It was all there for the Buffalo Bills on Monday night.
They had capitalized on the air-sucking Achilles injury to Aaron Rodgers, building a 10-point halftime advantage. All the Bills needed to do to effectively put the New York Jets into the grave, potentially for the entire 2023 season, was score more than three points in the second half.
Yet, the Bills gave the Jets, the division, and the entire AFC life. You can credit New York for persevering through Rodgers’ injury in its emotional roller coaster of a win that ended 22-16 on Xavier Gipson’s 65-yard walk-off punt return in overtime.
But if Week 1 is any indication, Buffalo is in jeopardy of being passed as one of the AFC’s elite teams.
The Bills have dominated the AFC East in the post-Tom Brady era, winning three straight division titles. They are perceived, along with the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs, as the class of the AFC — even though Cincinnati and Kansas City have recently represented the AFC in the Super Bowl, and Buffalo still hasn’t since 1993.
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We almost take it for granted that the Bills will get there. All the rationales for their past playoff failings make sense. It’s hard to beat Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs, especially at Arrowhead. And Buffalo was never the same after enduring the trauma of Damar Hamlin’s on-field cardiac arrest last season.
But the Bills’ inability to win when it matters is far more insidious and far less about their opponents. Buffalo’s vaunted defense couldn’t stop Breece Hall, Dalvin Cook, and the Jets’ rushing attack Monday when it knew New York was wholly incapable of passing the ball. It was reminiscent of how the Bills couldn’t stop the Bengals’ run game in their playoff loss in January or Mahomes from getting into field-goal range with 13 seconds remaining the season prior.
But Monday’s loss was less about Buffalo’s defense and more about quarterback Josh Allen. The sixth-year pro is becoming the poster child for the Bills’ see-saw level of inconsistency.
Sure, Allen guided Buffalo down the field for the game-tying field goal Monday, but only after he gift-wrapped short fields with three killer interceptions to Jordan Whitehead and an incomprehensible fumbled snap that set up New York in field-goal range late in the fourth quarter.
“Same plays, different game,” Allen said after the game. “That’s a good defense we played, but we can’t play two guys. Can’t play them and us, and I played us.
“I hurt our team tonight. I cost our team tonight. It feels eerily similar to last year, and I hate that it’s the same.”
Allen said all the right things in his post-game availability. He talked about cleaning up mistakes and not letting the gaffes snowball. But he also told anyone who would listen he would focus on not adding to his glaring turnover total — he now has 84 in 77 career starts, plus five more in eight career playoff games.
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At this point, Allen is what he is: a turnover machine. He’s a gun-slinger who can make exhilarating plays, too. But the Bills will have a hard time living with those if he’s setting up the opposition in plus-territory.
Bills fans are undoubtedly sick of the buzz surrounding the Jets and Dolphins. But when you consider what Tua Tagovailoa and Miami did to the Chargers this weekend — Tua had 466 passing yards and three touchdowns in an exhilarating 36-34 win in LA — along with the fact Skylar Thompson nearly went into Orchard Park and won in the playoffs in 2022, the case could be made Miami has passed Buffalo.
Again, the Jets’ defense will do this to a lot of teams. It did it to Allen a year ago, too. Without Rodgers, New York probably can’t contend for the division crown or AFC supremacy.
But if Allen plays as he did Monday, neither will the Bills.