ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – For about 37 minutes Sunday afternoon, the Buffalo Bills looked every bit like the AFC championship contender they believe themselves to be. Better, in fact.
From most of the rest of the way, well, let’s just say whatever the opposite of that is, that was the Bills.
However, the key word there is “most” because after blowing a 28-3 lead midway through the third quarter, the Bills pulled the game out in somewhat miraculous fashion when Josh Allen threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Kroft with 15 seconds left to play for a 35-32 final.
Thus, the Bills avoided what would have gone down as one of the most deplorable losses in team history – and that is really saying something with the Bills.
On the winning drive, Allen overcame all kinds of adversity, including his own 15-yard facemask penalty, and then caught a game-deciding break as Rams’ cornerback Darious Williams was flagged for pass interference at the 3-yard line on fourth down. That gave the Bills a first down, and Kroft caught the winner on the next play.
The meltdown was team wide, from the offense that was unstoppable in the first half and then became simply unwatchable most of the second half, to a defense that alleges to be elite but has been anything but the last two weeks. The Bills simply crumbled, and against the schedule they have to play this season, it’s an ominous sign indeed.
But hey, they’re 3-0, and that’s all that matters in the end.
There was a lot of talk about how the Bills hadn’t proven anything beating the Jets and Dolphins, and they were a team on a mission to dispel that theory as they rolled to a 28-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
The Bills’ offense was machine-like at the start. And while there some problems against a strong Rams running game, the defense, as it almost always does, did some bending but very little breaking as the Bills rolled out to a 21-3 halftime lead.
The Bills went three and out on their first possession of the game, and the Rams never stopped them the rest of the first half. Buffalo’s offense simply overwhelmed Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and the rest of the Los Angeles defense in rolling to a 21-3 lead.
How impressive was it? Wide receivers Stefon Diggs and John Brown combined for zero catches and still the Bills put together consecutive touchdown drives of 57, 66 and 75 yards.
After that opening Buffalo possession, the Rams took over at their 13 and they moved right downfield as Jared Goff was precise and the running game, led by Darnell Henderson, gouged the Bills. However, back-to-back sacks of Goff by A.J. Epenesa and Matt Milano on a well-conceived blitz pushed the Rams back, and rookie kicker Sam Sloman missed wide left on a 53-yard field goal.
Devin Singletary keyed the first scoring drive as he had a 16-yard run on third-and-2, caught two passes, and then had a 13-yard run to the 1. Here, things got a little hairy as the Bills thought they scored two touchdowns, both to Diggs. The first was overturned on replay as Allen’s pass hit the ground first, the second was wiped out by offsetting penalties.
Third time was the charm, though, as Allen found Lee Smith – yes, Lee Smith – for a one-yard score.
The next drive began at the Buffalo 44 and Allen threw a gorgeous 39-yard pass to Gabriel Davis down the left sideline before eventually keeping on a one-yard run to make it 14-0.
The Rams managed a Sloman 30-yard field goal at the end of a 63-yard drive where they gouged the Bills up the middle on the ground. But again, the Bills’ defense rose up at the critical time when it looked like Los Angeles was destined to score a touchdown.
Allen took over with 3:08 left in the half and put together another flawless march, just eight plays to cover the 75 yards, the big plays back-to-back completions of 21 yards to Davis and 29 yards to Cole Beasley before he found Tyler Kroft wide open for a three-yard TD.
The flogging continued in the third. After the defense came up with a midfield fourth-down stop, Allen came out and quickly moved downfield where he hit Diggs with a four-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-3.
And then, an utter disaster.
The Bills’ never-ending third-quarter struggles reared their ugly head in a big way. First, there was a terrible defensive series which saw the Rams move downfield as if the Bills were on the sideline patting each other on the back, Goff capping the 75-yard drive with a one-yard sneak.
Then came the turning point of the game. Allen threw his first interception of the season – even though it did not look like an interception – and the Rams were in the end zone three plays later as Robert Woods took a short pass and raced 25 yards for a touchdown to cut the Rams deficit to 28-17.
It looked to be an awful call by the officials as even on replay it appeared Kroft caught the ball, hit the ground, and then had the ball taken away by Rams safety John Johnson. Nope.
Next came a ridiculous 10-play, 97-yard drive for the Rams, Goff hitting wide-open Cooper Kupp for a 16-yard touchdown and his two-point pass to Tyler Higbee cut it to 28-25.
Finally, Allen lost a fumble at midfield at the Bills 37 and the Rams took the lead on Henderson’s one-yard run.
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