1 — Bills show resiliency on defense amidst injuries
Sunday's loss was crushing for the Bills in more ways than one. Buffalo — already playing without three starters on the defense — will now be without two more impact players for the foreseeable future.
All-Pro linebacker Matt Milano (lower leg/knee) injury and defensive tackle Daquan Jones (pectoral) both left the game early in the first quarter with what appear to be injuries that will keep them out for a considerable amount of time.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott said after the game that it's "not looking good" for either player. Milano had continued to perform at an All-Pro level through the first month of the season, while Jones had racked up 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks this season on the interior line.
"It was a setback for us," McDermott said when asked about Milano's absence. "We were confident in Dorian (Williams) who went out there and Tyrel Dodson was out there as well. I applaud those guys."
McDermott added the most notable setback that occurred as a result of Milano's injury was the feel of a cohesive defensive unit.
"That's the rapport that he has with everybody else out there. T.B. (Terrel Bernard) and then the back seven together they've got a rapport that they've built up over the years, in particular this season so far. And so you lose that a little bit," McDermott shared.
Buffalo went into the game without starting DE Greg Rousseau (foot) and CB Christian Benford as well as CB Tre'Davious White with his season-ending Achilles injury.
The encouraging sign is that the players filling in at those spots stepped up admirably most of Sunday.
A combination of Tyrel Dodson and rookie Dorian Williams slotted into Milano's weak side linebacker positions. Williams entered first and he picked up four tackles throughout the game. Dodson, who competed for the team's middle linebacker spot in the preseason, rotated in later and stepped up in his first extended action at weak side LB.
Dodson had an impact play early in the fourth quarter with the Bills down 11-7 when he recovered an Ed Oliver strip sack of Jags QB Trevor Lawrence with Jacksonville inside Buffalo's 25-yard line. The momentum appeared to swing back toward the Bills but Josh Allen was intercepted on a deep pass to Stefon Diggs four plays later.
DE A.J. Epenesa was in the backfield early and often against Jacksonville, seeing extended time with Rousseau out and Von Miller on a pitch count. He had two sacks, one of which was a strip sack with a recovery in the first half with the Jags in the red zone. The Iowa product also added three passes batted down at the line of scrimmage.
"He showed up. We were getting low on numbers there and the d-line, we only had but so many players down the stretch there," McDermott said. " But I noticed A.J., I thought he performed well and gave great effort."
Playing shorthanded, the Bills defense settled into the game after the first few series. In the second and third quarters, the unit allowed zero points, forced three punts and had the two aforementioned fumble recoveries.
Unfortunately, Buffalo's offense couldn't pick up the defense and sustain momentum on drives until late in the game with the Bills down multiple possessions.
2 — Why the slow start?
A rarity for the Bills' 2nd-ranked scoring offense occurred Sunday as they didn't record a first down until the final 15 seconds of the first quarter. Further, Josh Allen was limited to a season-low 23 yards passing in the first quarter.
"They were putting us in what we call 'red situations'," Allen said. "We weren't very efficient on first and second down, never felt like we really got into a rhythm until late there. They came up with a good plan."
Buffalo's inability to sustain drives can be attributed to several factors, but notably an ineffective run game. Between four different rushers, the Bills averaged a season-low 2.1 yards per carry and 29 yards total. James Cook, the team's leading rusher this season, was held to negative yards for the first time in his career, logging five carries for -4 yards.
"That's not gonna be good enough to win most times in the NFL," McDermott said of the team's overall rushing performance.
As a result of a sluggish run game and Allen unable to connect with his receivers on long third down plays, the Bills punted on their first four possessions and six times total. Prior to Sunday, they had punted just seven times all season.
Bills Mafia made their presence felt in London.
"Yeah we didn't take care of the little things and that's on us captains, making sure that this team is ready to go. The opposing team, they were ready to go today," Allen shared.
Buffalo held the ball on offense for less than 22 minutes of game time. It ranked in the top 3 in the league in time of possession coming into the day at over 34 minutes per game.
The Bills did manage to score a pair of touchdowns late in the game during a frenetic comeback attempt, but by then Buffalo's depleted defense ran out of steam and allowed a pair of TD runs by Jags RB Travis Etienne.
"Just a little bit of tempo and just what we were seeing on film and getting to good plays," Allen said. "We just came out late in the third quarter, early fourth and felt like we had some more urgency and we didn't have that early on in the game. So we gotta be better with that."
Allen also nixed any notion that the Bills' slow start was due to the team's travel schedule.
"I don't think so. At the end of the day, we got to be ready to play on Sunday," he said. "Didn't matter if we traveled on Saturday, Friday, Thursday, Monday, two weeks ago, it didn't matter. We didn't put out our best stuff and they did and that's why they beat us."
3 — Penalties prove costly
In a flag-filled game by both teams, it was ultimately Buffalo which committed the most untimely penalties. In total, there were 11 penalties for 109 yards on the Bills; five of the team's penalties on defense gave the Jaguars a first down.
Offensively, the Bills had three holding penalties that set drives back.
"Can't attribute it to anything other than execution on the offensive side of the ball. Pretty much execution," WR Stefon Diggs said.
But it was the mental errors on the defensive side of things that kept the Jaguars on the field.
An illegal use of hands to the face by Ed Oliver on the first possession gave Jacksonville new life on a third down play. The Jaguars found the end zone three plays later to go up 8-0 after a two point conversion enabled by a roughing the passer call also on Oliver.
"Too many times shooting ourselves in the foot when we're about to get off the field or starting to get into a rhythm offensively," McDermott said. "And then we have a penalty or negative play that sets us back."