DETROIT — The math never changes in regards to the NFL standings, so when you win a game, it counts as one win. Nothing more.
It doesn’t matter if it’s 77-0 or 7-0, a win is a win, and that was the prevalent thought emanating from the Buffalo Bills locker room Thursday afternoon, moments after completing their frenetic 28-25 victory over the Detroit Lions in a thrilling lift-off to the nation’s day-long Thanksgiving football feast.
“They’re all big,” said safety Jordan Poyer.
Understood, but man oh man, given what the Bills went through to win this game, it sure felt like they scaled a taller mountain to get it done.
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Bills overcame two tough weeks
Let’s not even delve into the whole journey the Bills have been on for the better part of a week. The fact that they had to play two games in five days at Ford Field, flying back and forth for both, dealing with a massive snowstorm before they even tackled that task, and then having almost no quality practice time for either game against the Browns and Lions, yet still winning both games.
Let’s just focus on Thursday when, for a good chunk of this battle against a feisty Lions team — one that was riding a three-game winning streak and looks like a team definitely on the rise under maniacal coach Dan Campbell — things were not looking good for the Bills.
They wore down an inferior Browns team last Sunday and won convincingly if you ignore the late garbage time points Cleveland scored to make it look closer than it was. That was not the case against Detroit.
This game was in the danger zone almost the entire way and early in the fourth quarter after Detroit took the lead, it certainly felt like the Bills had hit a wall and they were headed for what would have been a damaging loss.
But just when they needed him most, Josh Allen rose to the occasion and shook off what had been a rough day to deliver two brilliant drives late in the game to pull off the victory.
It was a remarkable finish, and enabled the Bills to improve to 3-0 on Thanksgiving Day in the last four years.
“That’s what great players do — they step up in those big moments,” coach Sean McDermott said. “They make big plays in big moments of games like this.”
'He made a heck of a play'
The Bills fell behind 22-21 with 13:47 left to play, and at that point, all of the momentum was on Detroit’s side. And when Buffalo’s ensuing possession fizzled and Sam Martin had to punt, things were looking bleak for Buffalo.
However, the defense was able to get off the field in pretty short order, and Allen took possession at his own 10 with nine minutes to go. From there, he was Josh Allen the way we know Josh Allen can be.
He directed a 14-play drive that consumed 6:20 and ended with his five-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs with 2:40 remaining. Before that possession, Diggs had three catches for 12 yards. On this one, he had four for 29 yards and the score.
Tyler Bass created some angst when he missed the extra point which left the score at 25-22, meaning the Lions could play differently on their final drive. They didn’t need a touchdown to take the lead, they could settle for a field goal and get to overtime.
And it looked like that would be the case when Michael Badgley drilled a 51-yarder with 23 seconds to go.
Ah, not so fast. Allen had 23 seconds and all three timeouts. Heck, Patrick Mahomes had only 13 seconds last January and he found a way to pull off a miracle. No sweat, right?
On the first play after the kickoff — which the Lions kicked into the end zone, just like the Bills did in Kansas City, meaning no time came off the clock — Allen fired a 36-yard laser to Diggs to the Detroit 39. The Bills were already in field goal range.
“They played like a little two-man concept and me and (Ken) Dorsey kind of talked about that a few days ago,” Allen said. “When I saw the same look in a previous game I just said, ‘Hey, let’s put this play in just in case we might need it.’ We did and Stef ran a heck of a route and I just gave him a chance and he made a heck of a play.”
Allen then ran the ball twice to get Bass closer, and the kicker shook off his previous miss and made a 45-yarder to win the game.
“We gave ourselves a chance at the end there,” Allen said. “In the second half we didn’t play great football, but we found a way. Guys are resilient, the ups and downs of an NFL game, that’s a good team playing very well, playing good football right now. But again, guys just continuing to grind, guys going down and stepping up finding a way. I’m proud of our guys for doing that.”
Faced with key injuries, Bills were 'incredibly resilient'
The victory came at a cost, though.
Already playing without center Mitch Morse, the Bills lost left tackle Dion Dawkins at the end of the first half and that created a scary situation up front with Ryan Bates at center, Greg Van Roten at right guard and David Quessenberry at left tackle.
Not surprisingly, much of Allen’s struggles were due to the fact that he was constantly under siege and could never stand in the pocket, go through his progressions and deliver.
On defense, already without Tremaine Edmunds, A.J. Epenesa, Greg Rousseau, the Bills lost star defensive end Von Miller late in the second quarter to a knee injury that, in all likelihood, is going to sideline him for some amount of time and the Bills have to hope it isn’t season-ending.
To overcome the injuries alone would have made this victory pretty special. Factor in everything else and this really was one of the grittiest victories the Bills have had in the Allen/McDermott/Beane era.
“It goes in the win column as one,” McDermott said. “When you lose, it goes in the loss column as one. So, no matter how you win, you gotta find a way to win, and I think our guys have shown that they know how to do that. Incredibly resilient down to the last play, basically.
“And again, not a pity party, but what the guys have been through, and being on two plane rides, five days, just dealing with things at home and trying to focus on their job I think was impressive.”
No argument here. It was.
By the numbers
▶ 5 — Times since 2000 that a team has played back-to-back games in a stadium that is not their home venue, and the Bills have been involved twice. In addition to these two games at Ford Field, the Bills played their first two games of 2019 at MetLife Stadium, Week 1 against the Jets and Week 2 against the Giants. The stadium in New Jersey was also the site for the other three instances - the 49ers played the Jets and Giants back-to-back in 2020, the Bears did that in 2006 and the Cowboys did it in 2003.
▶ 3.10 — Entering the game, hard as it may have been to believe, the Lions were tied for fourth in the NFL along with the Bills and Dolphins in touchdowns per game. Each team scored three TDs in the game.
▶ 36 — Josh Allen’s rushing TD in the second quarter tied him with Michael Vick for the seventh-most all-time by an NFL QB.
▶ 104 — Tyler Bass’ consecutive made extra points streak, which came to an end in the fourth quarter.
▶ DT Ed Oliver: He had a huge game and made two of the biggest plays, forcing a recovering a fumble in the second quarter, and sacking Goff for a safety in the third.
▶ QB Josh Allen: Even when he’s not having a great day, Allen still finds a way to have a major impact. He threw for 253, ran for 78, produced three TDs, and of course threw that superb pass to Diggs to set up the winning field goal.
▶ WR Isaiah McKenzie: This has been a disappointing season for him so far, but he really helped carry the passing game early when Diggs couldn’t get involved. McKenzie finished with six catches for 96 yards.
What’s next for the Bills
Normally the teams that play on Thanksgiving get a nice little mini-bye week, but that won’t be the case for either the Bills or Patriots, who played the Vikings in the late Thanksgiving game.
This will be a normal week in terms of preparation for both teams when Buffalo heads to New England on Thursday for a big AFC East showdown in a game that will only be available in the Rochester market on Amazon Prime. The game cannot be shown on network or cable TV in the secondary market, which Rochester is. It will be on local TV in the Buffalo market.
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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Bills beat Lions after crazy 4th quarter in Thanksgiving game