ORCHARD PARK — Josh Allen had a predicable reply when someone asked him if Buffalo’s thorough dismantling of the Cowboys in a Thanksgiving showcase was a signature win for a rising Bills steam.
“Just No. 9,” the quarterback said Friday, referencing the Bills’ win total this season.
As usual, the second-year quarterback channeled coach Sean McDermott’s methodical, one-game-at-a-time approach.
Buffalo fans, however, can be forgiven for placing extra significance of Thursday’s 26-15 victory at AT&T Stadium. The Bills have faltered consistently in the national spotlight over the last two decades. They’ve lost their last seven Monday night games and their last seven on Sunday nights. Two years ago, they broke a 17-year playoff drought and lost a 10-3 snoozer to Jacksonville in the wild-card game.
But in their first Thanksgiving game in 25 years, the Bills announced themselves to a national audience, dominating Dallas and asserting their worthiness as a playoff contender. They improved to 9-3 for the first time since 1996, the year Jim Kelly retired.
This felt like the biggest Bills win since Kelly was taking snaps. There have been a few other high points — Buffalo made the playoffs twice under Doug Flutie in 1998-99. But Thursday’s triumph was more significant for one essential reason: Allen, their first true franchise quarterback hope since Kelly, had the best game of his career on the biggest stage.
Allen was sensational in his first national TV appearance. He was 19 of 24 passing for 231 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. He also ran for 43 yards and a TD. Allen completed a career-high 79.2% of his throws and was 12 for 12 in the second half. The Bills are 11-0 when his completion rate is at least 60%.
Allen’s competitive toughness has endeared him to fans and teammates. That was evident in a play just before halftime. The Bills faced fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 30. Allen, ready to sneak for the first down, fumbled the snap. But he alertly reached down, snatched the ball from the pile and lunged forward for the first down.
The Bills scored on the very next play on a double-reverse pass from receiver John Brown to Devin Singletary, and they never looked back.
After struggling early in his career, Allen has made major strides over the past few weeks. Plenty of observers pointed out the poor quality of Buffalo’s opponents. But he’ll get a lot more respect after his breakout game on Thanksgiving.
“He will,” said tackle Dion Dawkins. “He will. Josh is a winner and just a swaggy dude. A swaggy dude with a killer instinct. He just goes after everything that he puts his mind to. As an offensive lineman, I’m just happy to be a part of what the kid is doing.”
The no-huddle offense. The Allen-led attack has turned a corner since coordinator Brian Daboll installed the no-huddle after Buffalo’s most recent loss, at Cleveland on Nov. 10. Daboll has gone to more three-wideout, one-back sets and the offense has clicked in three straight wins.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
McDermott’s clock management has been dubious at times. On Thursday, he squandered a timeout before an extra point. He had to use another timeout in the second half after a sack.
Rookie defensive lineman Ed Oliver, the ninth overall pick in the draft, saw his playing time drop when he struggled earlier in the year. Oliver has been solid the last three weeks. He had two sacks and a forced fumble that led to the go-ahead TD against Dallas.
Stephen Hauschka’s woes continued. Hauschka missed a 50-yard field-goal attempt and a point-after. He’s 15 of 21 on field goals, a career-low 71.4%. He was among the most accurate kickers in league history when he came to Buffalo, but his accuracy has slipped all three years since.
37 — The Bills’ sack total this season. That’s already one more than all last year, and the most through 12 games since they had 48 in 2014.
Ten days after beating the NFL’s top-ranked offense, the Bills take on the league’s No. 2 attack when Lamar Jackson and the high-flying Ravens come to Buffalo. Baltimore has won seven in a row and has averaged 43 points per game in its last four.