ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Here are my five takeaways from the Buffalo Bills’ 31-23 victory against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at Ford Field in Detroit:
1. After a shaky start, the Bills shook off the doldrums from minimal practice time and the logistical nightmare created by the snowstorm that forced the game to move from Highmark Stadium.
They transitioned from the team that had found a way to lose its previous two games to one that performed closer to its talent level in picking up an important AFC triumph. And they did so despite all the machinations involved with getting snowbound players from their homes to the buses that would carry them to the airport, despite the distraction of leaving family members behind and despite swirling questions about whether their preseason designation as a Super Bowl favorite was vastly overstated.
The win was hardly a thing of beauty. Their initial first down of the game didn’t come until the 8:12 mark of the second quarter. Stefon Diggs wasn’t targeted until his 5-yard touchdown catch with 14 seconds left in the half. During the drought, a CBS camera caught him having an emotional exchange with Sean McDermott on the sidelines.
There also were some anxious moments for the Bills when the Browns scored a touchdown with 25 seconds left and came close to recovering an onside kick that could have set them up for the tying points at the end of regulation.
Still, the Bills had to be happy that:
- They snapped a three-game streak of no second-half touchdowns.
- Josh Allen snapped a three-game streak of throwing interceptions. He wasn’t great, generating 197 yards and a touchdown through the air. However, he merits credit for bouncing back from terrible showings against the Jets and Vikings, and a first half when he repeatedly overthrew receivers before settling down. The turning point for Allen was his deft operation of the two-minute drill at the end of the second half, culminating with his red-zone TD throw to Diggs after four red-zone interceptions in the previous three games.
- They did an impressive job of stopping the Browns’ vaunted run game, holding Nick Chubb, who entered the game ranked third in the NFL in rushing, to 19 yards on 14 carries.
- They ran the ball well, with rookie James Cook and Devin Singletary each gaining 86 yards. Singletary also ran for a TD.
- They blocked a 34-yard field-goal attempt.
2. Matt Milano led a defense that answered growing criticism of its inability to stop the run by stuffing the Browns’ ground attack.
Milano was credited with 12 tackles, including eight initial hits and three tackles for loss. He also had a sack and a fumble recovery. One of the better ball-hawking players to ever wear a Bills uniform, Milano nearly intercepted a deflected pass in the fourth quarter.
It was going to take a highly physical defensive effort to deal with the Browns’ power-oriented approach, and the Bills brought it.
3. It needs to be pointed out that the Browns’ run defense is awful, but the Bills at least showed they can move the ball on the ground when the opportunity arises.
It was particularly noteworthy that James Cook had his best rushing game of his young NFL career. Cook showed a good deal of quickness and elusiveness that likely will persuade offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey to give him more chances to carry the ball.
If nothing else, the Bills’ ground production can build confidence as they approach the stretch run, with their final six games — beginning Dec. 1 against New England — in outdoor stadiums where weather could impede their ability to pass.
4. The sequence that caused the most dramatic momentum shift came when the Bills, leading 16-10 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, twice stuffed Jacoby Brissett on quarterback keepers on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 at the Buffalo 27.
On the first, Jordan Phillips and Tyrel Dodson combined for the stop. On the second, it was Boogie Basham and Dane Jackson.
After that, the Browns imploded. The Bills needed four plays and a roughing-the-passer penalty to drive 73 yards for Singletary’s 5-yard scoring run to make it 22-10.
5. The Bills seem to have taken the best approach possible to a bad situation.
They took criticism for not departing for Detroit on Thursday, putting them ahead of the impending storm. Not surprisingly, however, they received plenty of community help to make the trip late Saturday afternoon.
They’re wise to try to create as much of a familiar routine as possible for their Thanksgiving game against the Lions by choosing the visitor’s dressing room and the visitor’s sideline at Ford Field.
Given the short flying time between Buffalo and Detroit, it also made sense for them to return home Sunday night before traveling back to Detroit Wednesday. Another smart move was being able to return to the same Detroit hotel where they spent Saturday night.
Of course, final determinations will undoubtedly be made after Thursday’s game.