ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP)The Buffalo Bills are a bit of a bewilderment a third of the way through the season.
At 4-2, are they the three-time defending division champions who put their foot down in re-staking their claim on the AFC East by routing the Miami Dolphins two weeks ago? Or does Buffalo more resemble the sleep-walking group that was shut out through three quarters before narrowly defeating the undermanned New York Giants 14-9 on Sunday night?
Perhaps, some context is in order but clearly the Bills couldn’t use jet lag as an excuse for a second consecutive weekend following a 25-20 loss to Jacksonville in London in Week 5.
Injuries are a factor, as are opponents catching up on how to defend an offense that seems over-reliant on Josh Allen completing passes to Stefon Diggs. What’s also troubling is coach Sean McDermott being second-guessed for a second consecutive week.
Last week, McDermott questioned whether the Bills should have traveled to London earlier than three days before kickoff to be on more equal footing with the Jaguars, who had played there a week earlier.
This time, McDermott is open to criticism for putting his defense in a position to defend an untimed play on first-and-goal from the 1.
Fortunately for Buffalo, Giants quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s pass glanced off Darren Waller’s right hand – while his left hand appeared to be held by cornerback Taron Johnson, but no penalty was called – and fell incomplete to seal the victory.
It was the result of McDermott’s decision to have Tyler Bass attempt a 53-yard field goal, which missed wide right, rather than punting to pin the Giants deep with some 70 seconds remaining and one timeout.
Perhaps, it was McDermott’s way of placing faith in the usually reliable Bass, who also missed in the same direction from 52 yards in the second quarter.
And yet, it was one of several head-scratching moments in an outing the Allen-led offense finished six first-half drives with three punts, two turnovers and a missed field goal.
The Bills didn’t score until 6 seconds into the fourth quarter when Allen capped a 17-play drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Deonte Harty.
Allen acknowledged the offense needs to get into rhythm earlier, a week after punting a season-high six times on their first seven possessions in London.
One drawback against the Giants had the Bills ditching their two-tight end set, with rookie Dalton Kincaid sidelined by a concussion. The inability to adapt, however, was one of the knocks against coordinator Ken Dorsey last year, when Buffalo’s offense closed the season showing signs of regression.
On defense, the Bills have more concerns even while limiting the Giants to three field goals and ending the first half with another goal-line stop.
Despite missing quarterback Daniel Jones and two starting linemen, New York converted 10 of 19 third down opportunities, a week after the Jaguars converted 10 of 18. Over Buffalo’s first four outings, opponents went a combined 12 of 39 on third down.
The drop-off coincides with Buffalo losing three starters to long-term injuries.
Second-year cornerback Kaiir Elam continues to struggle in coverage since starter Tre’Davious White tore his right Achilles tendon against Miami. The middle of Buffalo’s defense is less sturdy, minus linebacker Matt Milano (right leg) and tackle DaQuan Jones (torn pectoral muscle) after Saquon Barkley found his legs in a second half in which he gained 70 yards on eight carries.
At 1-5, the offensively challenged New England Patriots are up next. But nothing appears a gimme for the Bills these days.
Allen finding Diggs. With 10 catches for 100 yards, the receiver set a team record with his fourth consecutive 100-yard outing. Diggs also became just the fifth player in the Super Bowl era with 100 or more yards receiving in five of his team’s first six games.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Secondary receiving. The rest of Buffalo’s receivers combined for nine catches for 69 yards. Diggs’ 49 catches this season represent a third of the Bills’ total.
LB Dorian Williams. The rookie wasn’t perfect, but didn’t look out of place in his first career start. Williams had a hand in 10 tackles and was credited with a quarterback hit.
Bass. Difficult as it might be to knock a player for missing two 50-plus yard attempts, the fourth-year player made his reputation on being reliable. Bass entered the game having hit 11 of 16 from 50 yards and beyond in his career, including all three attempts this season.
Running back Damien Harris has a sprained neck and is in the concussion protocol after being released from the hospital on Monday. Williams was loaded into an ambulance on the field after being hurt following a 1-yard gain in the second quarter. … McDermott said Allen is experiencing soreness in his throwing shoulder but should be OK to play.
3-8 – The Bills record under Allen when scoring 14 or fewer points.
The Bills have won four straight, including playoffs, and six of their past seven against the division rival Patriots.
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