ORCHARD PARK — Gimmes no longer exist for the Buffalo Bills.
That went out the window with a 24-22 loss to a subpar Denver Broncos team and three of Buffalo’s five losses have come to teams currently under .500. For the first time in a while, the Bills are desperate.
The Bills possess the talent to beat any of the remaining teams on their schedule, the problem is that they have barely shown the capability to beat bad to mediocre teams over the last six weeks. Now, at 5-5, Buffalo needs to beat the New York Jets to stay alive in the playoff hunt, and more importantly, need a win to salvage everything built over the last seven seasons under coach Sean McDermott.
Firing offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey Tuesday puts pressure on McDermott and the Bills offense to show improvement and score points against the Jets. Losing to a Zach Wilson-led offense for the second time this season and third overall since last season would be a gut-punch.
New interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady won’t be making drastic changes at this juncture of the season, but he can help make Josh Allen look, well, more like Josh Allen. A quarterback who once got himself in trouble at times for being overly confident now doesn’t seem to have enough.
The Bills have been a little more loose around the team facility and in practice this week and that’s important for Allen. Brady needs to create easy throws early, and tossing in a few designed runs has proven to provide a spark for Allen in the past.
“We’re in the business of winning football games,” Brady said. “When you win … there’s a lot of energy. It starts at the top. I got to point the thumb at myself and not point fingers. And I got to make sure that I bring the energy and I bring the juice and the guys are gonna feed off me. I think that’ll trickle down to Josh and to the players.”
Getting Allen in the proper mindset is critical against a Jets defense that has been more successful under coach Robert Saleh in solving him consistently than any other. And that was before committing four turnovers in the season opener.
In Allen’s first three games against Saleh — one as defensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers — he averaged 326.7 yards, throwing eight touchdowns and one interception, while the Bills averaged 35.3 points per game. In the last three, however, Allen has produced two touchdowns and five interceptions, while averaging 196 yards and 17.7 points.
More importantly, the Bills were 3-0 in the first three meetings with Saleh and have gone 1-2 in the last three.
An improved offensive line that has surrendered eight sacks since giving up five against the Jets in Week 1 should help, but Allen also must be patient. Like Denver, New York doesn’t blitz often.
The Jets blitz on 17.2% of passing plays, meaning they want to get pressure with four rushers and bait quarterbacks into mistakes. Allen obliged in Week 1, but can’t do it again.
“We’ve lost five games by, I think, a combined 23 points,” Allen said. “It’s one drive. It’s one less drive if didn’t have a turnover, who knows if we’d end up with three or six that drive. But we’re limiting our own opportunities, we’re hurting ourselves. We’re not putting ourselves in great positions to win football games, we’re asking too much of each other.”
Late-game defensive struggles
There isn’t much to criticize about the Buffalo defense over the last six games, except for an inability to close games.
The Bills have given up yards and rank 24th with 5.4 yards per play, but they are still third in the NFL in scoring defense. But over the last six games, Buffalo has needed one stop and either haven’t gotten it or came dangerously close not getting it.
Over the last six games, the Bills have allowed 824 yards in the fourth quarter, 38.3% of their yards allowed during that span, while giving 50 of their 129 points in the final frame. Buffalo has also allowed six touchdowns, compared to forcing two punts.
Buffalo got burned in the first game of the season by allowing the Jets to hang around too long instead of closing out a 10-point halftime lead. And they have also held fourth-quarter leads in three of five losses.
Every member of the 53-man roster practiced in full Friday, while defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (knee) and wide receiver Christian Sherfield (ankle) are listed as questionable for Sunday.
Cornerback Christian Benford (hamstring), safeties Micah Hyde (neck/stinger) and Cam Lewis (shoulder) and linebacker Dorian Williams (knee) were limited during the first two days of the week. Hyde and Lewis wore red non-contact jerseys Thursday, but did not Friday. McDermott noted Benford could be available for the game in a backup role.
McDermott also said All-Pro linebacker Matt Milano (right leg) is probably not going to return this season after being injured in Week 5, while defensive tackle DaQuan Jones (pectoral) has an outside chance after suffering his injury the same week. He also said there isn’t the sense that Damien Harris was ready to return after a concussion against the New York Giants.