Sullivan: Gray leading Niagara through tumultuous 2020

Jerry Sullivan

Statement game? Did someone say this was a statement game for the Bills, another opportunity to show the critics that they’re for real, a true contender that can hang with the elite teams and quarterbacks?

Well, you can consider it a resounding shoutout to the NFL world. The Bills’ 44-34 win over the Seahawks on Sunday was an emphatic statement, as powerful as the one the people of Philadelphia made for Joe Biden.

The Bills have had some big wins in Sean McDermott’s four seasons in Buffalo. But considering the opponent, and the creeping doubts that had set in over the previous month, this might have been their most complete and impressive victory of the millennium.

It wasn’t just that they beat a Seattle team that has been among the league’s elite for a decade and entered with the best record in the NFC. It was the way they attacked from the start on both sides of the football, playing the aggressor and forcing their will on the Seahawks.

Granted, Seattle’s defense is historically bad. They were on pace to shatter league records for overall yards and passing yards and exceeded it. It would have been a surprise if Josh Allen HADN’T passed for 300 yards — five other QBs had done it already — and scored 30-plus points.

But in the larger scheme, it didn’t matter who was playing defense. The most important thing was that it looked like the Buffalo offense of the first four weeks, when the Bills scored 31 points a game and were unbeaten and Allen was near the top of all the league MVP lists.

Allen, playing after learning of his grandmother’s death, performed the way he had in the opening month. He was 31 for 38 for 415 yards (equaling his career high, set against Miami this season), three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for a TD. He took seven sacks, but he hung in and delivered the ball downfield for numerous big plays.

The chunk plays were back. After completing just four passes of 20-plus yards over the previous four games, Allen had a completion of 20 yards or more to SEVEN different players Sunday. I don’t have time to look it up, but I’d bet there are NFL teams that haven’t accomplished that in a game once in their history.

The Bills won their third straight, though it felt like the first truly meaningful triumph in a month. It was a success in every aspect. Give full marks to the entire coaching staff, which had the players prepared to put their best selves on display against one of the NFL’s top teams.

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll called an audacious game, going away from the run after a big day against the Pats and allowing Allen to pick apart a sorry Seahawks secondary. That’s the personality the offense was establishing in September — one that said, ‘We have a great passing game, and we don’t think you can stop us.’

Allen threw for 282 yards in the first half, the most in the first half by a Bills quarterback since at least 1991 and the most in the NFL this season. According to ESPN, the Bills ran 32 designed passes and two designed runs in the first half, the second-highest rate by any team in the first half of a game since they began tracking the stat in 2006.

“We felt the right recipe and the right formula was to go at them in the air,” said Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott. “I think you saw the fruits of that. I thought Josh played a heck of a game. He was under pressure at times, but he was able to escape and was smart with the football and got it where he needed to get it.”

When Allen has all his weapons functioning, he can be very hard to stop, as we saw in September. It’s no coincidence that the offense’s regression came with John Brown slowed by a knee injury. Brown, who missed two games and had five total catches since Week 2, was back to his old form, catching eight passes for 99 yards.

Stefon Diggs had nine grabs for 118 yards. Adding Diggs created opportunities for the other skill guys. But it works both ways. Having Brown back opened things up for others. It allows Allen to spread the wealth. His three TD passes went to Isaiah McKenzie, Gabriel Davis and Tyler Kroft. That kind of sharing can be great for a team’s morale.

It’s also uplifting when both sides of the ball are going well. Rarely has a team played so well while allowing 34 points. The Bills attacked and put constant pressure on quarterback Russell Wilson, the favorite for league MVP entering the game. Wilson passed for 390 yards, but he also turned the ball over four times, including two interceptions.

“They’re the No. 1 scoring offense in the league,” McDermott said. “You know Wilson is going to score points. I thought Leslie Frazier and the defensive staff had a great game plan. It was fun to watch. I like the way we were playing offense on defense, if you will. I liked the aggressive mindset and thought our guys did some good things.”

That’s an interesting concept — playing offense on defense. In other words, dictating rather than sitting back, which McDermott’s defense did in a loss to the Chiefs last month, when the Bills fell flat in an earlier chance to “make a statement” on Monday Night Football.

McDermott has his flaws, but he has a way of getting his team ready during difficult times. He knows how to adjust. The Bills have suffered through some horrible defensive patches during his four years, but the head coach always seems to get them straightened out.

Of course, it helped that Seattle was without its top two running backs, Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde. That allowed the Bills to concentrate on stopping Wilson and the passing game. The coverage was fairly sound and the defensive front was solid. Linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and A.J. Klein, much-maligned of late, had strong games.

The Bills made one rousing goal-line stand, stopping a Seahawks offense that was trending to be the best red-zone unit in history. And when they had a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, they kept attacking. They didn’t sit back, as so many NFL teams do with the lead.

All in all, it has to rank as one of the best wins in recent history. There were very few that came close in the drought, though a home win over Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers in late 2014 comes to mind. The win in Dallas last Thanksgiving was a statement game in its own right.

But this had to be reassuring for Bills fans who were starting to wonder how good they really are. After four uninspiring games, it seemed they were closer to an average team than the dynamic squad that opened up 4-0 and was the early talk of the NFL.

There still a lot of questions about this team. But as I said a month ago, if you have the elite passing game, you have a chance to go far in today’s NFL. For the first time in awhile, Allen and the offense looked the part Sunday. If you play the way they did on both sides of the ball, you can beat the top teams in the league.

In fact, they just did.

Jerry Sullivan is a sports columnist with over 30 years experience in Western New York. Follow him on Twitter @ByJerrySullivan or respond via email at scoreboard@gnnewspaper.com.

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