Bills' playoff path in focus after dominant, run heavy win over Cowboys
For most of Josh Allen’s time as a Buffalo Bill, the wins and losses have run through him.
That’s what happens when you play quarterback on a team that’s all about throwing the ball down the field and where you’re counted on to supply a good percentage of the run game as well.
That dynamic has made for some very exciting football and wonderful quarterback and receiver stat columns, but it’s also limited the Bills in the types of games they can win.
And put an awful lot of the load on Allen in a sport where star quarterbacks already carry more than their share of responsibility for wins and losses.
Well, these might not be the new Buffalo Bills, but they are certainly a team capable of winning games in ways we haven’t seen previously.
They did that a week ago in Kansas City by grinding-out a 20-17 win on the road against the Chiefs. Then on Sunday against Dallas, Buffalo took that a step further, riding running back James Cook for 179 yards on the ground and 42 more through the air in a dominating 31-10 win over the Cowboys at Orchard Park, New York.
Make no mistake, this game was an outlier based on the Bills recent history of reliance on Allen’s arm and the play of wide its receivers, most notably Stefon Diggs. Against Dallas, Allen was good on 7 of 15 throws for 94 yards. No player had 50 yards receiving and Diggs was one of just three players who caught a pass, the others being Cook and fellow running back Ty Johnson.
And the Bills won by three touchdowns.
How exactly they did it against the NFL’s highest scoring team, riding a five-game win streak in which they’d scored at least 33 points in every game, seems as simple in the aftermath as it was hard to process as it was happening.
The Cowboys defence is known for its ability to disrupt the passing game, led by defensive lineman Micah Parsons who lines-up at various spots to create all kinds of havoc. And since the Cowboys tend to play from ahead far more than behind, it can become very difficult for opposing teams to throw the ball while playing catch-up.
The game scripts for Dallas have also limited how often they’ve had to defend the run, so the Bills decided to begin the game by testing that.
Twelve plays later they had their first touchdown of the game and a pattern along the ground was established that the Cowboys were never able to stop.
Buffalo scored three touchdowns in its first four possessions, each one milking the clock to limit the number of Dallas possessions in the game.
It also left Prescott and the Cowboys standing for great stretch’s in the cold and rain, unable to ever establish much rhythm against a defence that played as fundamentally sound as they have all season.
The Cowboys, who have suffered all four of their losses this season on the road, seemed to wilt in the face of the crowd and the nasty weather.
Running backs don’t have huge games without lots of contributions from those around them but this was a historic performance by Cook, with 221 yards of all purpose yardage and two touchdowns. (Which would have been three had he not dropped a pass near the goal line leading to a field goal in the second half.)
When Cook was selected out of Georgia in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the hope was he could evolve into a duel-threat feature back that would take some pressure off the receivers.
That evolution has been slow and steady until the change in offensive co-ordinator from Ken Dorsey to Joe Brady just over a month ago that has turned Cook into a focal point of the offence.
He entered Sunday third in NFL rushing and seventh in all-purpose yards, having accumulated 345 all-purpose yards in the previous three games in which Brady had been the play caller.
That trend extended further against the Cowboys, demonstrating that the Bills can win games on more than just Josh Allen’s arm.
Consider that over the past two weeks, the Bills have beat the Chiefs and the Cowboys without a receiver amassing 50 yards in a game and with only one (Diggs) who’s managed to get to 25.
Over their past four games, a team and a that once seemed dependant on Diggs, has gone 3-1 with its star receiver averaging 43 yards a game.
That’s unheard of in the Josh Allen era.
Meanwhile, in back-to-back weeks, Buffalo’s defence has held offences run by Patrick Mahomes and Prescott to a total of 27 points.
Combine all of that with their overtime loss to Philadelphia at the end of November, a game they dominated statistically, and there’s no reason the Bills can’t beat anyone in the NFL right now.
And at 8-6, their path to the playoffs and even the AFC East title is coming into focus.
Two weeks ago that seemed unlikely, with the Dolphins having a three—game lead at 9-3 over the 6-6 Bills.
But Buffalo’s win over K.C. last week, combined with a Miami loss to Tennessee, narrowed that game to two games, setting up an interesting scenario leading-up to the final weekend of the season when the Bills play at Miami.
Over the next two weeks the Bills are at the Chargers and home to the Patriots — two very winnable games. Meanwhile Miami hosts Dallas and goes on the road to Baltimore, two very tough opponents.
If the Bills go 2-0 and Miami loses once, Buffalo, which owns the tie-breaker via their win against the Dolphins on Oct. 1, will be playing on Jan 7th in Miami for the AFC East title and at least one home playoff game.
But a Bills team that played down to some of its opponents earlier in the season has risen to the occasions in the month of December.
And suddenly nothing seems out of reach