1. Bills turn on Motor
It has been said by many an NFL analyst that no NFL club is more quarterback-centric than the Bills. Many outside observers believe that unless Josh Allen plays his level best that Buffalo could struggle at times to win games. On Sunday, with their quarterback a victim of three interceptions on consecutive possessions that turned a nine-point lead into a one-point deficit, Buffalo turned to its primary back.
Trailing 15-14 following a defensive stop off Allen's third INT early in the third quarter, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll turned to Devin Singletary, who would get seven carries on an 11-play 80-yard scoring drive, including the final six-yard run for a touchdown to put Buffalo back in front for good en route to a 29-15 victory over Atlanta.
Singletary began the drive with a five-yard carry and followed on the next play with a 20-yard power run off the left side when he trucked a defensive back and carried another defender for a first down.
"Devin came out and was just an animal that next series which I thought was a great momentum boost to our team," said head coach Sean McDermott. "I was very impressed with the way the offensive line took over the game and the running backs as well."
The Bills' primary back would get some assistance from Allen, who had carries of nine, 14 and seven yards, the last two of which moved the sticks for a fresh set of downs.
The only pass on the 11-play scoring drive was a 2nd-and-12 pass from Allen to Cole Beasley that went for nine yards to set up a 3rd-and-3.
The Bills followed up with that formula on their ensuing drive going with 10 carries and just two passes covering another 65 yards with Singletary capping it with a four-yard touchdown run to put Buffalo up by two scores early in the fourth quarter (29-15) as he and Allen made the last six carries on the possession.
"When you've got a guy that just wants to do the right thing and help the team win, typically those guys are going to make the plays when they're called upon," said Allen of Singletary. "He's been really big for us the last few weeks and we're going to need him going forward and he knows that. But to see him kind of take the next step in his career, catching balls out of the backfield and you saw him running the ball, he runs extremely hard."
Buffalo wasn't just calling Singletary's number; they were leaning on him to give the offense some consistency and traction at a time when they pass game could not be relied upon down in and down out.
"I just felt like all the hard work that's been put in, it's paying off," Singletary said. "Even though you said they were leaning on me, I wasn't out there by myself. I had the linemen, tight ends, receivers making blocks, making plays downfield. So, it wasn't just me. I had all my guys out there with me. We definitely got in a groove when we needed to, and we made it count."
Calling those run plays against the league's 22nd ranked run defense proved astute. By game's end, Singletary posted the second 100-yard rushing day of his career, totaling 110 yards on 23 carries. His 110 yards rushing were a career high, eclipsing the 106 he had in Denver last season.
"It's kudos to (Brian) Daboll for putting us in the position to kind of matriculate down the field and put ourselves in a position to not only run some time off the clock, but also put some points on the board," said Mitch Morse.
2. Red zone rushing
Added in with Buffalo's shift to the ground was their solid showing running the ball in the red zone. The Bills have been effective running in the red zone this season, averaging 3.31 yards per carry, good for third-best in the league. That's due largely to Josh Allen's prowess down close to the goal line.
And while Allen was again part of that red zone rushing success, the backs played a larger role against the Falcons.
All four of Buffalo's rushing touchdowns Sunday came on red zone carries with the first two coming from Allen. But after losing the lead following three straight interceptions by the Bills QB, Singletary provided the next two rushing touchdowns in close to retake control of the game.
"In this offense, we put a lot on Josh's plate because he's such a special player," said Morse. "Whenever you can take something off his shoulders, because sometimes it feels like the world is on his back, run and pass, he's the main guy. For us, just executing in the red zone is a big thing. And it's fun to see a running back – the way those guys have hit the holes, the way we've all had to adapt as the season's progressed, especially in the run game, it's an ongoing process.
"Every week it's something different. We are always working on something. So, it's great to end up with points in the red zone any way we can. But those running backs have taken a lot on their shoulders the past two weeks, and really kind of hammered them in, in some big situations."
Singletary's two touchdown runs came from six and four yards out to help put the game out of reach for the Falcons come the fourth quarter, though they tried to climb back into it.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll went heavy run in the second half. By game's end the Bills had 15 run plays in the red zone for 62 yards for a 4.1 yards per carry average, more than three quarters of a yard over their season average (3.31). In a place on the field where the yards are hard to come by, that's quality work.
So, what has changed for Singletary, who just looks like he's running with more confidence in the low red zone.
"The big guys, I've got so much trust in those guys that they're going to make the right block and make our day easy," Singletary said. "Give us a lot of one on ones with one guy to beat. That's all you can ask for."
And Singletary's success only served to inspire the linemen that were blocking for him.
"Anytime there's positive play after positive play, it's just fuel for an offense," said Dion Dawkins. "Daboll did a great job of connecting the dots where they needed to be connected and we're just the pieces and it worked."
The four rushing touchdowns shared by Allen and Singletary marked just the second time in team history that the Bills have had two players with two rushing touchdowns each in a game. The only other time came in 1978 when Buffalo played the Giants and Curtis Brown and Terry Miller each scored a pair.
3. Red zone stops
The defense surrendered a handful of chunk plays to Atlanta, but beyond that they bailed out a turnover prone Bills offense on Sunday. Not only did they get third down stops allowing just a single conversion on seven third down attempts by the Falcons, but they also got three red zone stops on Atlanta's four possessions to hold their second opponent in their last three games to under 17 points.
Bills safety, Micah Hyde referenced how coach McDermott has put a strong emphasis the last few weeks on raising the level of urgency along with the execution when defending inside their 20-yard line.
"I think the urgency and the communication has changed a little bit," said Hyde. "We've put a lot of emphasis on those type of situations. In practice, Sean emphasized a lot, throughout the week. For us to go out there and get some stops in the red zone, it's huge. Especially late in the game. I think we're up by 14, they thought they scored maybe seven, but (Matt Ryan) was down, and the penalty put him back. To get off the field there with no points was huge."
Hyde is referencing the final scoring threat the Falcons presented in the game, where video review helped Buffalo. Down 29-15, Matt Ryan appeared to score on a scramble to the right side on a 2nd-and-goal from the Bills seven-yard line. After rolling into the end zone, Ryan also shouted in the face of a couple of Bills defenders including Jordan Poyer and was flagged for taunting.
The 15-yard taunting penalty was initially going to be assessed on the ensuing kickoff, but upon review Ryan was ruled down at the one-yard line. That meant the taunting penalty would be assessed after the play, putting the Falcons back at the Bills' 16-yard line for a third-and-goal.
Ryan tried to find Russell Gage in the back left corner of the end zone, but the pass carried out of the back of the side of the end zone. On 4th-and-goal, Ryan couldn't find receiver Christian Blake and the Falcons came away with nothing.
Prior to that final red zone possession by Atlanta, Buffalo's defense had forced the Falcons to settle for field goals on two other red zone series, to keep the score game from getting away from the Bills. Defending a 1st-and-10 from their own 15 that turned into a 2nd-and-1 from their own six, AJ Epenesa dropped Cordarelle Patterson for a six-yard loss. Then Harrison Phillips got pressure on the ensuing 3rd-and-5 at the Bills' 10 to force Ryan to throw the ball away. That led to Atlanta taking a chip shot 28-yard field goal.
Later in the half off Allen's second interception at the Buffalo 37, the defense again made good work in defending a short field. Defending a 1st-and-goal from their six, they again forced Ryan to throw the ball away due to solid coverage on the back end. With time running out in the half and out of timeouts, Atlanta was forced to again take three points on a 24-yard field to only notch a one-point lead at the break (15-14).
"It's part of our mentality as a defense. We'll defend a blade of grass, so that's just the mindset of us, regardless of when we get down there in the red zone," said Harrison Phillips. "We know we have to have field goals and takeaways. That's been an area other times in the season we struggled with, but we've really hung out hats on that lately. I think that's something that's going to be celebrated a lot the next 24 hours as we look back at the win that was a big indicator of why we won this football game."
The Bills clinched a playoff spot with a 29-15 win over Atlanta.