Buffalo Bills: Halftime takeaways from the AFC title game

The Buffalo Bills’ early endeavors in the AFC title game featured a rediscovered rushing game and a little bit of championship luck.

At halftime of the AFC Championship Game, the Kansas City Chiefs lead the Buffalo Bills 21-12.

ESM has three takeaways from an exciting first half of football…

-Chief Concern

If the Bills have had a consistent struggle, it’s been their defense’s issues covering opposing tight ends. Kansas City, of course, is armed with the ultimate weapon in that regard in Travis Kelce, and they’re taking full advantage of that flaw in the early going. They did so in the first 2020 meeting when Kelce had two touchdowns back in October, and now he’s running absolutely wild to the tune of 92 yards on nine receptions. Buffalo needs to strengthen their defense in the middle if they’re going to muster a comeback in the second half. Buffalo, to their credit, is taking advantage of their own tight end’s talents, as Knox has not only scored the Bills’ only touchdown but his other two receptions picked up crucial first downs (including one on a fourth down that kept Buffalo’s opening drive alive).

-Bold Rush

Devin Singletary appeared to be the odd man out in the Bills offense during their Divisional tilt last weekend, as it took nearly two full quarters for him to get a carry against the Ravens despite the loss of rookie Zack Moss in the Wild Card stage. But the Bills got him far more involved in the early going at Arrowhead, even granting him carries on two of the first three plays. Singletary also picked up a reception in the first half, though another drop could loom large later on if Buffalo fails to score again. Buffalo is 11-3, including playoffs, in games where Singletary has at least 14 touches. He’s not the only Bills rusher getting involved on a larger basis. T.J. Yeldon earned his first receptions since October 13 against Tennessee, including two huge first down touches through both the air and ground on the drive that narrowed the gap. Additionally, Taiwan Jones has had a strong game as a punt gunner, recovering Mecole Hardman’s muff at the three-yard-line (setting up Knox’s score) and doing another Corey Bojorquez punt inside the opponents’ 20.

-Cole Pursuit

Cole Beasley has proven himself to be a man of many talents this season. He has posted career-best receiving numbers and has even been shown to have a hankering for throwing. But if the Bills come back and win a nailbiter, remember Beasley’s big defensive play at the end of their first drive (shortly before Tyler Bass’ foot opened scoring). An errant Josh Allen pass seemed destined for the arms of Juan Thornhill, but Beasley was able to wrestle the ball away from the defender to preserve an incomplete pass and allow a good drive to earn a little reward.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Buffalo Bills: A lesson to learn from each AFC champion

Thurman Thomas, Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills are back in the AFC title game for the first time in 27 years. What can they learn from those that came before them?

A lot of cherished memories from the 1990s seem to be making a comeback these days. If the Buffalo Bills play their cards right on Sunday, their appearances in the Super Bowl can join Saved by the Bell, The Matrix, and Dunkaroos.

For the first time since 1994, the Bills will partake in the AFC Championship Game, shipping off to Arrowhead Stadium to battle the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday evening (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS). Their last AFC title tilt appearance likewise came against the Chiefs, when earned a 30-13 win at RIch Stadium en route to Super Bowl XXVIII, the last of four consecutive Big Game appearances. In the long interim, Bills fans have continued to appreciate the efforts of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, and many, many others.

Over a quarter century later, worthy successors have finally risen in their place. Josh Allen has begun toppling Kelly’s franchise passing records. The tandem of Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley has emulated that of Reed and Don Beebe. Jerry Hughes has risen up in Smith’s place in pass rushing duties.

Speaking with Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News, Reed confirmed that he and his old teammates have been keeping up with the Bills victorious’ modern endeavors. The receiver was pleased to see that the young Western New Yorkers seemed to be eumulating those conference champion squads throughout their historic season.

“It takes you back in a lot of ways, because they’re scoring a lot of points,” Reed said. “They are taking a lot out of the book of our teams, and I’m sure Sean McDermott has referenced us many times during the season and the last four years he’s been there. They’ve got a quarterback that, from one year to the next, has just made a complete turnaround. And they’ve got the weapons. I just think they’ve got everybody that that front office wanted to get. You can get all the pieces you want, but if they don’t work in the system, it really doesn’t matter.”

In honor of the Bills’ big day, ESM looks back on what the present Bills can learn from the champions of the past, as they seek to reach the first of what they hope is far more than a mere four consecutive Super Bowls…

1990-91: Keep up the pace

With their propensity for big yardage and scoring outputs, the 1990 Bills wouldn’t be out of place in the modern NFL, one that worships the offensive side of the ball. One of the ways Buffalo turned up the heat on their opponents was an uptempo attack that wore defenses down. Even when the New York Giants neutralized the offense by holding the ball for over 40 minutes in Super Bowl XXV, the Bills were able to quickly set themselves up for a game-winning field goal attempt when they got the ball back at their own 10 with 2:16 to go in the game.

Kelly confirmed in December that he had gone over his no-hiddle endeavors with modern offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. The Hall-of-Fame said that the Bills’ current setup makes them a good fit for an up-tempo setting.

“I got to spend a lot of time with Brian last year we got together and sat and watched film when I was playing with our no huddle offense,” Kelly said, per a report from team reporter Chris Brown. “Looking at some of the plays that I ran a lot because I liked them and they were an easy read and you can utilize all your receivers that you need to especially the one-on-ones that I had with James Lofton and Andre Reed. And Josh now has (Cole) Beasley, (John) Brown and of course (Stefon) Diggs.”

1991-92: Defense (still) wins championships

No one’s denying that the Bills are prepared for a shootout with the Chiefs. But while NFL scoreboards routine reach the 30s these days, there have been plenty of examples where the value of a strong defense has come to the forefront. After all, we’re two years from the slugfest in Super Bowl LIII that saw the Patriots take a 13-3 decision from the Rams.

The Bills were sure to keep their defense up to par, and far beyond it, during their conference dominance. Their uptempo offensive antics were brought back in their first AFC title defense, once again leading the league in yardage and finishing second in scoring. But after easily handling Kansas City in the Divisional round, they ran into a determined Denver Broncos team that would allow only a late Scott Norwood field goal in the championship game.

Their defense, however, took care of a potent Denver. The Broncos invaded Buffalo territory on each of their first five possessions, but crucial sacks and stops forced them into uncomfortable situations. Buffalo recovered only one of four Denver fumbles, but it led to longer field goal attempts for David Treadwell, who missed each of his three chances. Carlton Bailey provided the biggest scoring chunk of the afternoon with an 11-yard touchdown through a John Elway interception.

Today, the Bills defense has apparently saved their best for last. When Allen’s usual passing antics were stifled by Orchard Park’s winds during last week’s Divisional round, they likewise held their opponent, Baltimore, in check and provided a death blow through a pick-six. Taron Johnson’s return as a little bit longer than Bailey’s going 101 yards for the clincher in a 17-3 win.

1992-93: Contributions can come from all over the depth chart

We’ve seen countless promising seasons derailed through an injured quarterback, particularly in the latter stages of the season. This postseason was no exception, as we saw John Wolford and Taylor Heinicke start games on the NFC side when Jared Goff and Alex Smith were respectively sidelined with late ailments. The 1992-93 Bills are, of course, best known for “The Comeback”, the rally from 35-3 down against the Houston Oilers in the AFC Wild Card round. That historic march was overseen by Frank Reich after Kelly went down with a Week 17 injury. Reich came up big against in the Divisional win over Pittsburgh with two touchdown passes, but he wasn’t the only reserve who rose up. Kenneth Davis tallied 104 yards when the Steelers’ defense bottled up Thomas, while Cliff Hicks earned a sack. The latter earned an interception a week later against Miami in the AFC title game.

Josh Allen is (knock on wood) ready to go for Sunday’s visit to Kansas City, but some unsung heroes have helped fuel the ongoing Buffalo playoff run. Johnson not only had last week’s runback, but his crucial takedown of Jonathan Taylor on third-and-goal at the one helped change the course of the Wild Card victory over the Colts two weeks ago. Daryl Williams has not only been serviceable in replacing the injured Cody Ford, but he earned a crucial fumble recovery in that Wild Card triumph. When John Brown and mastery of trickery Isaiah McKenzie are perhaps your fourth and fifth viable options at receiver, you know you have a deep squad. Head coach Sean McDermott noted the importance of having such a deep unit in a year affected by unprecedented obstacles prior to the playoffs.

“You’ve got to be able to count on depth,” McDermott said, via Chris Brown. “You’ve got to have depth in this league, this year in particular, with not only injuries occurring but the virus, knocking people out. So, it’s highly critical.”

1993-94: Go all out, because you never know when you’ll be back

By the 1993 season, many had tired of the Bills’ schtick. While Norwood’s memorable miss capped off a one-point loss against the Giants, Buffalo’s next two visits to the Super Bowl were one-sided affairs, falling to Washington in a 37-24 debacle that was never really close and avoiding Super Bowl infamy only through Beebe’s strip of a showboating Leon Lett in a 52-17 defeat at the hands of Dallas.

But as the situation became more dire at the Rose Bowl against the Cowboys, likely sending the anti-Bills factions into full fury, Kelly reportedly turned to pass rusher Jeff Wright and suggested they make the return trip yet again.

“We laughed and had a couple of drinks over it,” Wright said in a report from Jerry Sullivan of WIVB. “By God, we did it.”

The Bills defied the doubters, many of whom were questioning players’ efforts and abilities. Those partially died down when they earned a 13-10 upset win over the Cowboys in Irving. Afterwards, they once again posted a dominant effort, capturing the top seed in the AFC once more and winning their last six games prior to Super Bowl XXVIII. Another loss to Dallas awaited, but the Bills’ camaraderie and strength was unmatched.

Thomas, one of the biggest targets after the 1992 season, capped it off with one of the most dominant performances in conference championship history. He tallied 186 yards and three as the Bills crushed the Chiefs 30-13.

“We were a force to be reckoned with. You had to bring your breakfast, your lunch, your dinner and a snack for afterwards, because we were going to be there playing football for 60 minutes,” Thomas said in Sullivan’s report. He seems to feel that the modern Bills have the same brand of hunger and intensity going into Sunday.

“They have that same confidence in who they are and what their abilities are. You can tell they’re having fun. Like us, these guys love going over there to the facility and practicing and being around the guys. And that’s how you bring a great team together.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills to welcome in Baltimore for AFC Divisional battle

An offensive showcase is expected in Orchard Park next weekend, as the Buffalo Bills battle Baltimore for an AFC title game ticket.

The last time Bills Stadium hosted an AFC Divisional playoff game, the Baltimore Ravens didn’t even exist.

That streak will finally end on Saturday night, as the Ravens will descend upon Western New York to battle the Bills in the second round of the NFL’s 2021 postseason tournament. The Bills have earned the prime time slot, as the game will kick off at 8:15 p.m. ET and be broadcast nationally on NBC.

Buffalo (14-3) earned the AFC’s second overall seed but missed out on the lone bye under the new playoff format. The Bills nonetheless took care of business in this weekend’s Wild Card proceedings, topping Indianapolis 27-24 in their first home playoff game since December 1996. Meanwhile, No. 5 Baltimore (12-5) earned entry into the Divisional round with a 20-13 win over Tennessee.

This will be the first postseason meetings between the Bills and Ravens but Baltimore leads the all-time series 6-3, having won the last three matchups. The most recent meeting came in December 2019 in Orchard Park, with the Bills falling 24-17. Lamar Jackson threw three touchdown passes for Baltimore while Josh Allen threw one to Cole Beasley. Buffalo’s last win in the matchup came in September 2013, when they won 23-20 at home

There’s potential for offensive fireworks when the Ravens come to town next weekend. The Ravens aren’t as explosive as they were during their AFC standings-topping campaign last season, but they rediscovered some of their lost prowess on Sunday in Nashville. Baltimore earned 401 yards in their upset victory, with Jackson putting up 315 total yards en route to his first career postseason victory. The Ravens led the league with 191.9 rushing yards per game during the regular season, paced by 1,005 from Jackson. J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards also eclipsed 700 yards and united for 15 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Buffalo, energized by the emergence of Josh Allen and the arrival of Stefon Diggs, was second in the league in total offense at just over 396 yards per game, behind only Kansas City.

Elsewhere on the AFC playoff bracket, the top-seeded Chiefs will take on the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon (3:05 p.m. ET, CBS). On the NFC side, No. 1 Green Bay will take on the sixth-ranked Los Angeles Rams in Saturday’s late afternoon window (4:35 p.m. ET, Fox) while a divisional battle between No. 2 New Orleans and No. 5 Tampa Bay rounds things off at night (6:40 p.m. ET, Fox).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: Stefon Diggs, four others named to 2020 All-Pro teams

As the Buffalo Bills prepare for the postseason, five of their brightest start received All-Pro nominations.

The Buffalo Bills earned a bit of a morale boost as they prepare for their long-awaited AFC Wild Card matchup at home against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday afternoon (1:05 p.m. ET, CBS). Five Buffalo representatives appeared on the NFL’s All-Pro teams, whose rosters were released on Friday. Stefon Diggs appeared on the first-team group, ending yet another dubious streak in Bills history, as he’s the first receiver to earn the honor in franchise history.

Diggs, 27, has proven to be well worth the four draft picks Buffalo sent west to obtain him from the Minnesota Vikings. Best known for his game-winning touchdown at the end of the 2018 NFC Divisional playoffs against New Orleans, Diggs set Buffalo records with 1,535 yards on 127 receptions, both of which led the league. He earned AFC Player of the Week honors for his Week 16 performance against New England, earning 145 yards and three scores on nine receptions.

Returning to the All-Pro list are returner Andre Roberts and cornerback Tre’Davious White, who were respective first-team members in 2018 and 2019. Roberts led the league with 30 yards per kick return and ranked seventh with a 9.9 average on punts. White is living up to a four-year, $70 million extension ($55 million guaranteed) bestowed to him in September and lived up to it with 57 tackles, 11 pass breakups, and three interceptions despite missing two games due to a back injury.

New to All-Pro lists are quarterback Josh Allen and receiver Cole Beasley, both second-teamers. Like Diggs, Allen spent this season rewriting the Bills’ record books, tallying 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns through the air. Allen was responsible for 46 scores overall, picking up eight rushing tallies and one receiving through a trick play collaboration with John Brown. As for Beasley, he also set career-bests despite missing the last two games of the year with injuries of his own. The former Dallas Cowboy earned 967 yards on 82 receptions, four of which went for six.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

BREAKING: Buffalo Bills clinch AFC East division title

The Buffalo Bills’ Saturday win over the Denver Broncos allowed them to clinch their first division title since 1995.

After a 25-year sabbatical, AFC East supremacy is returning to Western New York.

Josh Allen tallied 392 total yards of offense, with 259 of his passing tallies going to Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley. Jerry Hughes took back a fumble for a score, while Devin Singletary capped things off with a long touchdown of his own, giving the Buffalo Bills a 48-19 victory over the Denver Broncos on Saturday night in the Rockies. The victory allowed Buffalo (11-3) to capture their first AFC East division crown since 1995 and Orchard Park will likely host its first playoff game since the 1996 wild-card round. In closing yet another dubious streak, Buffalo has also won 11 games for the first time since 1999.

It’s the latest big accomplishment of the Brandon Beane/Sean McDermott era, one that began back in 2017. The pair inherited one of the longest active playoff droughts in American sports, but have now made the playoffs in three of the past four seasons.

Appropriately, it was the on-field cornerstones of the Beane-McDermott regime that rose to the occasion during their historic evening, launching themselves up the ledgers of Orchard Park’s record books. Josh Allen put in 392 yards and four total touchdowns, the latter tie tying him with Jack Kemp for the most ground scores by a quarterback in team history (25) and moved into the top ten amongst all rushing scorers (passing Willis McGahee and tying LeSean McCoy). The Minnesota transfer Diggs began his Week 15 exploits by breaking his with Eric Moulds for Buffalo’s single-season receptions, creating an 11-reception margin with two more games to go. Diggs wound up with 147 receiving yards, joined in the brotherhood of triple-digits by Beasley (117), who is breaking the career-highs he set in Dallas.

McDermott’s former Carolina pupil Mario Addison was a constant backfield invader on defense, while undrafted gem Levi Wallace helped hold Denver’s potent rookie receiving pair in check, with Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler combining for 23 yards on a reception each. A first-round choice, Houston’s Ed Oliver, likewise earned a sack and got an early pass breakup in. Only adding to the fairy-tale setting was Hughes’ march of glory, as one of the two leftovers from the lean years took back a Drew Lock fumble for six points. While the other, tight end Lee Smith, was denied a touchdown due to a penalty, Hughes’ six-pointer more or less kept the game in Buffalo’s control. Another Beane choice, running back Devin Singletary, put one last exclamation point, a 51-yard touchdown dash that served as the unofficial kickoff to Buffalo’s divisional title party.

The effort led to one of the biggest dominoes toppled in the Bills’ return to respectability. Buffalo has officially ended the stranglehold the New England Patriots held on the quartet, as they become the first non-New England to finish atop the four since Miami in 2008.

However, in their celebration, the partygoers made it clear: the AFC East, while spurring a celebration a quarter-century in the making, is nowhere their ultimate goal. Words weren’t even necessary to convert such a message. The Bills’ celebratory t-shirts commemorating the division title bore what’s sure to become an oft-repeated insignia: “Won Not Done”.

“(The shirt) says ‘won not done’. Everything is still in front of us,” Allen said of the slogan per Daniel Fetes of WHAM. “This just gives us an opportunity to give it a shot and that’s all we can ask for.”

“This team here, we’re on a mission,” cornerback Tre’Davious White added in a report from Jenna Callari of WKBW. “I can feel it.”

But in more jovial matters, Saturday’s victory was a strong culmination of brotherhood and perseverance. No one can deny that this is a team whose camaraderie is riding at an all-time high as the most important games of their NFL careers approach. It was a development seen in the preparation for Denver, as the Bills turned Winter Storm Gail into a battleground, partaking in a snowball fight after practice earlier this week.

Expectations will widely vary with this Buffalo squad. Some see them as the biggest threat to a budding dynasty in Kansas City. Others feel like this they should be satisfied with topping the eastern quartet, confident that they’ll be a staple on the AFC bracket for years to come.

Either way, the Bills have made it clear…whatever they do in the near future, they’ll be doing it as a family…a family that has ended some of the most dubious streaks in professional football.

“Buffalo has been waiting for this for 25 years. It’s just special. It’s just an unexplainable feeling,” offensive lineman Dion Dawkins said in Callari’s report. “It’s a family, a family that stays together will win, cherish, and conquer it all. This was just step one.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Buffalo Bills: Cole Beasley keeps up career-best pace on MNF

Set to reach his finest yearly numbers, Beasley posted a career-best in yardage during the Buffalo Bills’ Monday night win in Glendale.

Eight days after earning six points the hard way, Cole Beasley was happy to return to the end zone in more traditional methods during Monday night’s displaced tilt against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Buffalo Bills receiver earned the first scoring pass of his career (and first since high school) last week against the Los Angeles Chargers, but another group of Californian foes saw felt his wrath on the receiving end. His five-yard touchdown from Josh Allen at the onset of the second quarter helped shift momentum back toward the Bills’ side, knotting things up at 7-7. Those five yards were part of a career-best night for Beasley, whose final tally of 130 played a big role in an eventual 34-24 victory at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Following that touchdown, offensive lineman Jon Feliciano picked up Beasley and mimicked rocking him to sleep as their dumbfounded, yet celebratory, teammates looked on.

“I told him if I got in the end zone, I’d let him rock me to sleep,” Beasley said of the celebration, per Jourdon LaBarber of BuffaloBills.com. “(Feliciano) did a good job. I was really happy he came and found me when I got in there.”

Though Beasley’s teammates are happy to treat him like a baby, his impact has been anything but infantile. The second-year Bill is on pace to set new career-highs in nearly every major receiving category, his current tallies sitting at 797 on 66 receptions, four of which have gone for touchdowns. All but nine of those yards have come through his role as the slot receiver, an NFL Next Gen Stats category where Beasley leads in yardage from the spot (778).

Beasley’s prior career-best campaign came in 2016 with the Dallas Cowboys, when he picked up 75 catches and 833 yards. His best touchdown earnings came in his Buffalo debut last season (6).

Through Monday’s visit to Glendale, Beasley has earned triple-digit yardage games in three of his last six. The timing couldn’t be better, as he has been asked to step up in the absence of fellow veteran John Brown, who has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain. Placed on injured reserve, Brown will be eligible to return for the Week 15 Saturday night contest against Denver.

Beasley’s performance in an expanded role has not gone unnoticed.

“His presence is like a superhero,” guard Dion Dawkins said in LaBarber’s report. “He reminds me of The Flash. He’s extremely quick – not a little kid but he’s a go-getter. He has his fun, he says his little comments, and he goes hard at 150 miles per hour. He does it over and over again, and I see The Flash.”

Despite his magic against the Chargers, Beasley admitted he was disappointed with the way he played in the most recent showing at Bills Stadium. Though he had a perfect passer rating via his single pass being a score, he mustered only 25 yards on a pair of receptions otherwise.

Beasley said he was more annoyed that he wasted a decent day from Josh Allen than he was about any lost stats on his end. Monday made for a more successful collaboration between the pair, as 130 of Allen’s 364 yards went to Beasley.

“I was a little disappointed in my play last week. I was excited for another chance to play better for my teammates,” Beasley said of the improvement, per Marcel Louis-Jacques of ESPN. “Any time you’ve got a guy like that throwing to you, you never want to lose a route or let him down because you know he’s looking for you, and he’s going to get it there.”

Beasley and the Bills (9-3) return to action on Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Buffalo Bills: Three stars from Monday’s win vs. San Francisco

An offensive explosion allowed the Buffalo Bills to exorcise their Glendale demons and come away with a win over the displaced 49ers.

The Buffalo Bills struck prime time, offensive gold against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night in a most unusual location.

Josh Allen threw for 375 yards and four scores, helping Cole Beasley earned a career-best 130 yards. Micah Hyde and Tre’Davious White also had interceptions as the Bills rolled to a 34-24 victory over the Niners at State Farm Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals and one of the most heartbreaking defeats in recent Buffalo memory. 

The win on Monday broke several dubious records in Buffalo history. It was good for their first win in a Monday night setting since October 1999, and the team also clinched their first pair of consecutive winning seasons since 1998-99. Stefon Diggs’ 92 yards allowed him to hit the plateau of 1,000 for the season, giving the Bills receivers with four digits in back-to-back years for the first time since 2011-12 (both Steve Johnson with John Brown accomplishing the feat last season). Buffalo (9-3) also maintains a one-game lead on Miami for the modern AFC East division lead.

ESM is ready to hand out game balls in the aftermath of a memorable victory…

3rd Star: TE Dawson Knox

4 receptions, 27 yards, 1 TD

I’m Dawson Knox, and this is a 10-point swing.

Knox tied his career-best with four receptions, none more important than a four-yard touchdown reception that gave Buffalo the lead for good. The second-year tight end has now scored touchdowns in back-to-back contests and is turning into a reliable red zone option. It’s perhaps a play that will only gain recognition and accolades in the Bills’ film room this week, but Knox would also come up big on another Buffalo scoring quest. Late in the first half, Knox stepped in front of quarterback hunter Dion Jordan as Allen rolled out to his right. It bought Allen enough time to find Beasley for a 20-yard gain that set the Bills up in San Francisco territory. Two plays later, Tyler Bass booted a 37-yard field goal that created a two-possession lead going into the halftime break.

2nd Star: WR Cole Beasley

9 receptions, 130 yards, 1 TD

Jon Feliciano may have rocked Beasley to sleep during first half action on Sunday, but the veteran was anything but sleepy on Sunday. Beasley continues to take on a larger role in the Buffalo offense, enjoying a career-night through mostly early endeavors in the first half. He has been one of the biggest contributors to the Bills’ division title trek, having reached triple digits in four games this season (yet another career-best), including three of the past six. His time couldn’t be much better, as his personal rise has coincided with John Brown being forced to miss some time with an injury.

1st Star: QB Josh Allen

32-of-40, 375 yards, 4 TD

The Bills’ ongoing national tour…they’ll host their first Sunday night game since 2007 next week against Pittsburgh (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC)…is a chance to prove themselves to the NFL at-large. Their roaster features several parties trying to make their professional cases on a wider scale, perhaps none more prominent than Allen, who, despite nearly every analyst suggesting the contrary, is proving himself as one of the most reliable franchise quarterbacks in the league.

Allen certainly got off to a good start in that endeavor, joining Jim Kelly as the only Buffalo representative to throw four touchdowns in a Monday night game and misfiring on only four of his passes. The journey will get a little more difficult next week against what’s sure to be a furious Steelers defense, but it’s one he seems well-equipped for. His name may not be as attractive as that of Patrick Mahomes, but MVP talk might be part of the holiday conversation in Western New York.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills, Cole Beasley talk about Sunday trickery

Beasley’s touchdown toss against Los Angeles is the Buffalo Bills’ second scoring pass from a non-QB this season.

Kelly, Kemp, Ferguson, Flutie, Bledsoe…Beasley??? 

It’s not likely that Cole Beasley will go down amongst the great passers in Buffalo Bills history, even if his official passer rating sticks at 158.3. Beasley joined fellow non-quarterbacks John Brown and Preston Ridlehuber as the only players in Bills history to earn a perfect mark in the category on Sunday. Buffalo trickery led to the receiver tossing a 20-yard touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis during a tilt against the Los Angeles Chargers at Bills Stadium en route to a 27-17 victory. It was similar antics that allowed the rusher Ridlehuber and the receiver Brown to likewise earn passing scores in 1969 and 2019 respectively (Beasley’s current teammate Brown also had a scoring throw in last year’s playoff cameo in Houston). 

The Bills (8-3) were able to pass the play off as a bubble screen, with Beasley taking a pass behind the line of scrimmage from regular quarterback Josh Allen. Davis faked a block before heading downfield, drawing the Chargers’ attention to Beasley. With the ruse in full swing, Beasley lobbed the ball to a wide open Davis, helping the rookie catcher earn his fourth touchdown pass of the season and to give Buffalo a 14-6 lead in the second quarter.

According to Davis, the gridiron sorcery was several weeks in the making, giving him full confidence that the deception would work. 

“I knew it was going to work,” Davis said, per Jourdan LaBarbour of BuffaloBills.com. “We run a lot of those bubble screens, so as soon as I saw (Chargers cornerback Chris Harris) shoot, I just knew the ball was coming to me and Cole was able to, you know, put a dart. He said he threw it kind of hard to get it in there but…it was a softball. It was an easy catch and I’m glad we could make that connection.”

Mandatory Credit: Jamie Germano-USA TODAY NETWORK

Beasley became the second Bills receiver to flip the narrative of a touchdown pass this season, joining Isaiah McKenzie. The latter threw a four-yard pass to Allen in the infamous loss to Arizona earlier this month. Alas for McKenzie, the passer rating formula left him just short of a perfect mark at 156.2. Since 2018, Buffalo is tied with division rival Miami for the most touchdown passes thrown by a non-quarterback (4, including postseason). 

“My feet weren’t set right, it was really ugly, but it got there. I’ll take it,” Beasley analyzed in LaBarbour’s report. “I was trying to get them to come up and think it was a bubble screen. I just had to have eyes on the safety, make sure he’s not coming over back there. The guys were guarding the guys going deep, so I had a chance to throw it.”

If anyone on the Bills was ready for aerial duplicity, it was likely going to be Beasley. The 31-year-old previously served as an option quarterback at Little Elm (TX) High School, earning 5,071 yards and 40 touchdowns through the air and on the ground combined over two varsity seasons. He did not attempt any passes during his college years at Southern Methodist but got two chances during his seven-year tenure with the Dallas Cowboys, both falling incomplete. 

In addition to his self-deprecation, Beasley was happy to chalk the highlight up to a team effort, complimenting both his blockers and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

“(The blockers) sell it more than I do,” Beasley said, per Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News. “They sell it with the blocks. They give like a three count and then they go. I was trying to get them to come up and thinking it was a bubble screen. I just had to have eyes on the safety, make sure he’s not coming over back there.”

“(Daboll) has done a good job of mixing it up,” he continued in another report from David De Cristofaro of Bills Wire. “He does a good job of keeping them off-balanced and that was one of those times right there.”

Before anyone tells Beasley to stick to his day job, they should be advised that he’s been posting strong numbers on the receiving ledgers as well. He’s currently on pace to set career-highs in nearly every major statistical category, standing at 667 yards on 57 receptions, three of which have gone for touchdowns. 

Allen has praised Beasley for stepping up in recent weeks, particularly with Brown forced out due to an ankle sprain. 

“Cole is very instinctive. He’s a very smart player,” Allen said prior to the Chargers’ visit, per AJ Feldman of RochesterFirst.com. “He knows what windows to kind of throttle down into and get out of and it’s just something we’ve talked about an extreme amount. We’ve watched a lot of film together.”

“I trust him implicitly whenever he breaks in or breaks out. I trust that he did his due diligence of peaking where the defense was. The majority of the time he’s 100 percent correct.”

Beasley and the Bills return to action on Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers in a game moved to State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

Buffalo Bills: Three stars from Sunday’s win vs. Los Angeles

The Buffalo Bills’ rushing offense woke up at a perfect time, as they earned a hard-fought victory against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Trickery and rushing ruled the day for the Buffalo Bills in a hard-fought victory.

Cole Beasley threw a touchdown pass to compliment a 172-yard performance from the run game, which was paced by 82 from Devin Singletary. It was enough to give Buffalo a 27-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers at Bills Stadium. The Bills (8-3) has clinched their first pair of non-losing seasons since the 2014 and 2015 campaigns. They maintain a single-game lead on Miami for the AFC East division lead.

ESM looks back on the three stars of Sunday’s big win…

3rd Star: WR Cole Beasley

(3 receptions, 20 yards, 1-for-1, 20 yards, 1 TD)

No. 11 threw a touchdown for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, but Drew Bledsoe was nowhere to be found. Instead, it was Beasley launching his first pass since a 2018 attempt at theatrics in Dallas. It was good for his first NFL completion, a 20-yard scoring strike to Gabriel Davis. The Bills have done some strong work with their disease-prevention tactics (often keeping rookie thrower Jacob Fromm in quarantine in case of an emergency), but if they ever face a situation like the one Denver is facing this weekend, they could well turn to Beasley, who served as an option quarterback at Little Elm High School.

2nd Star: WR Gabriel Davis

(3 receptions, 79 yards, 1 TD)

How ironic is it that, one of the weekend of the 10th anniversary of the Steve Johnson incident, that a Bills receiver bearing the No. 13 in a throwback jersey would come through in the clutch? That was Davis, who not only came through on Beasley’s toss of glory, but also on a pair of deep passes that kept Buffalo drives going. Davis has turned himself into quite the day three steal, and has situated himself as a crucial piece of the Buffalo offensive puzzle moving forward. His performance alongside Beasley came up huge on a day when they were missing John Brown due to an injury.

1st Star: LB A.J. Klein 

(14 tackles, 2 pass defenses, 1.5 sacks)

Klein continued his Buffalo redemption story on Sunday, becoming a strong prescience when the Bills needed it most. On the final drive, with the Chargers going for a desperation drive at the end of the game, Klein earned himself a 10-yard sack, combining with Jerry Hughes for another at the end of the first half, one that partly led to a Los Angeles punt. He had three other tackles for a loss on the afternoon, including a big shove of Joshua Kelley on a third-and-one with the Bills holding on to a 24-14 lead. It limited the damage to a field goal, and helped Buffalo keep a lead they’d never relinquish. Klein has shown that his breakout game against Seattle was no fluke and he’ll no doubt be relied on as the season hits its final stages.

The Bills return to action next Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags