1. Defense stands tall… again
Buffalo's number-one ranked defense lived up to the billing on Sunday, but it wasn't enough to notch them a victory. Despite holding Jacksonville to a 0-for-2 count in the red zone, 218 total net yards, forcing a key fumble that they recovered and a total of three field goals, it wasn't enough on a day when their offense was non-existent.
Bills defenders, however, were wishing they had done more.
"We had some opportunities out there defensively to take the ball away," said Micah Hyde. "I'm not sure how many takeaways they got, but I think on our side, we got one. We left a couple opportunities out there. We take pride in getting those takeaways. I feel like that could have changed the game a little more, put the offense in better field position. Even if they do get three points, obviously you can see that three points was big in this game. We felt like we could have given more opportunities for the offense."
Even when the Bills fell behind 9-6 in the fourth quarter after an interception gave Jacksonville the ball on the Buffalo 30 and they were able to muster a field goal to take the lead, the Buffalo defense forced the Jaguars to punt the ball back to their offense on each of their last three possessions.
"We felt prepared," said Jordan Poyer. "Had a good week of practice and felt confident going into the game. They came out real aggressive. You can tell from the start their game plan coming into the game. They're going to play physical, and they just beat us."
The Bills fifth-ranked third down defense also came to play and allowed Jacksonville just a pair of third down conversions on 13 attempts. The problem was the Jaguars were handed a half dozen first downs on penalties (see below).
Despite their effective day in limiting points and yards for the Jaguars, the effort rang hollow in the light of the result on the scoreboard.
"You've got to come every day ready to play," said Hyde. "This is the National Football League. We understand that. Doesn't matter what the record indicates, every week, and I don't think we were ready to play."
2. Josh Allen under siege
The Buffalo offense came into their game in Jacksonville as the highest-scoring team in football. On Sunday, they met their match in a Jaguars team that chose to play a physical style much like that of Pittsburgh and Tennessee and it proved effective in pulling off a 9-6 upset.
Buffalo's offensive line was at the center of the team's struggles. With Spencer Brown missing his second straight game with a back injury and Jon Feliciano on injured reserve with a calf injury, the Bills revamped line had Ike Boettger and Cody Ford at the guard spots with Daryl Williams forced to play right tackle.
Time and again Josh Allen was forced to leave the pocket just to have enough time to deliver the ball downfield and was often pursued on the edges by pass rushers. For the third time in the last four games, Allen was the team's leading rusher as his scrambles were responsible for keeping drives alive.
Meanwhile Jacksonville's Josh Allen was a veritable game wrecker as he registered a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery in the game.
The cumulative effect of all that pressure combined with the lack of a run game likely convinced Allen that it was on him alone to make things happen. The result of that brought some impressive plays, but also some costly ones as he was on the hook for all three of Buffalo's turnovers with a pair of interceptions and a lost fumble.
"Credit to them, they came out and they wanted it more," said Allen. "We had a lot of little things add up to big things. I put the ball in danger too often and it bit us in the butt. Played like s--t. Excuse my language, but that starts with me. So, I've got to be better for this team. But again, those guys on defense get paid too and they had a good game plan."
Allen finished the game with a passer rating of just 62.7 breaking a string of five straight in which his passer rating was over 100, a career long.
"The turnovers, that's what jumps off the paper at me," said McDermott after his team was a minus-two in turnover differential for the game. "I thought Josh made some great throws at times, as he would tell you. We've got to be smarter with the football in certain situations. Just overall as an offense, we've got to figure some things out."
After scratching out a couple of field goal drives to start the game, Buffalo punted three times, threw a pair of interceptions, lost a fumble and turned it over on downs to end the game. On none of those last seven drives were they able to gain more than 45 net yards as they never reached the red zone after their opening possession.
All told, Allen was sacked four times and the Jaguars defense got eight more hits on the Bills quarterback through the course of the game.
"When you don't give your quarterback time early, even when the pocket is clean, you kind of feel someone is breathing down your neck," said Mitch Morse. "It's just human nature. I would do the same exact thing. So yeah, absolutely. I mean, you can't put this on one person. Every person has got a little bit of blame in this. And that's the frustrating part."
For the third time this season, the line had difficulty setting the line of scrimmage in the run game giving up frequent penetration. Devin Singletary and Zack Moss were often tasked with trying to elude a defender in the backfield before they even reached the line of scrimmage. The results made Buffalo's offense one-dimensional as the pair combined for just 22 yards on nine carries.
"You can't put this on one person," said Morse. "Every person has got a little bit of blame. Simple as that. So much like every game, you look at what you can fix. I can only speak for myself. There are quite a few plays I wish I'd had back to put us in optimal position to play more efficiently. And I think most of guys would say the same thing."
Buffalo resorted to a short-passing game to try to stay on schedule in terms of down and distance, but the speed of Jacksonville's back seven combined with a front four that got consistent pressure on Josh Allen made the Bills offense look incapable of sustaining drives.
Head coach Sean McDermott was all too aware of the lack of effectiveness his offensive line had in this game.
"We've got to fix some things," he said. "Let's just start there. We've got to fix some things. We'll take a hard look at the film. You've got to win up front in order to play well offensively or defensively."
3. Penalties a major problem
While most will assert that Buffalo's biggest problem is the struggles of the offensive line to control the line of scrimmage, a close second would be a penalty problem in which all three phases of the team participated.
It began early when after Jacksonville's Laviska Shenault was overly aggressive on the second play from scrimmage with Tre'Davious White, White retaliated on the next play when engaged in a downfield block with Tavon Austin.
The unnecessary roughness call handed the Jaguars a first down after they had gained just four yards on a 3rd-and-16. The extension of the drive eventually led to a field goal and an early 3-0 lead for the Jaguars.
Personal fouls proved to be a popular call against the Bills as they were flagged for it a total of five times in the game. Dion Dawkins and AJ Klein were also cited for unnecessary roughness on offense and special teams.
"Obviously we've got to be able to handle our and our emotions and in situations like that in a football game," said Jordan Poyer. "Sometimes they're aggressive penalties, sometimes they're not, we just got to be able to bounce back off of it."
Tremaine Edmunds had a poorly timed roughing the passer call on a third down incompletion by the Jaguars that would've had Buffalo off the field. And Levi Wallace was flagged for taunting that set up a first and goal situation for Jacksonville that led to the game-winning points for the Jaguars.
"You can't beat yourself," said McDermott. "Let's start there. Whether it's penalties, turnovers, fundamentals. So, way too many penalties were self-inflicted. We've got to keep our poise. That was a crew that called taunting I believe more than any crew in the league. We were aware of that, and we didn't execute."
Between those infractions and a running into the kicker penalty that gave Jacksonville another shot at a field goal, holding calls on both sides of the ball and a pair of false starts, six of the Jaguars 16 first downs came on Buffalo penalties including four of their first nine in the first half.
Buffalo set a single-season high for penalties with 12 and penalty yardage with 118, but it's been a recent trend. The Bills have not had fewer than eight penalties in each of their last four games and have gone over 100 penalty yards once before this season.
"I think the message is we've got to play smart," said Edmunds. "Definitely in close ballgames, we can't beat ourselves. We can't point fingers at the refs or whatever it may be. We've just got to play smart ball out there. Whatever the call is, whatever we think, in close games, we've just got to play smart."