The stage was set for rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid to make an impact on the Buffalo offense as TEs Dawson Knox and Quintin Morris were both out Thursday night due to injuries. On a short week, the Bills had to shake off their recent loss to the New England Patriots and prepare to host a 3-3 Tampa Bay team on Thursday Night Football.
Kincaid played 84 percent of the Bills offensive snaps and accrued the third-most targets on the team, including a touchdown reception that came at a key moment in the game.
After the Bills' 10-point lead was quickly erased by a Tampa Bay field goal followed by a touchdown drive resulting from an interception from Josh Allen, the Bills offense found themselves tied as halftime approached.
Allen led an efficient 75-yard drive that ended in the end zone. On third down on the Tampa Bay 22-yard line, Allen rolled to the right and hit Kincaid in stride. The former Utah Ute beat his defender and ran into the end zone.
"That's just Josh Allen making plays," Kincaid said after the game. "I would say it was close to a scramble drill, just happened to be where I was supposed to be on the route but he did break the pocket and then just make a play."
After scoring, Kincaid jumped into the stands where he was greeted by a swarm of excited fans who had just witnessed the rookie secure the first touchdown catch of his short career.
"To be honest I was pretty claustrophobic, so that moment I was like, alright, I'm ready to go back down," Kincaid laughed. "But I think that's kind of everyone's dream is scoring and jumping up there celebrating and then just celebrating with teammates. So, super special moment."
As a veteran, Allen helped make sure Kincaid would have a memento to take home with him.
"You never know what they're gonna do on their first touchdown, so I stole [the ball] from him and made sure I got it to our equipment manager," Allen said.
Kincaid finished with five receptions on seven targets for 65 yards and the score. His speed and route running ability is atypical of a standard tight end and has led to Kincaid developing a crucial role in the Buffalo offense.
"Dalton's my guy, he's a great kid. Just happy to see him be able to do that because he's such a great player. I mean, you saw the plays he made tonight, that doesn't surprise any of us because that's what he does," said receiver Gabe Davis, who also finished the game with a touchdown reception.
Across the Bills first eight games, Kincaid has caught 30 passes for 258 yards. His ability to run after the catch was part of the reason Buffalo was interested in selecting him with the 25th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Kincaid has 99 yards after the catch so far this season.
"He's a professional. He takes it very serious and it's a business to him. So just his approach has been fantastic," Allen said.
Kincaid has caught 88 percent of his targets this season, the highest among rookie pass catchers and one of the highest rates among any NFL player. McDermott said that Kincaid's ability to catch most of the passes thrown in his direction is impressive considering the few games the rookie has under his belt.
"For a rookie to have the field awareness and the presence to catch the ball first, control his body, get his feet down, let his feet go dead right on the sideline, that was fun to watch," McDermott said on a sideline catch Kincaid made in Thursday's win.
Kincaid will continue to play a major role on the Bills offense with Knox placed on the injured reserve list after having surgery on his wrist.
Leaders of the locker room
After their loss to the Patriots, the Bills didn't have much time to process the disappointment of losing to a division rival. There were clear issues that needed to be dealt with and few days to spend working on revamping the offense and strengthening the defense.
McDermott said that he liked what he saw out of his players, and that veterans on the team helped inspire the locker room to come out with a high-energy approach to Thursday's game.
"They came out with an attitude. And it started in the locker room, really," McDermott said. "Stefon Diggs' motivational couple of words he said to the team before we went out there, that's what a leader does. He did a phenomenal job of basically setting the tone with his message before the game."
Diggs has been a team captain for each of the last three years, and pushes his teammates in practice as hard as he might push them in an actual game.
"He steps up when he knows that the team needs him to step up and speak up and I applaud him for that. That's great leadership right there," McDermott said.
Diggs finished with nine receptions for 70 yards. The 29-year-old receiver is off to a strong start in his ninth season with 748 receiving yards and six touchdown grabs.
The Bills will have the weekend off before traveling to Cincinnati to face the Bengals on Sunday Night Football next weekend.
Check out the best on-field and locker room photos following the win over the Buccaneers.