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After no running back carries in first half, Bills adjust but come up short

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Bills  Buccaneers

Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary looks for open space in the third quarter.

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TAMPA, Fla. – If the Buffalo Bills are still looking for their identity, Sunday's performance only muddied that even further. They looked completely different from first half to second in the 33-27 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Bills trailed 24-3 at the half, and their 158 total yards were around half of the Buccaneers’ 303. They finished more evenly on that front: Buffalo with 466 yards, Tampa Bay with 488. Coach Sean McDermott credited both coordinators for switching things up at the half.

“I just felt like overall, the staff made really good adjustments,” McDermott said. "And that goes for all three phases. And we didn’t have a very good first half, and I think we found a rhythm offensively in the second half. Real proud of what Coach (Brian) Daboll did and the offensive staff there, and then what Leslie (Frazier) did with the defensive staff.”

Beyond the adjustments, McDermott, cited execution, his word of the week, as a huge factor, but so was the decision to change their approach in the run game.

The Bills finished with 173 rushing yards, their second most of the season, but those weren’t spread throughout the game.

Their 130 rushing yards in the second half and overtime was more than their total in nine other games. A huge part of that was quarterback Josh Allen, but also just having any carries by running backs at all.

It wasn’t that the running backs had no touches in the first half. Allen threw to Devin Singletary four times in five plays to start the game. Singletary caught three of those; the fourth one was batted down. Neither Singletary nor fellow running back Matt Breida had a carry in the first half. Allen had all the team’s rushing yards, with 43 yards on four carries.

Singletary’s first carry of the game was a 29-yard run in the third quarter. It came on first-and-10 from the Buffalo 19. The Bills went 81 yards in nine plays on that drive, with Allen eventually running in an 18-yard touchdown.

Singletary finished with 52 yards on four carries. Breida had 12 yards on three carries, though one of those was losing yards on a fake punt. Running back Zack Moss was a healthy scratch.

McDermott didn’t expand on the decision not to hand it off to either running back in the first half when asked.

“I’ll just leave it at I liked what we did in the second half, mixing it up. I felt Coach Daboll did a good job there,” he said.

It opened up things for the rest of the offense as well, particularly against a formidable Buccaneers pash rush. Allen was sacked three times Sunday -- all in the first half. 

“They had some extremely capable pass rushers and anytime you can run the ball or have the threat of run, it doesn't mitigate the pass rush, but it puts us in positions to be successful at times,” center Mitch Morse said. “Anytime you get a chance to slow those guys down, it’s a good one.”

But even finally getting the running backs more involved on the ground, Allen's running threw off the Buccaneers, in particular. Buccaneers linebacker Devin White said his team had a bit of a “mental lapse.” Linebacker Shaquil Barrett felt the Bills capitalized on that.

“I think they came out running the ball a little more when they were expecting them to pass,” Barrett said. “They lined up in pass formation and still did the quarterback powers, so that threw us off a little bit.”

Eight of Allen’s 12 carries came in the second half, despite a foot injury in the fourth quarter. Allen was wearing a walking boot during his postgame news conference. McDermott said he did not have an update on Allen's status, though, Allen said he did not think the injury was serious.

“We wanted to get a little creative in the run game and when you have designed quarterback runs you get an extra blocker,” Allen said. “That’s a tough fit for the defense sometimes.”

Though it wasn’t enough to leave Tampa with a win, McDermott said he saw something to build on.

“Every game’s its own game, so let’s kind of keep it in check here, but I saw something,” McDermott said. “I saw something that I really – I’m real proud of that, but we’ve got to get ourselves prepared for the next game, honestly.”

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