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'Biggest game of the year' | How the Bills can reclaim national respect on Thanksgiving night


Josh Allen lined up for a fourth-and-1 play inside the NFL's largest venue, though the 90,445 at AT&T Stadium paled in comparison to the 32 million watching in their homes.

Kyle Brandt was one of those viewers. The Good Morning Football host had proclaimed the Thanksgiving matchup in 2019 as the biggest game of Allen's life, an opportunity for the 8-3 Bills to prove they were more than just a soft schedule. He was settled in at home, eating the last of homemade chicken wing dip when fourth down loomed late in the second quarter of a 7-7 game.

You might remember what happened next. Allen bullied through the defense of America's Team with America watching, introducing himself as one of the game's exciting young quarterbacks and the Bills as a legitimate contender in the AFC.

"There could be a documentary on that one play alone," Brandt said, before preceding to break down the roller coaster of a three-yard gain. There was the immediate instant when Allen dropped the snap, the fear when he recovered the football and extended over a mass of bodies, the awe when he maintained balance and fought for the first down.

It was a momentum-shifting play that paved the way for an end-of-half touchdown catch for Devin Singletary, which paved the way for a 26-15 victory, which paved the way for a playoff berth and a loss to Houston, which paved the way for a trip to last year's AFC Championship.

All of which brings us to tonight, which finds the Bills with plenty to prove once again entering their Thanksgiving matchup with the Saints. They were the betting favorites to win the Super Bowl just two weeks ago, a national confidence since shaken by losses to Jacksonville and Indianapolis.

"Thanksgiving is a stage where you do things and it's remembered for a long time," NBC broadcaster Mike Tirico, who will call play-by-play for the game, said. "… That stage is a big one in NFL. And the Bills stepped on it in Jerry World and have been right center stage in the NFL since that point.

"Now you get a little adversity, and you feel the pressure that Dallas, the Pittsburghs, those flagship franchises feel on a regular basis of, 'What's wrong with this team?' as they go through a little tough patch. And on Thanksgiving they have another chance to remind everybody how good they are. So, it could come in a couple years' full circle for them in that regard."

Brandt said he sees the matchup as carrying the intrigue of a playoff game.

"It's an interesting contrast with the game from [2019] because that game was about, 'We need to show people we can walk and we can run,'" Brandt said. "Now they need to show people that they can get off the floor. They rose up and now they've been knocked down really bad. This is, in a way, the biggest game of the year because it's crisis mode."

Allen described the collective mood of the team as "focused" – not on the stage or outside perceptions but on reaffirming their identity following the 41-15 loss to the Colts. The Bills committed a season-high four turnovers. The defense, as consistent as any in the NFL prior to last Sunday, allowed a season-high 370 yards including 264 on the ground.

"It's nothing that you reinforce to anybody else, you reinforce it to yourself," Stefon Diggs said Tuesday. "… As far as changing the narrative of everybody else, it's a week-to-week league. They love you then they hate you, so it's not something that you can get caught up in.

"But as far as personally, yourself and your team, you want to win. Getting back in the swing of things and getting back in the win column is always gonna be good. And that's the only way that you can get the ball rolling is by stacking wins."

Tony Dungy twice coached Indianapolis on Thanksgiving. He positioned the game to his players as an opportunity to win on a short week and earn extra rest before the home stretch.

"You get this win on a Thursday night, you get some time off, you get rested up for the December stretch run, it can kind of catapult you," Dungy said. "I know both coaches are going to say that. Hey, we've got a chance to really help our playoff chances by winning this game, getting some rest and then being fired up for December."

That final stretch will be crucial. The Bills now hold second place in the AFC East, a half-game behind the Patriots. They host the Patriots in a Monday night matchup in Week 13 and before before playing them again three weeks later in Foxborough. Their schedule also includes a road game against old nemesis Tom Brady and the champion Buccaneers.

It almost feels like the Bills are underdogs once again.

"I know personally going in every game, that's how I feel," Jordan Poyer said. "And I know there's a lot of guys on this football team that feel that personally going into every game whether we're thought of this or the other. So, I definitely feel like we could use that, that people are counting us out and who cares? Let's go out there and do us. Do us better and play like we know how to play."

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