe with his starters. What happened to Wallace was out of the coach’s control. The Bills have just three outside cornerbacks, so Wallace needed to play. Taking a timeout so Lorenzo Alexander could depart the game before the second defensive series was a nice touch. It would have been nice to see the Bills not have to burn a timeout early in the fourth quarter, although that might have been on Williams for not returning to the huddle after a catch in a timely manner. We can say this about McDermott – he probably wouldn’t have tried the 51-yard field goal Adam Gase went for in the first quarter on fourth-and-2. That was about as weak as coaching decisions get.

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