The Buffalo Bills needed to step up in their final home game of 2017. They did. And in so doing, they came that much closer to ending the longest playoff drought in North American pro sports.
Against the visiting Miami Dolphins, Buffalo prevailed by a 24-16 scoreline. The win moves the Bills to 8-6 on the year and assures they remain in the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC after Week 15.
Sunday’s contest was never really in doubt. The Bills took a 7-0 lead on their first possession, doing so for the first time since November 20th of last year in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Their lead expanded to 24-6 at one point in the fourth quarter before the Dolphins scored the final ten points of the game.
In a must win game, the Bills came out hungry and thoroughly outplayed their opponent. Though there’s much more to be done, the team is in good position to make the playoffs with just one more win. Expectations aren’t high that they can get it next week against the New England Patriots, but that won’t be the case a week later against this same Dolphins team.
For now, it’s time to break down how the Bills took care of business in Week 15.
Week 15 Buffalo Bills Takeaways
Good Tyrod Taylor Comes Up Aces
It seems everyone has an opinion about Tyrod Taylor. Is he franchise quarterback material? Can he lead a team to the playoff promised land and beyond? Should the Bills move on from him after this season? They’re all valid questions given the up and down nature of Taylor’s 2017 campaign. But on Sunday, he showed what he’s capable of when he’s at his best.
The seventh-year pro out of Virginia Tech threw for 224 yards, adding a touchdown pass while going without an interception for the ninth time this year. His 94.6 passer rating and 7.7 yards per pass both rank sixth best among his 12 starts this season. Among NFL signal callers with at least 200 completions, no one has fewer picks than Taylor’s four.
Taylor also exhibited his dual-threat capabilities, gaining 42 yards on six carries. It included two crucial runs late in the first half. The first came on third and three that kept Buffalo from settling for a field goal. Two plays later, he took it himself on a keeper and scampered nine yards for a touchdown to make it 21-6.
“Tyrod was decisive when he needed to be decisive,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said after the game. “He made smart choices, (and) ran when he needed to. That gives opposing defenses headaches.”
— NFL (@NFL) December 17, 2017
There’s no doubting that when Taylor plays like he did Sunday, Buffalo can go toe-to-toe with nearly every team in the league. The problem that’s reared it’s ugly head, however, is lack of consistency. It showed in his performances against the Patriots in Week 13 and the New Orleans Saints three weeks earlier. Those two rank as the sixth and eighth worst games in the NFL this year from a passer rating standpoint among quarterbacks who’ve attempted a minimum of 18 passes.
But if Sunday’s game is any indication, Taylor can get this team where it needs to go this year. That destination is its first playoff game in 18 years. And a “squish the fish” redux in two weeks time might just do the trick.
Shady Does It All En Route to Career Milestone
Suffice it to say that LeSean McCoy is building his own legacy amongst the pantheon of Bills greats at running back. Since joining the club in 2015, he has more rushing yards than any other player at the position in the league. And against the Dolphins, McCoy entered the rarified territory of 10,000 career yards on the ground. He became the 30th player in NFL history to achieve the feat and actually passed Ricky Williams for 29th all-time with his yardage haul on Sunday.
It certainly wasn’t Shady’s most prolific game of the year on the ground. He managed just 50 rushing yards, in large part due to seven of his 20 attempts resulting in negative yardage. But McCoy is no one-trick pony. He came into Sunday’s game as one of 15 running backs in the league with over 300 receiving yards. He added 46 more on four catches against Miami, including a 16-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter with him lining up in the slot.
To say that McCoy’s career resume is unique all to himself is not hyperbole. Not only is he now part of the NFL’s 10K club among running backs. He’s also the first player in NFL history reach that milestone in addition to having 400+ receptions, 80+ touchdowns and a yards per carry average above 4.5. A good portion of it has come in Western New York, a place he’s grown to love during his time as a member of the Bills.
— Buffalo Bills PR (@BuffaloBillsPR) December 17, 2017
“I look at Buffalo like home,” McCoy told reporters post-game. “The city and fans have embraced me with open arms and I’m thankful for that.”
Bills Pick Patrol Returns
The Bills secondary is a motley bunch. They came to the club during the 2017 off-season in a variety of ways. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer arrived via free agency. Tre’Davious White was the first draft pick of the Sean McDermott era. And E.J. Gaines probably thought he’d be playing with the Los Angeles Rams this year until new general manager Brandon Beane decided to unload Sammy Watkins for him and a second round draft pick.
Eight games in and they had all the makings of the best secondary in football. After a dominant win over the Oakland Raiders where they forced four turnovers and two Derek Carr interceptions, the Bills led the league in turnover margin. It included 11 picks, five of which came from Hyde who’s a surefire Pro Bowl selection at this point. Still, the next six games saw Buffalo manage a measly two interceptions. In addition to their issues defending the run, that inability to force turnovers played a major role in the team winning just two games in that span.
It all changed for the better on Sunday. Just a week after Jay Cutler “out-Brady’d” Tom Brady on Monday Night Football, the Bills sent him crashing back down to earth. Cutler threw three interceptions, including two massively overthrown balls that Poyer and White hauled in. The latter came just a play after the Dolphins recovered an onside kick which certainly evoked some consternation amongst the New Era Field faithful. But it didn’t take long for the talented Bills rookie to nip a ‘Fins comeback in the bud and keep the team within reach of their goal for 2017.