Three stars from the Buffalo Bills’ Sunday loss at Arizona

The Buffalo Bills’ visit to Arizona ended in heartbreak, but several players still managed to stand out in defeat.

Wide Right. No Goal. Hail Murray?

Kyler Murray’s 43-yard desperation heave landed in the arms of DeAndre Hopkins with two seconds remaining, allowing the Arizona Cardinals to steal a 32-30 victory from the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo (7-3) previously took a lead on a 21-yard scoring hookup between Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs with 34 seconds remaining before Murray had time to work his miracle. The game was overall a struggle for Allen, who threw two interceptions in the second half after the Bills had taken a 23-9 lead. Hopkins earned 127 yards on seven receptions for the victorious Cardinals (6-3).

3rd Star: WR Isaiah McKenzie

McKenzie had a special job at practice this week, donning a late Halloween costume to portray Kyler Murray on the Buffalo scout team this week. It appears that McKenzie was still in character on Sunday, partaking in a Buffalo trick play that accounted for their first points of the ball game. His throw back to Allen after taking a pass behind the line of scrimmage gave the Bills a 7-3 lead after Arizona opened the game with a field. It was the first throw McKenzie launched in his professional career.

2nd Star: K Tyler Bass

Had it not been for a certain play at the end of the game, Tyler might’ve ended the day outscoring Kyler.

The rookie’s status at kicker might’ve been in jeopardy after starting the season 6-of-9, but he has been one of the hottest kickers in football with 13 conversions on his last 16 attempts. Entering Sunday’s action, Bass was only 1-of-3 from field goals of at least 50 yards, but he successfully booted a trio of attempts from such distance on Sunday, including a jaw-dropping, career-best, 58-yard launch that gave the Bills a 16-9 lead at the end of the first half. His first field goal was a single-doink off the right upright from 54 yards away. The Buffalo offense has shown little trouble getting to midfield, so if Bass can establish himself as a legitimate deep threat, the possibilities could be endless.

1st Star: WR Cole Beasley

Sunday’s game was a struggle for Allen, who made several ill-advised throws and mostly dealt with strong pressure on Stefon Diggs, at least until what many thought was the game-winning touchdown. But the lead-up to some of the Bills’ biggest second-half moments came through Beasley, who broke through the Arizona defense at several crucial points.

Beasley tied a career-best with 11 receptions (set less than a month ago in East Rutherford against the Jets) and fell three yards short of his personal best in that category. Three of his four receptions (32 yards) on the final push to the end zone led to Buffalo first downs, including a stunning one-handed grab deep in Buffalo territory that gave the Bills the momentum they needed. Alas, Beasley couldn’t play defense on the Cardinals’ memorable trek, but it was clear from the performances of he and John Brown (6 receptions, 72 yards before leaving the game with an injury) that Buffalo’s receiving threats go far beyond the mere prescience of Diggs.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: John Brown is in the spotlight in return to Arizona

After coming up big against Seattle, Buffalo Bills WR John Brown hopes Sunday is just the start of something bigger for Orchard Park.

It’s not often that the athletic paths of Western New York and the Arizona desert converge. The most notable incident is probably a 2015 NHL showdown between the Sabres and Coyotes where hometown Buffalo fans cheered an overtime loss because it bettered the odds in the NHL Draft Lottery’s Connor McDavid sweepstakes (the gambit didn’t even pay off, as the Edmonton Oilers leapfrogged them both on lottery night).

John Brown serves as rare middle ground in the Buffalo-Arizona Venn diagram. The Division standout from Mars Hill and Pittsburg State entered the league as a third-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2014. Injuries prevented him from reaching his full potential after four seasons, leading a transfer to Baltimore in 2018 before settling in his current Buffalo surroundings through a three-year, $27 million deal with the Bills. Brown will face his original employers for the first time when the Bills meet the Cardinals for their quadrennial showdown at State Farm Stadium on Sunday afternoon (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS).

Brown has had his share of success on the NFL level, posting four digits in yardage in both his Arizona and Buffalo incarnations, including a career-best 1,060 in his Bills debut. The aforementioned ailments, however, have stopped him from making a truly lasting mark on the NFL game, even if his likelihood of success could be considered astronomical considering his Division II roots. A knee and calf issue has already cost him two games this season, preventing him from capitalizing on his career year, when he led or tied for the lead in all major Buffalo receiving categories (also earning 72 receptions, six of which went for scores).

“I think the vertical presence that he has, the speed and the quickness that he has, he’s able to run some really good in-breaking routes,” quarterback Josh Allen said of his two years working with Brown, per Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com. “He’s another matchup that you have to focus on. You can’t just play man to man and roll somebody to (Stefon Diggs). You got to worry backside what John’s doing too.”

Last Sunday seemed to hint at Brown returning to full strength. The receiver played a large role in the Bills’ statement win over the Seattle Seahawks, earning a season-best 99 yards on eight receptions. None were bigger than a 33-yard tally on a screen pass on a 16-yard third down in the fourth quarter. It set the Bills up for a one-yard touchdown run from Zack Moss, a score that permanently put the Bills ahead by two possessions in what became a 44-34 victory over the NFC leaders.

In addition to the considerable amount of talent and potential he has left, the 30-year-old Brown brings a sense of veteran leadership and direction to a young team potentially on the cusp of something bigger. That was perfectly on display during a chaotic offseason where minicamps and preseason games were wiped out by the ongoing health crisis. When the Bills brought in UCF rookie Gabriel Davis in the fourth round of April’s draft, Brown was immediately on the case through mentorship.

“When I got drafted ‘Smoke’ took me in,” Davis said in reference to Brown, per Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com (no relation). “I was asked to stay at his crib for a few days to get with him on some football things.”

“That’s something I had to accept,” John Brown told Buffalobills.com about his new role in the locker room. “I couldn’t put myself first. The plays were going to come but helping others would help the team even more. It was a lot, but I got there.”

Brown’s impact is felt beyond the receiver room. According to Thad Brown (also unrelated) of RochesterFirst.com, offensive lineman Dion Dawkins referred to the receiver as one of “(his) my favorite players on this offense”, as well as a “silent sniper…an assassin”.

Brown will get a chance to reunite with the man who bestowed the knowledge of leadership to him on Sunday, Upon his arrival to Arizona in 2014, Brown worked closely with veteran Larry Fitzgerald, who’s in the midst of his 17th NFL season with the Cardinals. Fitzgerald has earned 261 on 33 catches thus far in 2020.

“I was able to help out because I know a lot from being around Larry Fitzgerald,” John Brown said in Chris Brown’s report. “I’m real thankful for Larry because I’m able to help these guys and I see them taking it in.”

Arizona (5-3) is coming off a 34-31 defeat at the hands of Buffalo’s divisional rivals from Miami.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags