1. A takedown by turnovers
The Buffalo and Indianapolis defensive units entered the game ranked first and second in the league in takeaways. On Sunday, the Colts defense took advantage of the Bills poor care of the football as they secured four takeaways that they turned into 21 points in a 41-15 rout.
"One thing led to another today in all three phases of the game," said Josh Allen. "It starts with us taking care of the football and we didn't do that. It's a terrible feeling."
The takeaways were instrumental in helping the Colts build an insurmountable lead that had them in front by 17 points before the first half was over.
Josh Allen threw a pair of interceptions and Isaiah McKenzie fumbled a kick return that Indianapolis recovered, and the Colts made them pay with touchdowns with each of those first three takeaways.
The back breaker came near the end of the first half. The Colts had just gone up 17-7 after a field goal drive with just over two minutes remaining. But Buffalo was set to receive the ball and after deferring the opening coin toss would get the first possession of the second half.
But McKenzie, in an effort to cut to the wide side of the field, lost his footing, hit the turf belly first and lost the ball when he hit the ground. With the Bills return man not downed by contact, the ground can cause a fumble in this case. Indianapolis recovered the loose ball as T.J. Carrie returned it to the Bills two-yard line.
One play later Jonathan Taylor leaped over the pile and into the end zone for a score to make it 24-7 with two minutes left before the break.
"I'm confident in Isaiah," said McDermott postgame. "We can't – he knows it – we can't turn the ball over. You can be as good a team as you want, but if you don't take care of that football, you're going to have a hard time winning."
Buffalo's offense tried to mount a drive in response but could only put Tyler Bass in position for a 57-yard field goal attempt that clanged off the right upright on the final play of the half.
Allen would make matters worse when he forced a pass to Emmanuel Sanders late in the third quarter and it was picked off by Kenny Moore for Buffalo's third giveaway of the game returning it to the Bills 24-yard line.
A half dozen plays later, Taylor was in the end zone again to put the game away 38-7 with a minute still to go in the third quarter.
Moore said the Colts' game plan defensively was to show one look pre-snap and then spin into something else post-snap.
"We were showing two high (safety) and then moving on the snap," Moore said. "Disguises were going to be a very important thing in the game. And preaching that we were going to show a certain play, post-snap we were going to show a different one. So, it was just all about the communication and talking to each other, each play."
Sunday marked the second time in three games that Allen had a two-turnover day, both of which were losses for Buffalo.
"Just protecting the football," said Allen of the struggles on offense. "Execution is what it comes down to and we're not executing at a high enough level right now. It starts with me."
Mitchell Trubisky came on to replace Allen in the fourth quarter and threw an interception of his own. That fourth turnover helped the Colts leapfrog the Bills for most takeaways in the league. They now have 25 to Buffalo's 24 on the season, though Indianapolis has played one more game than Buffalo so far in 2021.
2. A Taylor-made attack
Protecting the football wasn't the only problem the Bills had on Sunday. Buffalo had no answer in trying to neutralize the league's leading rusher, Jonathan Taylor.
From the opening drive, the Colts offensive line was opening gaping holes for Taylor to exploit. He had six carries for 35 yards on their first possession including a three-yard touchdown. It would prove to be a precursor to how the rest of the day would play out for the second-year back.
"Obviously, it wasn't good enough at all," said head coach Sean McDermott of the performance. "It starts with me, and when you look at it, point of attack up front on defense, and just sound fundamentals, and then hurting ourselves on penalties. Let's just start there. We've got to do a better job in those areas."
Though Buffalo's defense did not give up a run of more than 11 yards to Taylor until he broke off a 40-yarder late in the third quarter, he was effective in keeping the chains moving as the engine of the offense. The Colts racked up 18 first downs on the ground alone.
"JT was special behind the offensive line," said Colts head coach Frank Reich of Taylor. "Even the runs that weren't eye-popping, you could just feel the pile moving forward. You could just feel the line surge moving forward. Great team performance, proud of the guys."
With all that rushing success, Carson Wentz didn't have to do much to carry the offense and served largely as a game manager making just 11 completions for 106 yards. The Colts quarterback threw for less yardage than Taylor ran for by almost a 2:1 margin.
"We can't go out like that," said Micah Hyde. "You have to stop the run. Everything starts with stopping the run, affecting their quarterback and taking the ball away. We did none of those. Not one thing. Didn't do well on third down, didn't do well in the red zone, didn't take the ball away. Didn't put Wentz in tough situations and they were able to run the ball. Giving too many yards on first and second down. Third down they were getting, third-and-one, third-and-two, third-and-three. Still able to run the ball like a good run game. We weren't able to stop it."
Taylor finished with 185 rushing yards and right on his season average of 5.8 yards per carry. He also had all five Indianapolis touchdowns as he ran in four and caught the fifth. Taylor ended the day with 204 total yards from scrimmage.
The Bills defensive line, which was without Star Lotulelei, who missed his second straight game on the COVID-reserve list, simply could not win many battles at the line of scrimmage.
"I believe we're a physical football team," said McDermott. "Again, when I mention the point of attack, and in particular on the defensive side, I felt like it could have been better. We've been better, just in terms of our hand violence up front. So, 264 yards – whatever it was rushing, it's hard to win."
Buffalo also made life easier for Indianapolis by handing them third down conversions to keep drives alive. On the Colts third drive of the game midway through the second quarter, the Bills defense got a stop on 3rd-and-8, but Mario Addison was called for roughing the passer and AJ Klein was flagged for pass interference and the Colts were handed an extra set of downs.
The Bills defense surrender another first down to Indianapolis on a 3rd-and-10 on the same drive. Carson Wentz slipped out of a sack in the pocket as Addison had a chance to wrap him up for a loss but missed. Wentz then scrambled for an 18-yard pickup. The drive would end with a field goal.
On the first possession of the second half for the Colts, Buffalo's defense would hand Indianapolis another conversion. After putting the Colts in a 3rd-and-8, Ed Oliver got home for a sack and a 10-yard loss on the play. But Taron Johnson was flagged for defensive holding and the Colts remained on the field for another four plays. No points came out of that drive for Indy, but all told the Bills gave the Colts four first down via penalty.
Scroll to see the best photos from the Bills' Week 11 game against the Indianapolis Colts at Highmark Stadium.
3. Bills lose hold on first place in East
Perhaps the most important development of the day is Buffalo is now looking up at New England in the AFC East standings following their loss to Indianapolis. New England has won five straight after their 25-0 shutout of Atlanta this past Thursday night to move to 7-4 on the season. Buffalo at 6-4 sits behind them in second place.
After dropping three of their last five games, Dawson Knox was asked if he feels like the season might be slipping away.
"No," Knox said. "We've seen how resilient we are, we know that on offense, defense, special teams, we've got the parts that we need to succeed. You learn a lot from games like this. We're going to get right back in the film room and get ready for Thursday, but I think it's good to have a game coming up quick so we can get that bad taste out of our mouth."
Buffalo still controls a lot of their own destiny as the team currently sits out of the playoff picture as the seventh and final playoff seed in the AFC conference standings. After their loss to Indianapolis they were the sixth seed, but Cincinnati's win in the 4 pm window and the L.A. Chargers win on Sunday Night Football dropped them to the seven seed. They have a pair of games against division rival New England, so the division title is very much still in play. But if they have a problem taking care of business against the Patriots, they would be part of a very crowded Wild Card field.
Making that scenario more complicated is the fact that Buffalo already has four conference losses as they currently sit 5-4 with only three more AFC games left on their schedule. The two against New England and the season finale against the Jets.
Only two other teams currently in the AFC playoff race have four conference losses besides the Bills, Cleveland (3-4 conference record) and Kansas City (2-4 conference record). Those two teams, however, still have five and seven conference games left to play. They have more opportunity to improve their conference mark.
"We know who we are," said Allen after Sunday's loss. "And what we put out there on the field, that's not who we are. We're a really good football team when we don't bite ourselves in the butt. I've got a lot of trust and a lot of faith in our team. And there's no secret that we need to do a better job on all fronts. There's no way around it. But at the same time, it's not panic mode. We've got to learn from this one and move on as quickly as possible because again, we're playing on Thursday night."