ORCHARD PARK — The Buffalo Bills should have been embarrassed leaving Foxborough with their heads hanging low.
Nine weeks ago, they allowed 29 points — and the game-winning touchdown with 12 seconds to play — against the New England Patriots, the most points scored all season for a team potentially headed for the lowest scoring average (14.6) since 2018. Bills defensive end A.J. Epenesa claimed he didn’t think about that 29-25 loss in October in the lead-up to Sunday’s game, but that seems far-fetched.
The Bills didn’t have Rasul Douglas nine weeks ago.
Douglas likely wouldn’t have changed the outcome in that game, but he helped make sure it didn’t happen again by intercepting two passes — returning one for a touchdown — and forcing another in Buffalo’s 27-21 win.
A 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Jalen Reagor on the opening play of the game and then a first-down sack of Josh Allen on the first offensive created a stench of disaster for the Bills. And then quarterback Bailey Zappe — who was the backup for Mac Jones during the first meeting — telegraphed a pass intended for Mike Gesicki.
Douglas read the play from the start, stuck his hand in front and deflected a ball that was intercepted by a diving Ed Oliver, who also had a sack in the game. The Bills followed that with a three-and-out, and then on the first play of the third New England series, Douglas jumped a route by DeVante Parker to snag his own interception.
The Bills forced four turnovers on New England’s first six possessions, capped by a second interception by Douglas, who returned that one 40 yards for a touchdown to take a 20-7 lead.
“When we send a weak-side pressure, watching on film, (Zappe) usually throws it quick to the receiver that’s usually on the X,” Douglas said. “So I seen a blitz and I was like, ‘He gotta throw it hot or he’s going to get sacked. He threw it, I think him and the receiver wasn’t on the same page. He threw it, as soon as I got the ball, I’m like, I gotta try to score. I had one that I could’ve got in the end zone, but I messed up, so I was like, I’ll try to get it back.”
Sunday marked Douglas’s second two-interception game — two go along with two fumble recoveries — since joining the Bills via trade with the Green Bay Packers eight games ago. Douglas has filled the No. 1 cornerback role vacated by Tre’Davious White’s Achilles injury, and so far, has been worth the third-round pick dealt for him.
Douglas had been targeted 31 times heading into Sunday’s game, allowing just 54.8% completions and allowing one touchdown. And over the last four games, the defense has gone from a leaky unit that crumbled at the end of games to sturdy.
The Buffalo defense has allowed 17 ½ points per game over the last four and has not given up more than two touchdowns in a game since surrendering a season-high 37 points to the Philadelphia Eagles five weeks ago. Over the last three games, the Bills have given up 186 passing yards per game, with no touchdowns and four interceptions.
“I would say we’ve been playing good ball all season,” Epenesa said. “We’ve had a lot of good pass rushers making plays on the ball; a lot of DBS making plays. I think. I think we’ve just improved overall.”
The Bills are now 10-6 and wrap the regular season against the Miami Dolphins next week with the AFC East and the No. 2 seed in the conference at stake following Miami’s 56-19 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Buffalo now has double-digit wins for the fifth consecutive season, the longest streak in franchise history, surpassing the four-year stretch during the Super Bowl runs from 1990-1993. And yet, a loss to Miami could mean no playoffs for the Bills.
Upshot’s playoff simulator has the Bills at a 92% chance to make the playoffs with a Week 18 loss, but after not getting needed help in Carolina beating Jacksonville or Seattle beating Pittsburgh, Buffalo was not able to clinch a playoff berth Sunday.
If the Bills fail to beat Miami and neither Jacksonville nor Pittsburgh loses, they are out completely. The Steelers travel to Baltimore, which clinched the No. 1 seed with its win over the Dolphins and the Jaguars travel to the Titans, who are 5-11 and have not scored more than 20 points in three weeks.
Losses by Pittsburgh or Jacksonville put the Bills in the playoffs, regardless of Buffalo’s outcome.
The Bills finally pulled the plug on Von Miller. Domestic violence charges weren’t enough to bench their $120 million man, but apparently three tackles in 11 games was the right price to make him inactive against the Patriots.
Miller has never been a healthy scratch in 12 NFL seasons, but even he acknowledged that he wasn’t completely healthy following ACL surgery that caused him to miss the first four games of the season. Even without sacks, Miller still wasn’t generating pressure, logging two quarterback hits in 153 pass-rush snaps.
Speaking to the media for the first time since his Nov. 30 arrest on Thursday, Miller hinted at the possibility of sitting out. Miller said he felt like he was one play from breaking through, but would be amiable if the Bills opted to sit him.
“That was a tough decision,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “Von’s a pro. He’s one of the leaders on our team, and I thought he did a phenomenal job on the sideline from a leadership standpoint with his teammates. He’s a very important part of this team and we have full confidence in him and look forward to getting him back going forward here.”
While Miller sat out with Epenesa returning from a two-week hiatus following broken ribs, defensive tackle DaQuan Jones returned with apparently no snap count. Jones had missed 10 games after pectoral surgery and had just two weeks of practice after Buffalo opened his 21-day window to return from injured reserve.
The 32-year-old Jones made two tackles in his return to the starting lineup and said he would have notified the Bills if he wasn’t able to handle the workload given to him. Since coming back to practice, Jones was adamant that he didn’t want to rush.
“To come out here and line up next to these guys is probably the best feeling in the world, secondary to my kids,” Jones said. “Just to be out here with these guys, feed off their energy and the crowd and you just feel at home when you’re out there.”