ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — A case can be made that no NFL team this season has been better than the Buffalo Bills at overcoming myriad on- and off-field challenges and distractions.
Call them the Adapta-Bills.
Whether dealing with weather-related disruptions, shuffling lineups due to injuries, or changing course to address in-game deficiencies, the Sean McDermott-coached Bills (12-3) have proven resourceful in building an AFC-leading record.
The Bills have won six straight, a run that began when their “home” game against Cleveland was shifted to Detroit because of a major snowstorm hitting western New York. And it’s thus far bookended with the team returning home a day late on Sunday, following a 35-13 AFC East-clinching win over the Bears, and after spending Christmas Eve in Chicago because of a deadly blizzard paralyzing the Buffalo region.
Don’t worry about the Bills, McDermott said, putting the situation into perspective by comparing the real-life issues his community faces to the mere inconveniences his team had to endure.
“There are a lot of military people who aren’t able to come home at all right now, or people out there — emergency workers,” McDermott said. “It’s a shame we can’t get home. But there are a lot of people who have got it worse than we do. ... We’re thankful for our situation, knowing it could be worse, and praying for everybody else out there.”
The Bills, after all, got home safely and now get to enjoy a couple extra days off before they play at Cincinnati (11-4) on Monday night. The outcome will go far in determining which team wins the conference, as well as enjoying the first-round bye and and home-field advantage through the conference championship that comes with it.
Buffalo got into this position by finding different ways to win — as it did once again in frigid conditions at Chicago.
This time, the Bills leaned on a stout defense and a ground game that stepped up to bail out a suddenly turnover-prone Josh Allen-led passing attack. Allen threw two interceptions and nearly lost a fumble, and receiver Gabe Davis lost a fumble.
The defense held one of the NFL’s top rushing attacks to 80 yards, including quarterback Justin Fields to a season-low 11, while also surrendering just three points off three turnovers. After allowing the Bears to gain 74 yards and score a touchdown on their opening drive, Buffalo limited Chicago to a combined 126 yards and two field goals on its final 12 possessions.
Meantime, the running back tandem of Devin Singletary and rookie James Cook took over in the second half by combining for 16 carries for 136 yards, and each scored a TD to offset the turnover issues. Buffalo’s 254 yards rushing were its most in a game ending in regulation in six years, with Allen playing a minor role. He ran for 41 yards and a score.
The 213-yard rushing differential between Allen and the rest of the team was the largest during the quarterback’s five years in Buffalo.
“We’re finding ways to win right now, and I think it’s a microcosm of our season — all the weather, travel, all that stuff,” Allen said. “So things don’t go your way, you got to just move on and focus on the the next thing.”
Overcoming deficits. The Bills improved to 7-3 when trailing at any point of a game this season, after going 2-6 last year.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Giveaways. Buffalo’s 24 giveaways and Allen’s 13 interceptions are tied for the second-most in the NFL entering Monday. The Bills have turned the ball over eight times this season inside an opponent’s 20. They did so only five times in their previous four years combined.
McDermott merits being included in the coach-of-the-year conversation. The Bills have overcome plenty in playing up to preseason Super Bowl-contender expectations. McDermott is one win short of joining Hall of Famer Marv Levy as the only Buffalo coaches to win 13 games in two seasons.
Though he matched a career high with his seventh receiving TD of the season, Davis continues to struggle in the No. 2 WR role. Aside from losing a fumble, the third-year player finished with three catches on six targets for 45 yards — the eighth time he’s failed to top 50 yards this season.
OL Ryan Bates returned to play after hurting his ankle. ... C Mitch Morse’s status remains uncertain after not playing Saturday due to a concussion.
7 — Number of times the Bills have won 12 or more games in a season.
The Bills need to adapt from facing the run-focused Bears to the pass-happy Joe Burrow-led Bengals in a meeting of quarterbacks who rank second and third in the league in yards passing and touchdown passes. Burrow has 4,260 yards and 34 TD passes, and Allen has 4,029 yards and 32 TDs.
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