It was an emotional day in Buffalo with the Bills taking the field for the first time since Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest in last week’s Monday Night Football game against the Bengals. In front of a sold-out and emotionally charged home crowd, the Bills played an uneven game that ended in a 35-23 win that clinched the second seed in the AFC.
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The Bills took the field waiving flags for Damar Hamlin as well as wearing his number three threaded into the uniforms. After Hamlin messaged his teammates before the game, he posted a photo of him and his family in the hospital before the game with the tagline “Gametime.”
GAMETIME!!! @BuffaloBills 💙 pic.twitter.com/PQYClonUHb
— 𝐃𝐚𝐦𝐚𝐫 𝐇𝐚𝐦𝐥𝐢𝐧 (@HamlinIsland) January 8, 2023
The game started like a Disney movie with Nyheim Hines taking the opening kickoff for a Buffalo touchdown. However, the game itself was less of a feel-good story for the Bills, who were undoubtedly emotionally drained and potentially distracted on Sunday.
Some of the old bugaboos emerged like poorly-timed penalties, inconsistent blocking, and red zone turnovers.
Still, the Bills were able to make the plays when it mattered the most, scoring 14 unanswered points to take a 28-17 lead that they would never relinquish.
Now let’s get into my five key takeaways from the game
1. The Bills’ resiliency was on full display
I mentioned above that it was an inconsistent effort from the Bills on Sunday, but a lot of that was to be expected. Even though Damar Hamlin is recovering well and has been able to talk to his teammates, the week was a grueling one for the team. As Tre White said, the entire week “was a sh*@show.”
Given the lack of practice and focus during the week, it’s not a surprise that the team played with tremendous emotion but some lapses in focus and discipline, like when Taiwan Jones touched a punt that allowed the Patriots to recover deep in Buffalo territory down 12 with 8:30 left.
However, when the team needed a big play, they found a way to rise to the occasion, whether it was Josh Allen’s magnificent touchdown to Stefon Diggs, Matt Milano’s interception in the end zone, or Tremaine Edmunds’ game-sealing picks on a tipped pass.
Given all the team has been through this week, the ability to simply come away with a win was the most important thing (aside from Hamin’s health).
2. Nyheim Hines was the MVP for Buffalo
There was no more electric way to start the game than Hines’ kick return for a touchdown. Yet, the Buffalo backup running back added yet another kickoff return for a touchdown.
With 4:37 left in the third quarter, Buffalo was up 21-17 but Nyheim Hines had accounted for 14 of those points. On the day, he had 235 yards on four kickoff returns while the Bills’ offense had 327 total yards the entire day. Aside from a few big throws from Allen, Hines was the best player on the field for Buffalo.
For those of you into narratives, Hines’ kick returns could have been an example of fate. It had been three years and three months since the Bills returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Damar Hamin wears number three. You can see from Josh Allen’s reaction to hearing that stat just how emotional the Bills players remained today
"It's been 3 years and 3 months since the last kickoff return for a touchdown… pretty cool."#LoveForDamar #ForDamar #BillsMafia pic.twitter.com/oYUZpTIEKr
— Dan Fetes (@danfetes) January 8, 2023
3. Josh Allen Made Two of the Best Throws You’ll Ever See
Josh Allen ended the first half with yet another red zone interception after he was hit by Matthew Judon while he was throwing and picked off by Devin McCourty. At the time, social media was lamenting the poor offensive performance of the Bills and talking about Allen’s poor decision-making yet again.
When the game ended, Allen had completed 19-of-31 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns.
It wasn’t a flawless performance, but when his team needed him, Allen responded. His biggest throw was a flat-footed dime to Stefon Diggs 60 yards down the field while getting hit. With that kind of pressure in his face and the accuracy of the pass, it was easily one of the throws of the year. It also put Buffalo up 35-23 and sealed the win.
On the next drive, Allen avoided pressure and threw a 55-yard dime on the run to Gabe Davis in the end zone, but the third-year receiver just dropped the pass. Earlier in the game, Allen also threw a tremendous 42-yard touchdown to John Brown, who gave the touchdown ball to the Buffalo assistant trainer Denny Kellington who helped save Damar Hamlin’s life.
After scoring, John Brown gave his TD ball to Denny Kellington, the Bills trainer who administered CPR to Damar Hamlin 🙏
(via @NFLonCBS) pic.twitter.com/5wzJEyZyhO
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 8, 2023
4. The Bills’ Offensive Line Remains a Problem
After the Jets win, I wrote an entire article about how the Buffalo offensive line was an issue that could hold this team back. I could copy and paste that entire thing here because it remains as true as ever.
Josh Allen was only sacked twice on Sunday, but he was flushed from the pocket continuously and held to 16 yards on nine carries since Patriots defenders were on him at the line of scrimmage all day long. It’s an issue Buffalo is going to need to fix heading into the postseason
5. Gabe Davis Continues His Inconsistent Season
Gabe Davis was a popular breakout candidate coming into this season after his massive playoff game against the Chiefs. However, that breakout just hasn’t happened.
Davis came into this game with 45 catches on 83 targets for 797 yards and seven touchdowns. From a statistical standpoint, it’s been his best year as a professional; however, he also has just a 54.2% catch rate and seven drops, not including today’s two, both career highs. Josh Allen has also thrown five interceptions when targeting Davis, which is the most of any receiver on the team.
The 6’2″ UCF product has hit some big plays but he has proven to be far too inconsistent for the team to rely on as a number two wide receiver. The Bills will likely be looking to add receiving competition for him in the offseason, but they’ll have to hope Davis can channel last year’s playoffs and become more reliable than he has been in the regular season.