Is it possible a team can win by five touchdowns and not play its best game?
Is it reasonable to be critical of a team that wins 35-0 … on the road?
Well … yes.
In desperate need of a win after an underwhelming 23-16 home loss to the Steelers a week ago, the Bills, one of the preseason favorites to win the American Football Conference, needed to regroup.
A loss Sunday at Miami would make the Dolphins 2-0 and drop Buffalo into an early desperation 0-2 hole.
INSTEAD, the Bills sacked quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on the game’s opening offensive play, and barely halfway through the opening period were up 14-0, scoring twice within 5½ minutes and the “rout” was on.
But while Buffalo, from that point, was never in danger of losing the game, coach Sean McDermott saw reasons for concern … even more so than his usual wariness.
“We put the ball on the ground too many times and that’s going to come back to haunt us if we don’t get that corrected fast,” he said of Buffalo’s two fumbles, one by each running back, Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, the latter losing his.
But McDermott’s reference was really to the Bills’ four loose balls against Pittsburgh.
However, he did concede, “We had six sacks, and it looked like, when given the opportunity, they were affecting the quarterback early and I like that in terms of what they were doing.
“Sometimes (sacks) come in bunches like turnovers. Anytime you can get to the quarterback like today, and get six, that’s a good sign.”
AND THOUGH the score was one-sided, the Bills hadn’t taken full control by intermission, up only two touchdowns and with quarterback Josh Allen having another pedestrian day (7-of-16 passing for 62 yards with a TD throw, an interception that wasn’t his fault, and a puny 49.5 passer rating).
“We came out and got in a better rhythm in the second half,” McDeremott said. “I thought Brian (Daboll, offensive coordinator) did a really good job with (play-calling) and Josh seemed to find his rhythm as well.
“I didn’t really think we were in rhythm in the first half, even though we scored 14 points.”
And there’s the matter of Allen’s struggles.
Last year’s NFL MVP runner-up finished the day 17-of-33 for 179 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a 75.2 passer rating. Last week against the Steelers, he was 30-of-51 for 270 yards with a TD pass, no picks and a 79.7 rating.
Neither of those passing game stats are elite, though Allen’s running ability remains intact with 79 yards on 14 carries in two games, or over 5½ yards per try.
McDermott also talked about Moss, who lost his first-half fumble, but wasn’t benched.
His numbers weren’t great, eight carries for 26 yards, but featured gritty touchdown runs of 1 and 7 yards.
“I thought it was important that he was able to reset and be mentally tough, come back and make some really tough runs … taking the last one in for a touchdown,” he said. “That’s a great message to anyone on our football team … you’re going to make some mistakes and you’ve got to be able to come back and get your game back … that’s what your teammates need from you.”
AND McDERMOTT quickly admitted he was happy with the win, warts aside.
“I saw a hunger in our football team this week,” he said. “In pregame, I could feel that they were ready. I give credit to our guys, they put in a really good week of work … but we’ve got plenty to work on this week.
“We came in here with guys that were focused. Obviously, we didn’t like how the game went a week ago … so you’ve got to respond. But it doesn’t mean we’re perfect, it doesn’t mean we’re where we need to be.”
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollockoleantimesherald.com)