The defining moment for the 2023 Buffalo Bills might have come in the fourth quarter Sunday, and it wasn’t a good one.
The Bills struggled against a bad New England Patriots team, but it looked like it was all going to work out. Stefon Diggs scored with 5:32 left, Buffalo recovered a Patriots fumble then scored again on a Josh Allen sneak with 1:58 left. The Bills got the two-point conversion and led 25-22. Like the New York Giants game the week before, the Bills struggled but it seemed they were going to escape with the win.
That wasn’t the moment that might define the Bills. It’s what happened next.
The Patriots’ offense, derided all season, drove all the way downfield. Mac Jones, who has been benched at least a dozen times by fans and media this season, started making plays. A simple swing pass to Rhamondre Stevenson broke for 34 yards thanks to a couple of missed tackles. A third-down Bills blitz was a step late, a safety bit on an underneath route and Jones hit Hunter Henry for a huge first down. Passes to DeVante Parker and Stevenson picked up 14 yards. Then, from the 1-yard line the Patriots targeted a matchup of tight end Mike Gesicki vs. cornerback Taron Johnson, just like the Giants did on the final play the week before with Darren Waller vs. Johnson, and New England executed it for a game-winning touchdown.
It wasn’t just that the Patriots’ maligned offense drove downfield for the game-winning score. It’s how easy it looked against the Bills. Buffalo fought and scratched to take a lead in a game it should have won easily, and then, when it regained the lead, it took the Patriots less than two minutes to grab it back and get the win. A championship team stops Jones there. The Bills didn’t even slow him down.
There’s a lot that’s troubling about the Bills. If the Giants made better decisions at the 1-yard line in both halves of Week 6, Buffalo might be 3-4. Even at 4-3, the Bills seem far from the Super Bowl contender we were expecting.
There’s a long way to go but there should be concern with the Bills. Super Bowl contenders don’t get outplayed by the Giants and Patriots in back-to-back weeks.
“Our season is not over,” Allen said. “It’s a long season. I know it feels pretty bleak right now but we’re gonna figure it out.”
Maybe Allen is right and the Bills will turn it around. It’s also possible that Buffalo is already on the downside of its Super Bowl opportunity and the past few weeks are the first reveal. The Bills have played seven games and looked bad in four of them (turnover-filled loss to the Jets, uncompetitive London loss to the Jaguars, barely beat the Giants, outplayed by the Patriots). One or two bad games happen to everyone in this parity-filled NFL. Four of seven is harder to explain.
The offense still relies too heavily on either Stefon Diggs or Josh Allen miracle ball. The defense looks like it really misses cornerback Tre’Davious White, linebacker Matt Milano and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones. All three are on injured reserve. Any of them could have made the necessary play on the Patriots’ game-winning drive, but they weren’t there. They aren’t coming back this season either (there is a small chance Jones could return).
When the Bills came up short in the playoffs three straight seasons, especially with the “13 seconds” heartbreaker against the Chiefs two seasons ago, everyone knew that we might look back and understand that was their window and it passed without a Super Bowl trip. Maybe there is no reason for panic. The Bills looked like a contender just a few weeks ago when they blew out the Dolphins. Analytics still like Buffalo. Even though the Bills’ slump is a really bad one, all teams have them.
But what we’ve seen since the win over the Dolphins is alarming. Buffalo is lucky to be 4-3. Maybe the Bills’ time near the top of the NFL has passed, and we’re now starting to see the decline.
Here are the power rankings after Week 7 of the NFL season:
The Bears had a happy Sunday. They won and many of the other one-win teams won as well, while the Panthers stayed winless with a bye. Everyone in the NFL has two wins except the Panthers and Cardinals, and as you’ve heard, the Bears have the Panthers’ 2024 first-round draft pick.
We’re going to look back on the Cardinals’ win over the Cowboys and wonder how the heck that happened. Since then Arizona has lost by 19, 14, 17 and 10. At least it looks like Kyler Murray will be back relatively soon.
Darren Waller posted a 7-98-1 line on Sunday, easily his best game of the season. That’s a great sign. The Giants need that version of Waller the rest of the season to have any hope on offense.
Justin Fields is unlikely to return this weekend, so it’s another start for rookie Tyson Bagent, who looked good on Sunday. It’s impressive that he made the jump from Division II to the NFL without looking overwhelmed. Certainly a fun subplot in the Bears’ season.
The problem with Jordan Love’s struggles is he’s not a rookie. He sat for three years. That makes it harder to excuse him playing like a rookie. You don’t want to give up on anyone after six games, but Love has given Green Bay very little reason to believe he’s the answer.
With everyone ready to bench Mac Jones, he came out and posted a line of 25-for-30, 272 yards, two touchdowns and a 126.7 passer rating in a comeback win over the Bills. Who knows if this is a sign of things to come, but it’s the most positive step forward for Jones since … his rookie season?
Commanders defensive lineman Jonathan Allen went off after an ugly loss Sunday. It’s hard to blame him. He can see that Washington isn’t going anywhere. Losing to that Giants team, which was scrambling just to find five offensive linemen to start with all of their injury issues, tells you how bad Washington is this season.
The Titans traded safety Kevin Byard to the Eagles for safety Terrell Edmunds along with a fifth- and sixth-round draft pick. That is probably the signal to the rest of the league that the Titans are willing to trade anyone before the deadline. Stay tuned.
Javonte Williams looked all the way back Sunday. He rushed for 82 yards on 15 carries and was a big part of Denver’s win. It’s a great story considering Williams tore his ACL and other ligaments last season.
It’s still astonishing that head coach Josh McDaniels started QB Brian Hoyer, who is 38 and has lost 13 straight starts. There was no good reason for that decision, and it shows how McDaniels is struggling for answers. It doesn’t help that, somehow, Josh Jacobs has gone from a 2022 All-Pro to one of the worst running backs in the NFL in 2023. His 2.9 yards per carry is tied for the worst in the NFL with Houston’s Dameon Pierce.
The Saints have an easy schedule upcoming, but it’s not as easy as the Falcons’ remaining slate (which is miles easier than any other team). The Falcons went on the road Sunday after the Saints dropped a winnable home game against Jacksonville. It’s starting to look like it’s Atlanta’s division to lose, and the Saints have only themselves to blame for that.
Puka Nacua did not disappear when Cooper Kupp returned. He had eight catches for 154 yards on Sunday. He looks like an elite NFL receiver. How did the rest of the league let him fall to the fifth round?
You didn’t expect to see Gardner Minshew and Lamar Jackson linked today, but here it is: Minshew joined Jackson as the only QBs in the NFL this season to have two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns in a game, according to Fox 59/CBS 4’s Mike Chappell. Minshew is the first Colts QB to ever pull off that feat. Minshew has some really good games, like Sunday. What’s holding him back is the bad ones, which are too plentiful.
The Buccaneers are coming back to Earth. They have lost three of four since a 2-0 start, had a damaging loss to NFC South rival Atlanta on Sunday and this week will play at Buffalo on a short week. The Bucs weren’t expected to be very good this season but a solid start led to optimism. We’re probably seeing Tampa Bay’s true level these past couple weeks.
Coming into Week 7, Will Anderson Jr. led the NFL in tackles for loss or no gain, according to Pro Football Focus. He has been very good. I still don’t agree with the huge price the Texans paid to trade up and draft him third overall, but he has been what Houston was looking for.
Last season, Justin Herbert had a 101.3 passer rating in the first halves of games, and 85.5 in the second half (also 50.3 in overtime). This season, Herbert has a 110.4 rating in the first half, 84.1 in the second half and went 0-for-3 in his only overtime appearance. The Chargers had a chance to beat the Chiefs on Sunday but the offense totally stalled in the second half. Herbert mostly gets a pass from criticism but the truth is he has to come up bigger late in games, particularly close ones. Every other quarterback is held to that standard.
Bijan Robinson’s absence on Sunday seems reasonable. He had a headache that affected him. Terrell Davis sat out some of a Super Bowl with a migraine; it happens. But head coach Arthur Smith’s weird infatuation with not using his best players and his dodgy answers after the game instead of just explaining what happened leads to unnecessary speculation.
That was Kirk Cousins’ masterpiece. It will be forgotten the first time Cousins has a bad game because everyone likes dunking on Cousins, bringing up his poor prime-time record and acting like he has never had a good game in the NFL. But he threw for 378 yards to save the Vikings’ season against a 49ers defense that might be the NFL’s toughest, and did it all without Justin Jefferson.
Last season, the Steelers had games in which they had no business winning, but somehow ended up winning. Then, by the end of the season, everyone was surprised when they were in playoff contention. Nobody would say the Steelers are playing a 4-2 level this season, but they keep getting wins in ugly fashion. They all count the same.
The Jets face the Giants in a non-road game, then host the Chargers and play at the Raiders. Their offensive issues mean nothing is promised, but those are three winnable games. Just don’t be surprised if you wake up in a few weeks and Zach Wilson’s team is 6-3.
The Bengals have the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL, according to Tankathon. Their next month is an indication of that: They play at San Francisco, host the Bills, have a tougher-than-expected test against the Texans and then play a massive AFC North game at the Ravens. It’s a good thing the Bengals got back to .500 before the bye because there are no breaks for a while.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba finally had a bit of a breakout, with 63 yards and his first career touchdown. The first-round draft pick’s talent has never been in question. He had a bigger role with DK Metcalf out on Sunday, but maybe this step forward is a sign of things to come even when Metcalf returns.
The Bills will need more out of rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid. Dawson Knox needs wrist surgery, adding to the Bills’ issues. But they drafted Kincaid in the first round for a reason. He had a promising game Sunday with eight catches for 75 yards.
It was strange to see the Browns suddenly give up 38 points to the Colts after looking like the best defense in the NFL a week before against the 49ers. But they won, which helps as they answer another round of questions about what’s going on with Deshaun Watson.
The only good thing from the Urban Meyer era might be that the Jaguars drafted Travis Etienne. Meyer wanted Kadarius Toney, of course, but Jacksonville got Etienne and he’s having a monster season. He has 700 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns in seven games, and is the most consistent performer in that Jaguars’ offense.
The Cowboys have been up and down this season, and there’s a little concern this weekend. They should beat the Rams, but will they overlook them with a game at Philadelphia on deck? We’ll see if Dallas can focus on the task at hand.
The Lions aren’t bad. We just need to recalibrate after Sunday’s blowout loss. Great teams usually aren’t trailing anyone 35-0, like Detroit was at the Ravens on Sunday. Only two Super Bowl champs (1994 49ers, 2000 Buccaneers) suffered a loss of 32 or more points. That’s OK. We just need to slow down the talk about the Lions being perhaps the best team in the NFC. They’re going to win the NFC North, be a tough out in the playoffs and if everything breaks right make a good run. That’s a great season for a Lions team that hasn’t won a division title in 30 years.
The Dolphins will get healthier. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey, running back De’Von Achane and left tackle Terron Armstead are among the impact players who are out. Getting those players back will help. But at some point, if the Dolphins want to be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender they need to beat an elite team.
Now that the Titans have traded safety Kevin Byard for little return, the Ravens need to be on the phone nonstop with Tennessee about Derrick Henry until a deal gets done. Imagine what an elite running back could do for an offense that seems to be taking off.
Brace yourself, because you’re in for another week of Brock Purdy debate after he threw two fourth-quarter interceptions with Monday night’s game on the line. The 49ers are still very good and could still be the best team in the NFL. They’re just imperfect, like the rest of the league.
What mind control does general manager Howie Roseman have over the rest of the NFL? The Titans traded safety Kevin Byard, a former first-team All-Pro, for safety Terrell Edmunds and a couple of late-round draft picks. Byard is just 30 and not done as an elite player. What a steal for the Eagles. Again.
Travis Kelce continues to beat the aging curve at tight end. Only one other tight end has ever posted a 1,000-yard season at age 34 (Pete Retzlaff of the 1965 Eagles had 1,190 yards). Kelce has 525 yards in six games. He looks like he’s over his early season injuries and has 303 yards the last two games. It’s probably not due to Taylor Swift, but whatever Kelce is doing is working.