1 – Heck of a game-winning drive
The Bills had what some might call a muddy game in terms of execution on offense through the first three quarters, but when it came time to seize control of the game in the waning seconds, Buffalo's offense delivered.
Armed with all three of their timeouts and 23 seconds on the clock, Josh Allen and company got started on their own 25-yard line. Allen took a deep drop, the offensive line, which had lost two starters to injury, held up against the Lions four-man rush allowing the Bills QB to step into a rocket ball that he threw deep over the middle to Stefon Diggs for a 36-yard gain.
"They played a little two-man concept and me and (offensive coordinator) Ken Dorsey kind of talked about that a few days ago," said Allen. "I saw the same look in a previous game and just said, 'Hey, let's put this play in just in case we might need it.' We found it and Stef ran a heck of a route and I just gave him a chance and he made a heck of a play."
"Some other people might call it pressure, but when I anticipate going into those drives, those last drives I'm right on my cue and I tell (Allen) to trust me out there," Diggs said. "Whatever you see, it's me or nobody. So I just want him to trust me out there, especially in those moments. I don't feel any added responsibility. It's just my team trusts me, and my team looks for me to make those plays and I never want to let my teammates down."
Diggs had the presence of mind to immediately call timeout after he was tackled taking just seven seconds off the clock. Allen then took two carries himself on the next two plays, the first a short run up the middle for three yards, followed by a quarterback sweep to the right sideline for another 10 and a first down. Buffalo used each of their last two timeouts following each Allen run leaving seven seconds on the clock and time for the special teams unit to go out on the field.
From there Tyler Bass rebounded from a missed extra point attempt to punch a 45-yard kick up and through giving the Bills a three-point lead with just two seconds on the clock.
"That's what great players do – they step up in those big moments," said head coach Sean McDermott. "And they make big plays in big moments of games like this."
The ensuing squib kick on the kickoff followed by a series of laterals from the Lions was finally ended when Detroit DB C.J. Moore fumbled as time expired, and Bills TE Quintin Morris recovered it sealing the Buffalo win.
"We didn't get off to the best start, but you keep rolling with the punches," said Diggs. "Things aren't going to be perfect. We just had to try to get on the same page. Every week is different. So reinventing yourself, but you've got the same mindset and going into that game we wanted to execute at a high level. Things didn't happen perfect, but we figured it out."
Buffalo's offense struggled to find its footing for long stretches of the game, but their final two drives were very efficient. As impressive as their game-winning drive was, their previous scoring drive with nine minutes left in regulation was textbook efficiency.
"We started clicking," said Diggs. "I feel like we were running the ball so efficiently that we're probably not passing as much as we used to. Motor is busting it out of the wrapper, so a couple of those extra passes that might get us in a little bit of a rhythm (weren't there). We've just got to continue to work at it in practice so when the pass plays doe come up, we're sharper."
Their 14-play, 90-yard drive midway through the fourth quarter was so efficient Buffalo never reached third down on the possession. Diggs, who had four receptions for 29 yards including the five-yard touchdown to cap it, had an interesting theory on why the first three and a half quarters were a series of fits and starts.
"I feel like we're finding the balance, the real balance," said Diggs of the offense. "In past years we've been pretty pass heavy, but Motor and all the running backs doing such a great job that I feel like we're finding other ways to win. And it's actually helping us. Right now we might not be as sharp in other areas, but we're working at it. Every year is a new year and I feel like we're growing as we're going"
Buffalo didn't strike quite the same balance between the run and the pass as they did five days ago against the Browns, but Diggs is right. The run game is rounding into form and is becoming something the offense can rely upon. Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer has worked tirelessly with offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey to get the ground attack to a reliable place and appears to have achieved it at just the right time.
Yes, there were signs of a capable rushing attack earlier this season, but Buffalo has now averaged over five yards per carry in each of their last four games, and while Allen was the leading rusher on Thanksgiving, that was not the case five days ago.
The Bills offense is always going to lean toward the pass because of the exceptional talent they have in Josh Allen, but to have a run game they can lean on at any time in a game and that opponents have to respect should make them more difficult to defend down the stretch.
2 – Oliver leads D-line feast
The defensive front dealt with its share of injuries on the interior early in the season. Ed Oliver was playing hurt; Jordan Phillips had a hamstring injury and Tim Settle was dealing with a calf injury. DaQuan Jones was the only defensive tackle that stayed in the lineup. Now with all four healthy for the better part of the last month, they have largely carried Buffalo's defensive efforts and Thanksgiving Day was no different.
Down two pass rushers in Greg Rousseau and AJ Epenesa going into the game, the Bills front also lost Von Miller (see below) and were down to just three defensive ends for the second half of the game. It didn't seem to matter as Oliver spearheaded a dominant performance from Buffalo's four defensive tackles.
Oliver was an unstoppable force with a forced fumble and fumble recovery, a sack for a safety, two tackles for loss and a pair of quarterback hits. Buffalo's offense turned his fumble recovery into a touchdown, and his sack safety on Jared Goff momentarily widened the Bills' lead from a field goal (17-14) to five points (19-14).
Oliver said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier dialed up a play designed to get his penetrating defensive tackle a one-on-one matchup and Oliver won.
"Coach called a play for me, and it worked to a 'T,'" said Oliver. "I just executed. He called it, but that was a play that was designed for me. Get me one-on-one with the guard and get pressure and that's what we did."
Goff was almost able to escape Oliver's grasp, but the Bills defensive tackle was able to trip him up keeping him from getting out of the end zone.
"That lineman was still leaning on me when I was trying to tackle Goff, which is why I just slid off of him," Oliver said. "I thought somebody else was going to tag him down. I didn't think he was considered down, but he fell, and I had gotten a hand on his leg on the way down."
Oliver tied for the team lead in tackles for loss last week, and his two on Thanksgiving led the way again.
"He's a freak of nature man," said DT DaQuan Jones. "For the amount of negative plays that he gives us in the game, it's outstanding. It comes down to him having the ability to get off the ball and make plays. When he's healthy he's hard to stop."
The Bills' former first-round pick wasn't the only defensive tackle putting in work. Jones himself had a sack for a loss of seven along with two quarterback hits. Tim Settle had a tackle for loss after linemate Jordan Phillips blew up a Lions guard creating a lane for Settle and chipped in a quarterback hit too. And Phillips provided a pair of quarterback hits.
"Coach Frazier says it all the time, it starts up front," said Oliver. "We just take that to heart. These last two weeks we've been up against adversity with the snowstorm and the short week. But we're the tip of the spear and we're the ones that have got to lead everybody else."
And when Frazier called Oliver's number near the Detroit goal line, number 91 was determined to deliver.
"When you get your number called, that's all you can ask for, for your coach to trust in you and dial one up for you," he said. "You play team football, but when they say we're going to get you isolated on this guy, that's when you've got to come alive. When they feature you that's when you've got to play the part."
And Oliver most certainly did and that was critical on a day when not much else was consistent throughout the game for the Bills, Buffalo's big boys inside delivered from start to finish.
"They've been doing that all season long," said Jordan Poyer of the defensive line. "We're just trying to do our best on the back end and give them extra second to get to the quarterback. Oliver's day in particular. I just kept hearing his name."
"It just comes back to that the effort of the defensive line and being in their gaps, and doing things the right way," said McDermott. "And I think that's really where it starts."
Check out the photos from the on-field and locker room celebrations following Thursday's win against the Lions.
3 – Injury bug still biting
The Bills have been battling another opponent besides the team they're playing every week. The injuries have not let up since the season began and they only continued on Thanksgiving. Buffalo lost their top pass rusher Von Miller late in the first half when his right leg got awkwardly twisted while hand-fighting with an offensive lineman.
His right leg collided with another lineman as his upper body was torqued in the opposite direction. After the play, Miller got up to one knee, but stayed in that position for a couple of minutes as he tried to collect himself. Athletic trainers and the team's medical staff as well as coach McDermott made their way out to him on the field and spent a few minutes with him before escorting him off the field.
After several minutes in the team's sideline medical tent, Miller briefly joined his teammates on the bench. But a short time later he was carted to the locker room with what the team described as a knee injury.
"We had a lot of guys go down, I don't have injury updates for you," said McDermott after the game. "I was proud of the way the guys battled. Guys were prepared and stepped in and did a good job for us right there. So, we can learn a lot from this game in a lot of ways. Still have a lot of work in terms of get some things coached up."
NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport reported Miller's injury to be a sprained knee, but that an MRI was scheduled for Friday, which would likely be more conclusive on an official diagnosis.
Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins also left the game with an ankle injury. It happened on one of the last plays of the first half and he too did not return to the game. Dawkins and Miller were two of the few players on the roster, who had not missed any time thus far this season.
Veteran David Quessenberry stepped into the lineup for Dawkins the rest of the game Thursday.