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: Three stars from Saturday’s win at Denver

The Buffalo Bills departed Denver on a Rocky Mountain high, clinching an elusive division title through a dominant showing.

The Buffalo Bills are coming home for Christmas…and the playoffs as well.

Through a 48-19 victory over the Denver Broncos during the NFL’s Saturday showcase, the Bills (11-3) clinched not only their third playoff berth over the last four seasons but also their first AFC East division title since 1995. Restrictions pending, Orchard Park’s Bills Stadium is likely set to host its first postseason contest since a 1996 loss to Jacksonville in the wild-card round. Buffalo has also reached the 11-win plateau for the first time since 1999.

ESM gives out game balls for the victorious Bills…

3rd Star: DE Jerry Hughes

1 fumble recovery, 1 TD

Hughes’ fearsome size may lead to incredulousness on this end, but he got his football start as a running back at Stephen F. Austin High School in Sugar Land, Texas, earning 19 touchdowns during his senior season. His ensuing time spent in Fort Worth (with TCU) and Orchard Park have rarely given him a chance to showcase his rushing talents, but Saturday’s tilt provided a welcome exception.

With Buffalo holding a 28-13 lead, they closed the book on any idea of a Denver comeback with Tre’Davious White’s sack and forced fumble of Drew Lock. Hughes picked up the loose change and athletically avoided several pursuing Broncos to put in a touchdown that took far more than the 21 yards dictated in the final box score. The 32-year-old earned the second touchdown of his career and his first since November 2014.

 

2nd Star: WR Stefon Diggs

11 receptions, 147 yards

On a historic day for Buffalo football, Diggs was sure to get his personal achievement out of the way early on. His first reception of the late afternoon allowed him to break a tie with Eric Moulds from 2002 for the most receptions in a single Bills season. With 11 grabs on the night, Diggs is likely ensuring that it will be a long time before his contemporaries even sniff his records. Diggs and Cole Beasley each broke the century mark on Saturday, uniting to earn 259 yards from Allen’s arm. Buffalo, however, may have to hold its breath when it comes to Diggs’ status moving forward. Fox Sports’ Lindsay Czarniak revealed toward the end of the game that Diggs was carted to the locker room with a foot issue, though he later returned to the sidelines before the clock let out.

1st Star: QB Josh Allen

28-for-40, 359 yards, 2 TD, 3 carries, 33 yards, 2 TD 

Allen’s success in Colorado probably shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise. After all, he was perfect in terms of the scoreboard during Wyoming’s visits to Colorado State and Air Force. But, for Allen, Saturday’s business was personal. Denver previously passed on him during the early stages of the 2018 NFL Draft, choosing Bradley Chubb two picks before Allen got his call from Western New York.

In his first visit to Mile High, Allen showed a Broncos team at a crossroads when it comes to their franchise quarterback exactly what they were missing. He was responsible for four touchdowns on his own, two each of the aerial and ground variety, and racked up 392 total yards. Technically speaking, Allen was more or less the culprit behind six scores, but the latter couple was wiped out due to penalties. His rushing scores carried historic importance on the Buffalo landscape: he not only tied Jack Kemp for the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (25) but also passed Willis McGahee to move into the top ten in the rushing score category tying Kemp and LeSean McCoy.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Buffalo Bills star acquisition Stefon Diggs: “I could be a lot better”

Stefon Diggs has reached heights few Buffalo Bills have seen before. Yet, the Orchard Park newcomer is anything but satisfied.

In the history of the Buffalo Bills, 49 men have earned at least 100 receptions. Only two have reached that landmark in a single season. Eric Moulds first set the record in 2002, adding intrigue to an otherwise meaningless season finale against a two-win squad from Cincinnati. It took Stefon Diggs 13 games with a charging buffalo on his helmet to get to triple digits.

Diggs, one of the newest players to enjoy the Western New York experience, has wasted no time in leaving a lasting impression on the Bills’ history books. Moulds may be trending over the next few weeks, if only because Diggs is set to break his single-season franchise marks. The pair are currently tied at the century-mark for the most receptions in franchise history (good enough for Diggs to lead the league entering Week 15), and Diggs will have three weeks to earn the 201 yards necessary to pass Moulds in that department.

It also helps that Diggs has saved his best performances for the Bills’ most crucial contests. When NBC’s football cameras descended upon Orchard Park for the first time since 2007, Diggs earned 130 yards on 10 receptions, one of which went for a score in the Bills’ 26-15 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Six days prior, he had 10 other receptions in a visit to Glendale, Arizona to battle the displaced San Francisco 49ers on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. 

But after the former performance, Diggs said perhaps the scariest thing an NFL defender could hear going into the postseason.

“I could be a lot better so I don’t think too much of it. I’m just trying to chase these wins,” Diggs said after his latest showing against the Steelers, per Cameron Hogwood of Sky Sports. He was keener to give credit to his offensive comrades, namely quarterback Josh Allen and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

“I give a lot of credit to the people around me, especially Josh Allen. Young quarterback, he put his faith and his trust in me to make plays with the ball in my hands and catching the ball. And coach Daboll, he calls the right stuff, he draws it up upstairs and puts me in the best position to make plays. Then my wide receivers coach Chad Hall, we put in a lot of work in practice. We rep a lot of stuff that is more game-like than anything.”

With Diggs in tow, the franchise quarterback Allen has taken several steps forward in his development, and Buffalo (10-3) has gone from mere playoff contender to potential division champion, one that would be a quarter-century in the making. The NFL has taken notice, as each of the Bills’ four December games will be broadcast on national airwaves. That division title can arrive when the Bills travel to Denver for the league’s traditional late-season Saturday showcase (4:30 p.m. ET, NFL Network).

A talented roster has been assembled in Orchard Park, one that many see in the postseason on a consistent basis moving forward. But many Buffalo representatives have yet to taste how sweet the playoffs can be, much of their experienced limited to cameos on the road in the wild-card rounds of 2018 (Jacksonville) and 2020 (Houston).

Who better to bring in than the star of one of the most renowned highlights in recent January memory?

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Diggs’ time as a Minnesota Viking came to an end after five seasons in March, but his time in purple was immortalized through the “Minneapolis Miracle”, the jaw-dropping 61-yard touchdown in the final seconds of the 2018 NFC divisional playoff tilt against New Orleans. Some place the video on the same playlist as the Immaculate Reception or The Catch.

With Diggs disgruntled in purple, the Bills reached out and sent over four draft picks to obtain him. One of those choices has since become Justin Jefferson, the 22nd overall pick in April’s selection meeting who is well on his way to Rookie of the Year honors.

But in a year filled with uncertainty and a team on the cusp of true contention, Bills general manager Brandon Beane wanted a surefire veteran to work with when it came to molding the offense into a fearsome unit. He knew he had that player in Diggs.

“Yes, the draft is stacked with receivers,” Beane said during the offseason, per Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com. “But I think it became evident with what’s going on around us now, that we don’t know what kind of offseason we’ll have. I just felt like it was going to be really hard, unless I traded up really high to find a guy that I know could walk in, day one, August 1st, and be ready to roll.”

“Obviously, time will tell if this move for Stefon was right. Sometimes the best-laid plans don’t always translate, but we’re confident and that’s why we swung with a first-round pick. You know I love draft picks and that was not easy for me to part with a first-round pick, but at the same time I view (Stefon) as our first-round pick and I thought it was good for the value of getting a guy like Stefon.”

So far, the translation is crystal clear.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: Sunday night perfectly defines the Brandon Beane era

Brandon Beane’s extension needed little justification, but his Buffalo Bills were more than happy to oblige on Sunday night.

NBC’s Sunday Night Football last visited Bills Stadium in Orchard Park, New York in November 2007, when the establishment still bore the Ralph Wilson Stadium moniker. This visit was one of the first examples of flexible scheduling, a concept the Peacock network introduced upon their return to NFL broadcasting to gain the most attractive matchups to their slate. A divisional matchup between the Buffalo Bills and New England booted a get-together between Chicago and Seattle, a rematch from the previous year’s postseason.

On most occasions, it’d be an honor for the local Bills, in the midst of a rebuild that wound up taking two decades, to be granted such a privilege. But the ensuing edition wasn’t so much a primetime football game as it was a showcase for the visitors…it was as if the Washington Generals somehow got to host a home game against the Harlem Globetrotters. En route to a perfect regular season, the Patriots cruised to a 56-10 triumph, the only Buffalo relief coming through J.P. Losman’s 47-yard touchdown pass to Roscoe Parrish in the first quarter.

Brandon Beane likely wasn’t too concerned about the Bills’ endeavors. As a member of the Carolina Panthers’ front office, he was likely more concerned about their 31-17 loss in Green Bay earlier that afternoon. Heck, he was probably more upset over his alma mater UNC Wilmington dropping a men’s basketball game against Illinois State. Little did he, or anyone, involved in the Bills organization, know, that it would be another 13 years before NBC’s cameras descended upon The Queen City for another football game…or that Beane himself would play a major part in it.

No flexing was necessary for Orchard Park’s latest Sunday night endeavor, as their Week 14 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers was always destined for an evening kickoff. Social distancing endeavors kept jovial hordes of Bills Mafia loyalists out of the seats, but the on-field intensity more than made up for it, as the Bills took a 26-15 decision from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Buffalo (10-3) has now won the first two games of what’s at least a four-game stretch of nationally televised contests. Their upcoming matchup with Denver was recently chosen to open a Saturday afternoon doubleheader (4:30 p.m. ET, NFL Network) and they’ll play their second Monday night game in three weeks on December 28 against New England.

(Photo: Getty)

The impact of winning in prime time hasn’t been lost on the Bills, especially in the hallowed month of December.

“It’s been really tough for us because we have a set amount of time that we can be in the building,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said, per Adam Unger of WKBW-TV. “(Head coach Sean McDermott) and (defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier) have always preached it’s not about how you play football in September, it’s how you play in December.”

Beane’s extension was granted a multi-year extension that will keep him in Western New York for the foreseeable future. Little justification was needed for such a transaction as it was. Under his watch, the Bills have ended many dubious streaks including the lack of Sunday night games in Buffalo and the worst playoff drought in franchise history (17 seasons). Buffalo has also won at least 10 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1998-99. A Miami loss helped them inch closer toward their first division title since 1995.

But, if there were any naysayers who didn’t believe in what Beane had to offer, they were effectively silenced by the time Sunday night’s festivities ended.

The Buffalo showcase coincided perfectly with Beane’s extension, as several of the general manager’s additions came up huge for the Bills in their win. Enough has been dedicated to his drafting of Josh Allen, who recovered after a slow start to throw for two touchdown passes and 238 yards, whose inclusion in the MVP conversation can no longer be denied. But with Allen off to a slow start, Beane’s more polarizing and lesser-heralded decisions rose to the occasion and allowed the Bills to make a stronger case as to why they belong amongst the NFL’s elite.

At the head of the cause was receiver Stefon Diggs, who paced Buffalo with 130 yards on 10 receptions, adding a touchdown at the onset of the second half. Diggs became the second Bills receiver to reach the triple-digit mark in receptions during a single season, tying the mark Eric Moulds set in 2002. Another Moulds record, the 1,368 yards he earned in 1998, is just over 200 yards from falling.

Diggs, a former postseason legend, was brought in from Minnesota in exchange for a sizable deal that sent over four draft picks, including the 22nd overall selection in last spring’s draft. Taking on Diggs and his sizable contract (he will be nearly a $50 million cap hit over the next four seasons combined) seemed like a risk and could’ve only opened Beane to further criticism when the Vikings added LSU athlete Justin Jefferson with the lost first-round choice. Jefferson appears to be on the fast track toward Rookie of the Year honors, leading first-year catchers in most major receiving categories.

The idea of a trade that benefits both sides, much like Jerry Seinfeld’s claims of a completely “mutual breakup” on his titular sitcom, seemed completely taboo, especially in football circles. But the early returns on Diggs have shown that Beane has somehow pulled it off. Teammates are certainly enjoying and reaping the benefits such an association has to offer.

“Diggs is so special that as I see him play, I just want to rip off my captain’s ‘C’ and throw it on his chest, because he’s a stud, man,” offensive lineman Dion Dawkins said of Diggs, per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “He’s been grinding. He’s come in and he just continues to outperform, outshine and prove to us day in and day out that he’s a different guy and he’s our guy.”

To get through a tough opening stretch, Allen said that he turned to Diggs to get things rolling. The 19-yard scoring toss to Diggs was part of a stretch of 11 consecutive completions earned during the third quarter.

“I can say with a lot of confidence, I think I like any match-up with 1-4,” Allen said, referring to Diggs’ uniform number in a report from Cameron Hogwood of Sky Sports. “He’s one of the best, if not the best guy in the league, but I have supreme confidence in him. All he wants to do is help his team win football games. He’s a competitor and we have very similar mindsets. I love the guy. He goes out there and competes his tail off and I’m just super blessed that we traded for him.”

The Buffalo takeover carried on through some of Beane’s other choices that might’ve flown under the radar. Taron Johnson and Levi Wallace, both day three draft-related selections through the fourth round and the rookie free agency process back in 2018, earned crucial interceptions of Ben Roethlisberger. Johnson’s interception may well have changed the course of Bills history, giving them a permanent lead just before halftime. Another Allen touchdown pass went to another day three choice, Gabriel Davis. It was his sixth tally of the year and good for third amongst rookie receivers (behind Jefferson and Chase Claypool of Pittsburgh). Siran Neal (fifth-round, 2018) provided strong coverage when Johnson had to leave the game due to a head injury. Sixth-round rookie Tyler Bass booted two more field goals. Excepting a desperation 61-yarder at the end of the first half against Seattle, he hasn’t missed a triple in nearly two months.

With every selection, every acquisition playing a crucial part of the Bills’ success, it’s no secret that they’re inching toward the NFL’s elite and no secret why it won’t be another 13 years before NBC comes back to 1 Bills Drive. It creates a strong unit and a sense of camaraderie that isn’t present in some of the NFL’s other locales.

Such unity was perhaps best displayed even before the opening kickoff. In the pregame hype, Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster checked into his second job as a TikTok star by dancing on the Bills’ streaking buffalo at midfield, to the delight of the black and yellow nation. The stunt was noticed not only by SmartPhone viewers, but those who bore the emblem on their white helmets.

But the Bills opted to do their talking on the field. Only when the victory was sealed did they dance, doing so after Wallace took the ball away one last time. Wallace’s celebration was anything but solo…he was joined by his teammates, jovial in earning the first Sunday night victory at Bills Stadium since Moulds, Sam Cowart, and Marcellus Wiley took revenge for the Music City Miracle against Tennessee in the 2000 season opener.

“Seeing them dancing on our logo pre-game and seeing all that, that turns you up a little bit,” defender Jordan Poyer said, per Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com. “It kind of gives you a little second itch to come out and play with some extra fire. We were hyped up on the sideline, we had a big win. And we were just having fun.”

If this keeps up, the true fun hasn’t even begun yet. 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: Three stars from Sunday night’s win vs. Pittsburgh

The Buffalo Bills made a victorious return to Sunday Night Football, topping the Pittsburgh Steelers to earn their 10th win of the season.

After their performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s safe to say that it definitely won’t take another 13 years for NBC’s Sunday Night Football to return to Bills Stadium in Orchard Park.

The Buffalo Bills celebrated their return to the NFL’s most sought-after primetime spot, topping the Steelers 26-15 on Sunday night in Western New York. Taron Johnson brought the invisible crowd to its feet through a 51-yard runback of a Ben Roethlisberger interception, while Stefon Diggs put up 130 yards and a score on nine receptions. Levi Wallace added another interception of Roethlisberger to seal the deal in the fourth quarter, while Josh Allen overcame an inconsistent start to throw two touchdown passes.

Not only did the Bills (10-3) star in their first Sunday night home game since 2007, but they also earned consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time since 1998-99. Buffalo will clinch a playoff spot on Monday if the Baltimore Ravens lose to the Cleveland Browns. The Bills also picked up a tiebreaker in terms of AFC playoff seeding. They’re a game behind Pittsburgh (11-2) for the second seed, while they also gained a game on the Miami Dolphins in the AFC East division race with the latter’s loss to Kansas City, the current kings of the conference.

ESM has a series of game balls to award after Sunday’s historic win.

3rd Star: P Corey Bojorquez

5 punts, 45.6 average, 2 Inside 20 

Bills fans may be unwilling to admit it thanks to the final result, but the early stages of their Sunday night return were rather boring, packed with three-and-outs and appearances of Bojorquez. To put things in perspective…Bojorquez was invited on the field four times in the first half after getting only four chances over the past two games.

But Bojorquez made the most out of his opportunities and put the Bills’ defense in management situations. Two of his five kicks on the night situated the Steelers inside their own 20 to start off, and every one of Pittsburgh’s post-punt opportunities in the first half yielded no points. Elsewhere on special teams, Andre Roberts averaged 31 yards per kick return to start the Bills off on the right foot when their offense came on the field.

2nd Star: CB Taron Johnson

7 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TD

At the risk of hyperbole, Johnson’s big play at the end of the first half may go down as one of the most impactful plays of the new century for the Bills franchise.

With the Bills’ offense struggling to gain traction and the Steelers holding a 7-3 lead, the first half scored appeared to be ready to read in favor of the visitors going into the halftime break. But, with Pittsburgh driving with barely over a minute to go in the half and looking to extend their lead, Johnson read Roethlisberger, his eyes fixated on the champion quarterback before stepping in front of JuJu Smith-Schuster to take the intended pass away. The ensuing 51-yard dash to glory gave Buffalo the lead at 9-7 and permanently shifted momentum in the primetime thriller.

Johnson, alas, wasn’t around to enjoy the postgame celebration. He left the game in the third quarter with a concussion and did not return.

1st Star: WR Stefon Diggs

10 receptions, 130 yards, 1 TD

Diggs’ propensity for yards after the catch came up big on Sunday night, consistently setting Buffalo up in Pittsburgh territory through eating chunks of yardage and clock. He was targeted 14 times during the contest, earning catches on all but three of those opportunities on a night where the Steelers were able to mostly hold his fellow catchers in check (though Gabriel Davis did break free for a touchdown). One of the biggest reasons behind the extension for general manager Brandon Beane, Diggs may well end this season as the most impactful veteran acquisition in the league this year.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

BREAKING: Buffalo Bills sign GM Brandon Beane to multi-year extension

After ending the longest playoff drought in Buffalo Bills history, Beane has been locked up through a multi-year extension.

The Buffalo Bills announced on Friday that they have signed general manager Brandon Beane to a multi-year extension. Beane has been with the team since 2017.

“Brandon is an outstanding leader, and he has brought a great level of stability throughout our organization. One of the things we appreciate and respect about Brandon is that he is very thorough in his decision-making process,” Bills owners Kim and Terry Pegula said in a statement on the team website penned by Maddy Glab. “No decision he makes comes without a great deal of study and research. We appreciate his strong communication skills, and he works extremely well with us, with Sean, and with all levels of the organization. We are happy to extend his contract and to have Brandon and Sean leading our football team for many years to come.”

In his first season at the helm, Beane helped end the Bills’ franchise-long playoff drought at 17 seasons. The team has now been to the postseason in two of the past three years and is currently on pace to earn its first division title since 1995. Buffalo won 10 games for the first time since 1995 during the last campaign.

Head coach Sean McDermott offered his praises after news of Beane’s extension emerged. The two previously collaborated in Carolina, where Beane served in a variety of front office roles. McDermott served as the Panthers’ defensive coordinator for the final six years of Beane’s watch and was brought over when the latter came to Buffalo.

“I think for most GMs to have that experience on the business side of the football end of things, I really can’t envision myself working with anybody else but Brandon moving forward,” McDermott said in Glab’s statement. “For coaches, as I mentioned earlier, it’s one thing to be a good coach and develop players. But if you’re not being fed good players, it’s almost like drinking from a dry hose. That’s a hard thing to sustain over the course of time. So being fed good players, being fed players that match what we’re looking for, Brandon has done a phenomenal job. I can’t envision myself working with any other GM.”

Among Beane’s most notable Buffalo moves is the selection of quarterback Josh Allen with the seventh overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft and a trade that brought former Minnesota Viking Stefon Diggs to Buffalo. Allen is on pace for career-highs in his third season and has also garnered MVP consideration. Diggs currently leads the NFL with 90 receptions.

The Bills (9-3) return to action on Sunday night, as they battle the Pittsburgh Steelers at home (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC). In another sign of how far they’ve come under Beane’s watch, Sunday will mark the first time a Sunday night game has been staged in Orchard Park since 2007.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Four plays that decided the Buffalo Bills’ Sunday fate vs. the NY Jets

It wasn’t pretty, but the Buffalo Bills got back in the win column with a win over their divisional rivals in East Rutherford.

The Buffalo Bills’ latest Sunday endeavor was all about the Bass.

Rookie kicker Tyler Bass booted a team-record six field goals on eight attempts, while their defense allowed only four yards in the second half. The offensive performance left a touchdown to be desired, but the Bills (5-2) were able to earn an 18-10 decision over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Buffalo got back to the win column after consecutive losses. They trailed 10-6 at the halftime break, but shutout the Jets in the latter portion while Bass booted his triples.

“I think for us, figuring out how they were going to attack us, really helped us out,” defender Jerry Hughes said of the halftime shift, per Matt Bove of WBKW-TV. “Working with our coaching staff, everything really just fell perfectly into place in the second half.”

ESM looks back on four big plays, one from each quarter, that shaped Buffalo’s present or future…for better or worse.

1st Quarter: Double Order of Buffalo Swing

Early in the game, the Bills appeared to be channeling the late, great, fictional Admiral Gial Ackbar by silently declaring “It’s a trap…game!”.

Somewhat rejuvenated by the return of franchise quarterback Sam Darnold, the Bills allowed the Jets to infiltrate the red zone, as the green New Jerseyans were 17 yards away from the end zone on their opening drive. It was a process, but the Jets’ early momentum took a massive hit on one play involving two key defenders.

A shared seven-yard sack from AJ Epensa and Trent Murphy stopped the Jets’ aspirations for a red zone touchdown before they ever truly began. Still getting his rhythm back, Darnold could only muster an eight-yard pass to Breshad Perriman and a failed attempt to Denzel Mims, unable to take advantage of five free yards afforded back to them on a Buffalo offsides penalty. The Jets left that drive with a field goal, missing out on a chance to score a touchdown and truly establish early momentum.

2nd Quarter: Diggs with the Bigs

Diggs failed to recapture his early momentum, held to under 50 yards receiving for the second straight game. But the receptions he did make on Sunday…nabbing six for 48 yards…proved that his sense of clutch play was one of the many reasons the Bills traded for the former Minnesota playoff hero.

With the Jets having done the unthinkable in not only scoring a touchdown but also building a two-possession lead at 10-0, the Bills were facing a seven-yard third down at their own 38, sending the Jets’ invisible crowd into a frenzy. Covered by Pierre Desir, who was later called for an illegal contact penalty, Diggs took a short pass from Josh Allen and was able to produce nine yards en route to a vital first down. The penalty was declined, and the Bills would later enjoy the first of Bass’ six field goals on the afternoon.

Diggs would later come up big in the trek to another Bass finisher, earning a 12-yard gain in the third quarter that shrank the Jets’ lead to 10-9.

3rd Quarter: Tyler’s Burden

By the end of Sunday’s affair, Bass had missed nearly as many kicks in his rookie campaign as former specialist staple Steven Hauschka had in each of the last two seasons (having posted matching postings of 22-of-28 in 2018-19). Some even felt that Bass’ job could’ve been on the line prior to Sunday’s proceedings, but it’ll be hard to do that when he just tied a team record also held by 1990s hero Steve Christie.

Bass did miss two more field goals on the afternoon, but he managed to permanently give Buffalo the lead with a 37-yard boot after he failed to tighten things up at the end of the half.

Bass later remarked that it was the words of head coach Sean McDermott that kept his hopes up during a very trying process.

“Coach always talks about character,” Bass said, per Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News. “It’s really not about how many you make. It’s about what you do after a miss, after something goes wrong. Anyone can handle stuff when things are easy. It’s just about when something goes wrong, how do you handle that? You don’t let it define you. You just trust everything you’ve done in practice that week.”

4th Quarter: Coming Up Hughes

The Bills saw several players come up big in Sunday’s victory. On offense, Cole Beasly earned new career-bests (11 receptions, 112 yards) while Tyler Kroft (6 receptions, 84 yards) stood up for a depleted tight end group. Defensively, however, the usual suspects rose to the occasion, particularly on the final drive of the game.

Despite sheer domination in the second half, the Jets’ offense still had a chance to send the game into overtime by getting the ball back with a mere eight-point deficit. But the defense shut down any hope of a comeback through a vital effort from Hughes.

Still seeking the proper respect one of the most consistent names in the league should garner, Hughes opened the drive by swarming the backfield and sacking Darnold. A dangerous hit from Micah Hyde on Breshad Perriman gave the Jets 15 free yards, but more Hughes pressure forced Darnold into a desperate interception, one that commenced the Buffalo celebration. The interception was made possible by a deflection from Quinton Jefferson.

“What are the odds that you have a ball floating around in the D-line territory?” Hughes said with a smile of his big moment, per Jason Wolf of The Buffalo News. “So why not grab it, run around with it, try to score? Let’s have some fun. But certainly, got to get down so we can end that game.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Buffalo Bills Game Preview Week 5: Tennessee Titans

Uncertainty has given way to anticipation, as the unbeaten Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans take on a rare Tuesday night endeavor.

What: Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans
Where: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m ET
Watch: CBS

Countless tests and 54 hours later, one of the NFL’s most anticipated Week 5 matchups will finally be staged.

The league will have one less unbeaten team after Tuesday night, as the Buffalo Bills hit the road to take on the Tennessee Titans. This game, originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon’s early slot, will finally kickoff after numerous issues involving positive tests for COVID-19. Consecutive days of fully negative tests out of the Titans allow the Bills to descend upon Nashville for a battle of perfection.

Tennessee’s Week 4 game against Pittsburgh was previously postponed due to positive tests. The Titans last played on September 27, stealing a 31-30 decision from the Minnesota Vikings. Stephen Gostkowski booted a trio of field goals from at least 51 yards out, including the game-winner in the game’s penultimate minute. Some called for the Titans (3-0) to forfeit their contests against Pittsburgh and Buffalo in the wake of the delays, but the Bills have instead rolled with the punches.

“We knew adversity was going to hit. We’re just going to take it day by day and focus on this week only,” Bills offensive lineman Cody Ford said of the delay, per Marcel Louis-Jacques of ESPN. “I don’t know anybody who wants to lose money because of something that they couldn’t control. It’s one of those things where we can only control what we can control. It would hurt not to get paid, but I would rather be healthy than be rich.”

The Bills (4-0) topped the Las Vegas Raiders in their latest matchup, earning a 30-23 decision in their first-ever visit to Nevada. Josh Allen put in three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) while Quinton Jefferson and Darryl Johnson earned a sack each.

This marks the NFL’s first Tuesday night game since December 2010, when the Minnesota Vikings’ visit to Philadelphia was delayed by threats of a blizzard. Tuesday’s game is one of eight affected by the NFL’s rescheduling process at it continues to play on in the wake of the ongoing health crisis.

The Series

Tennessee leads the all-time series 28-19 (including the matchups under their Oilers moniker), but the Bills have won each of the last three get-togethers, including a 14-7 final at Nissan Stadium last season. Current Cardinal Jordan Phillips had three sacks for the Bills, while Allen had two touchdown passes, including the game-winner to Duke Williams in the fourth quarter.

History Happened: 2000

Everyone knows how the teams’ January 2000 playoff meeting ended…the Music City Miracle that haunts Buffalo fans to this day…but few talk about the immediate follow-up.

After the Titans’ special teams madness against the Bills gave birth to a Super Bowl run, the teams met up for the first Sunday night football game of the 21st century exactly eight months later in Orchard Park. The game was mostly a defensive struggle, with the teams uniting for nine sacks. Eddie George had a touchdown that tied the game in the fourth quarter, but most otherwise neutralized with 37 yards on 17 carries.

Buffalo was already missing Doug Flutie and was forced to turn to third-stringer Alex Van Pelt when Rob Johnson suffered an ankle injury. Van Pelt threw for 67 yards in relief, a majority of it coming on a 36-yard hookup with Eric Moulds that set up Steve Christie’s game-winning field goal. Deja vu nearly struck in the most horrifying way, as Derrick Mason set the Titans up near midfield on the ensuing kickoff. But one last stand from the Bills defense forced Tennessee to try a 60-yard overtime enforcer. Craig Hentrich’s kick failed, and the Bills escaped with a 16-13 win…hardly a sign of things to come for the fruitless decade.

They Said It

“Everybody’s being understanding. This isn’t a one-team league, it’s 32 teams. Everybody’s doing the best they can, things are going to happen. This isn’t a league-wide disaster or anything, the world’s going through it as well. As far as handling it one day at a time, I’m being understanding more than anything because I feel for those guys too. As far as people being sick, you don’t want anybody sick.”Bills WR Stefon Diggs on the Titans’ situation, per Maddy Glab & Dante Lasting

“At the end of the day, we’re not going to make any excuses man,” Byard said. “We’re going to come in here and focus on what we need to focus on, and that’s winning the ballgame.”Titans CB Kevin Byard on Tennesee’s approach to Tuesday, per the Associated Press

Matchup To Watch

WR Stefon Diggs vs. CB Malcolm Butler

The Titans have greatly missed Adoree’ Jackson, who has been dealing with a knee injury and has yet to appear in a game this season. They’re 23rd in the AFC by allowing just over 256 passing yards a game and have let up an average of 472 total yards over the last two weeks, skating by thanks to strong offensive performances. The former Super Bowl hero Butler has been part of the struggles in the early going. Both he and fellow secondary defender Chris Jackson have also been working with injuries, but both are expected to play.

It sets up the potential for a perfect Buffalo storm, as Diggs has been one of their most explosive catalysts behind their undefeated start. If he’s allowed to get loose, especially in the early going, it well could be another long 60 minutes, ones that could cost the Titans their perfect record.

The Bills Will Win If…

They attack the Titans’ suspect secondary and get off to a fast start.

Buffalo is only second to Dallas in passing yards a game at over 316. The Titans come in struggling in the deeper parts of the field and haven’t suited up in over two weeks. Pouncing on your host is advisable under normal conditions, and it could become downright vital in such a crucial conference showdown. It’s perhaps very, very early to start thinking about the postseason, but Tuesday could well play a role in playoff seedings…perhaps even the all-too-valuable, single first-round bye.

The Titans Will Win If…

They used their time off well.

Eyes in all NFL, maybe in all sports, circles are on the Titans after they’ve been responsible for one of the bigger COVID outbreaks since the return to action. They’ve used the momentum they’ve earned from an AFC title game appearance well, but they’ll have a plethora of taunts and problems to deal with if Tuesday’s match doesn’t go well. Tennessee reserves may have to come up big as well. AJ Brown is nursing a knee injury, so don’t be surprised to see names like Kalif Raymond or Geoff Swaim rise to the occasion.

Prediction

It’s been a long, long time since the Titans suited up for a game. Beating a Buffalo squad that’s firing on all cylinders and eager for more seems like a lot to ask for at this point. If Buffalo is truly serious about contending, these are the types of games that need to come away with, especially with their divisional competition from New England sidelined by the health crisis as well. Expect the Bills to take advantage on Tuesday.

Bills 28, Titans 24

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills stand by in wake of opponent’s COVID woes

The Buffalo Bills can only be patient as their battle of unbeatens against the Titans hangs in doubt due to Tennessee’s COVID woes.

The ongoing health crisis has officially invaded the NFL’s bubble…or lack thereof…in the form of an outbreak amongst the Tennessee Titans organization. A Thursday report from ESPN indicated that another member of the Titans’ organization has tested positive for COVID-19, bringing their total to 23 since September 24. The positives have forced a shutdown of the Titans’ Nashville facility.

It obviously pales in comparison, but the positive tests put a highly anticipated NFL showdown in jeopardy. Already forced to reschedule their Week 4 matchup against Pittsburgh, the Titans are, as of press time, slated to battle the Buffalo Bills this coming Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

As the situation awaits further developments, the Bills (4-0) are going to continue to push forward with business as usual while taking the proper precautions to ensure that they’re not forced to deal with an outbreak themselves.

“The best thing that we can do is prepare like we’re playing a game on Sunday,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen said earlier this week, in a report from Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com. “If the game does happen I trust what coach Sean McDermott and the league tell us to do…It takes one guy to go to the grocery store and it’s simple as that sometimes. You don’t ever suspect anybody to have it in the facility, but you’ve got to hope that guys are wearing their masks and the contact tracers are working.

“It’s just like holding each other accountable to that standard where if you are feeling something, tell somebody,” Allen added. “We are accountable, and we trust the guys in this locker room to do the right thing.”

Buffalo previously deal with a rash of false positives during training camp. Allen was among those affected by those and was forced to miss a practice session as a result.

The continuing situation is all part of the challenges a most unusual season that veterans like safety Jordan Poyer saw coming.

“I think coming into the season everybody knew that it was going to be something different. Everybody knew that there were a lot of challenges and obstacles that we’re going to have to overcome,” Poyer said, per Maddy Glab and Dante Lasting at BuffaloBills.com. “I figured at some point during the season this situation was going to happen, I just didn’t know when. I think Sean said it before the season, having the understanding that mentally, it’s going to be different than any other season that we’ve been a part of. We’re going to have to overcome it.”

While the previous matchup against the Steelers was pushed back three weeks (during Pittsburgh’s original open date), postponing the Bills game could be very tricky. Buffalo is scheduled to partake in Week 6’s Thursday night opener, another high-profile matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. ESPN’s Dianna Russini states that their tilt against Tennessee could be moved to Monday or Tuesday, not unlike how the Chiefs and New England Patriots rescheduled their own Week 4 matchup from Sunday to Monday after a few positives tests on each side, including the latter’s starting quarterback Cam Newton. If that were the case, the Bills’ Thursday night visit to Kansas City would shift to Saturday.

A Tennessee forfeit is also on the table, though players would not receive a game check in such an event. Many fans have clamored for such a result after Tennessee reportedly broke protocol by practicing at a Nashville preparatory school while their facility was shut down.

Bills receiver Stefon Diggs, however, held no ill will toward the Titans and advocated to play if everything is safe and secure.

“This isn’t just a league-wide disaster or whatever, the world’s going through it as well,” Diggs said in Parrino’s report. “(We’re) handling it one day at a time. I’m being understanding more than anything because I feel for those guys, too. You don’t want anybody sick.”

The NFL has continued to monitor their attempts to work through the health crisis, which has proved risky without a bubble setting adopted by other leagues like the NHL, NBA, and WNBA. Adopting face coverings on the sidelines has proved to be a problem for coaches, forcing the league to threaten more progressive penalties, such as the forfeiture of draft picks.

Geoff Magliocchett is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Four plays that decided the Buffalo Bills’ Week 4 fate in Las Vegas

Familiar faces in familiar spots came up huge for the Buffalo Bills, who hit the perfect quarter-mark jackpot in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas may have been too much for the Wolfpack, but there was no undefeated hangover for the Buffalo Bills.

Josh Allen threw for 288 yards and two scores, with 115 of those yards going to Stefon Diggs on six hook-ups. The defense also earned a pair of fumble recoveries en route to a 30-23 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders in their first-ever visit to Allegiant Stadium. With the win, the Bills (4-0) are one of six remaining undefeated teams in the NFL after Week 4.

It was another big step for Diggs, who paces the NFL with 403 receiving yards alongside Seattle’s D.K. Metcalf.

“He plays so strong,” McDermott said of Diggs, per Issac Brekken of The Buffalo News. “He’s got the mentality and the attitude and it rubs off on our football team.”

A big play from Diggs is one of several plays that affected Sunday’s win and beyond, as ESM tracks down a big play from each quarter that affects the Bills’ present and future.

1st Quarter: Third’s the Word

Sunday’s matchup featured two of the NFL’s top five teams in third-down conversion rate. Through four weeks, the Raiders and Bills respectively rank third and fifth in the vital category and the two teams lived up to their strong reputation in the department on Sunday. The Bills went 7-for-13 on the down, while Las Vegas countered at 8-for-14 when they had the ball.

Buffalo had an early opportunity to show off that prowess. After converting two first downs on their opening set (including Josh Allen’s 26-yard score to Gabriel Davis), the Bills held a 7-3 lead but a tenuous 13 yards to go at the cusp of Las Vegas territory. Allen threw short of the sticks, but Isaiah McKenzie navigated through traffic to earn a pivotal first down. McKenzie’s elusiveness helped him reach the imaginary yellow line. But the Bills’ non-ball carrying skill players, namely Diggs, John Brown, and Devin Singletary got in the way of pursuing defenders to allow McKenzie the extra steps necessary to get the first.

Five plays later, another third down led to paydirt, as Allen found Cole Beasley from 11 yards out, giving the Bills a 14-3 lead in the early stages of the second.

2nd Quarter: Bitten By Witten

The sight of Jason Witten is one of the few remaining reminders of that classic, uncanny Buffalo choke in an October 2007 Monday night showdown against the Dallas Cowboys. Witten came back to haunt the Bills one last time on Sunday, making his first touchdown grab in a Raiders uniform just before the end of the first half.

Witten’s score is part of what’s becoming a recurring problem in Buffalo: the struggle to cover the tight end. The four receptions for 74 yards between Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee last weekend only seemed pedestrian after Mike Gesicki had eight grabs for 131. So far, the Bills have been able to withstand the storm. But with a meaty part of the schedule looming…including a Thursday night tilt with Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and the defending champion Chiefs…they need to solve this problem sooner rather than later to keep the good times rolling.

3rd Quarter: 4th and Fun

Buffalo has climbed toward the top of the NFL standings and power rankings thanks to their continued willingness to take risks. That includes their situations on fourth down. Through Week 4’s games, the Bills are one of six teams with a perfect conversion rate on fourth down. Of that tally, they’re tied for second with three conversions (only Cincinnati has more at a perfect 6-for-6).

When Las Vegas cut down the lead to 17-16, it felt like they could permanently shift momentum with a stop. But Buffalo trickery, namely an end-around from McKenzie, got things rolling and put a major rut into the Raiders’ comeback plans. The Bills wound up punting on the drive…a holding penalty on the ensuing downs prevented any points…but it provided a strong message to the rest of the league that they’re not going to let fourth-and-short stop them. This is a team that’s willing to take the risks a great team is willing to take.

4th Quarter: Star Power

The Bills’ rise to power has been fueled by a sense of cashing in on opportunities. The biggest chance on Sunday came in the third quarter with the Raider breathing down their necks. Buffalo led 23-16 but stifled a counter when newcomer Josh Norman officially became a member of the Bills by forcing and recovering a Derek Carr fumble. It took only four snaps to cash in, snaps that allowed the Bills to showcase their marriage of homegrown and acquired talent. Allen hooked up with Diggs for a 49-yard gain, a leaping grab over Erik Harris that would set up a two-yard score from Devin Singletary that more or less ended any true Las Vegas threats.

The difference between good teams and great teams is that the latter group finds a way to capitalize to the fullest extent on every opportunity. That’s among the many reasons they’re among the remaining undefeated squads and ready to make the leap toward NFL elitehood.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags