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Report Card: Not every win is going to be pretty, but this one was big for the Bills

From the Complete coverage: Bills grind out Thanksgiving win, await word on Von Miller series
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Bills coach Sean McDermott has led his team to a 2-0 record during an eventful last week.

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DETROIT – Grading the Buffalo Bills in their 28-25 victory over the Detroit Lions on Thursday at Ford Field …

RUNNING GAME: A-

This was a classic Josh Allen running game. The Bills’ quarterback used a combination of designed runs and scrambles to pile up 78 yards on 10 carries. Allen’s running ability continues to be a dynamic weapon for the Bills’ offense. That was on display at the end of the game, when Allen ran twice for 12 yards – the first carry for 3 yards and the next on a quarterback sweep for 9 yards on the game’s final play from scrimmage. Those two carries turned what would have been a 57-yard field goal attempt for Tyler Bass into a much more manageable 45-yard attempt, which Bass connected on. Running back Devin Singletary contributed 72 yards on 14 carries, with a long gain of 19 yards. Singletary seems to have found a pretty consistent groove, which has been big for the offense. As a team, the Bills gained 164 yards on 29 rushing attempts – a healthy average of 5.7 yards per rush. Allen’s rushing touchdown was the 36th of his career, which ties Michael Vick for seventh in NFL history among quarterbacks. The Bills are 22-1 in games in which Allen rushes and throws for at least one touchdown.

PASSING GAME: B

Allen has now thrown an interception in the red zone in four of the past five games. That’s brutal. He finished the game 24 of 42 for 254 yards, two touchdowns and that one interception. He looked shaky at times, and was not on the same page early with Stefon Diggs, who caught just three of his first 10 targets. Games are 60 minutes long, though, and opposing defenses have to defend Diggs hard the entire time. He made some huge plays late, including a 36-yard catch on the Bills’ final possession that got the Bills just about into field goal range. On the previous drive, Diggs had four catches for 27 yards, culminating with his 5-yard touchdown catch that put the Bills in front with 2:40 remaining. After the slow start, Diggs still finished with eight catches for 77 yards. The Bills got a big contribution from Isaiah McKenzie with a season-high 96 yards on six catches, including a 19-yard touchdown. Gabe Davis had four catches on five targets for 38 yards. It’s worth repeating: It’s a different offense when he’s involved. It would be good to see his target rate increase in the coming weeks.

RUN DEFENSE: B

Watching the game, it felt as if the Lions had more success on the ground than their final numbers suggest: 28 carries for 96 yards and one touchdown. Jamaal Williams gained 66 yards on 18 carries, while D’Andre Swift had 19 yards on five carries. Once again, the Bills were making plays in the backfield. The defense had seven tackles for loss, just two of which were sacks. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver was a major factor against the run and pass, finishing with six tackles, which is a big number at his position, two of which went for a loss. Fellow defensive tackle DaQuan Jones also had six tackles. A.J. Klein, who made the start in place of Tremaine Edmunds, added nine tackles.

PASS DEFENSE: C-

Bills cornerback Dane Jackson is a liability for the defense at this point. He is getting picked on over and over. He made seven tackles, but that’s a bad sign, because it means passes are being completed in his direction. Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown dominated with nine catches on 10 targets for 122 yards and a touchdown. Add that to what Justin Jefferson (10 catches, 193 yards, one touchdown) and Amari Cooper (eight catches, 113 yards, two touchdowns) have done the previous two games, and No. 1 receivers are having big days against the Buffalo secondary. The sooner the Bills can get cornerbacks Kaiir Elam and Tre’Davious White on the field as close to full time as possible, the better. The Bills’ two sacks came from Jones and Oliver. The interior defensive line had a favorable matchup with the Lions missing both of their starting guards, and they took advantage. The Bills hit Goff 10 times, with six of them coming from interior linemen – two each from Oliver, Jones and Jordan Phillips.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

Bass made up for his missed extra point by knocking in the go-ahead field goal with two seconds remaining. Bass’ missed extra point was his first of the season. The Bills gave up a 41-yard punt return to the Lions’ Kalif Raymond. On the play, both gunners, Taiwan Jones and Siran Neal, had chances to make a tackle, but could not. That was a problem on both special teams and for the defense far too often. Sam Martin punted better than his 35.8-yard net average would suggest. The Bills’ kick coverage was solid, allowing an average of 20 yards on four Detroit attempts. At the end of the game, the Bills properly executed a squib kick to close out the win. Tight end Quintin Morris recovered a fumble to end the game.

COACHING: B

Offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was taking a beating on social media for much of Thursday’s game, which is typical. At about this time last year, Brian Daboll was going through the same thing. Dorsey hasn’t shown a ton of creativity, but his unit came through at the end when it mattered most. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier had to start sending more pressure because the edge rushers weren’t consistently getting Goff off his spot. The Bills definitely have some work to do defensively, but Frazier is coaching quite shorthanded with all the injuries on his side of the ball. Sean McDermott is now 3-0 on Thanksgiving. The Bills handled both end-of-half situations well with the clock, which ended up being huge to the outcome. A lot has been thrown at the team over the past week, and in that time, it’s 2-0. Not every win is going to be pretty.

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News Sports Reporter

I started at The Buffalo News in 2009, and have previously been honored as one of the top 10 beat writers in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors for my coverage of the Bills. I live in Amherst with my wife, Melissa, and son, Elliott.

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