Bills studs and duds after their Week 18 win over the Patriots

Josh Allen and John Brown celebrate a Bills touchdown
Buffalo Bills wide receiver John Brown (16) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Josh Allen (17) during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Orchard Park. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

The Buffalo Bills recovered from a tumultuous and emotionally-draining week to pull out a 35-23 win over the New England Patriots on Sunday. It wasn’t always a pretty game, but Buffalo made the plays when it mattered and locked up the second seed in the AFC playoffs with the victory. 

While we take stock of the win and what the performance on the field means for the rest of the season, we’ll dive into another edition of Studs and Duds. 

As a reminder, this column looks simply at the performance in the most recent week, or weeks in this case, identifying who stepped up and who struggled and what those performances might mean for the Buffalo Bills going forward. Some heroes will just have one-off great games while some struggles could signal major issues, so we’ll make sense of that together here. 


Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. 

Red Zone turnovers

The Bills were driving for points at the end of the first half when the drive was killed by yet another red zone turnover.

Granted, Josh Allen’s pass was impacted by being hit by Matthew Judon, but the end result has become a problematic trend for the Bills this season. Buffalo has the third-most giveaways in the NFL at 27 over 17 games, which has led to a turnover differential of 0 despite being 5th in the NFL in defensive turnover rate. 

Buffalo also finished the season 9th in red zone touchdown rate, scoring six points on 60.3% of their red zone drives. While that’s an improvement on the first half of the season, it’s a step back from the 66.3% success rate they had in 2021 that allowed them to finish 1st in the NFL. 

Both the turnovers in general and the red zone success rate will need to be cleaned up if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs. 


The offensive line

We’ve been harping on this for much of the year, but the offensive line has continued to be this team’s Achilles heel. While Josh Allen had a strong game on Sunday, he had to deal with pressure far too often. 

Headed into Week 18, the offensive line was ranked 23rd in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, with both Rodger Saffold and Spencer Brown ranking among the worst at their position in the league. 

While the unit has only allowed 33 sacks on the year, much of that has to do with the elusiveness of Allen, who has helped escape pressure when it’s in his face. The interior of the offensive line has too often been pushed back or beaten on stunts and Saffold has been a liability for much of the season. 

The line also ranks as a below-average unit when it comes to run blocking. They rank 25th in ESPN’s run block winning rate, winning on just 71% of their run block opportunities. On top of that, the Bills rank 16th in line-adjusted rushing yards and 17th in stuffed rank, which is when running plays are stuffed at the line of scrimmage. 

The unit is going to need to show up in the playoffs because every drive that ends due to a poorly timed penalty or sack could be the difference between advancing or being eliminated. 


Gabe Davis

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. He had just three catches on 10 targets on Sunday, which continues a troubling trend for the receiver, who has just a 51.6% catch rate this season

Davis also has nine drops on the season, including a brutal one in the end zone on Sunday, and Josh Allen has also thrown six 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. 



Now for the good news. 

Nyheim Hines

There was no more electric way to start the game than Hines’ kick return for a touchdown. Yet, the Bills’ 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.


Josh Allen

Despite the interception mentioned above, Allen finished the game completing 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. 

Earlier in the game, Allen also threw a tremendous 42-yard touchdown to John Brown, and also later avoided pressure and threw a 55-yard dime on the run to Davis in the end zone, but the third-year receiver just dropped the pass. 

Allen won’t win the MVP this season, and his 14 interceptions as a bit of a concern, but this was another transcendent year of playmaking for the 26-year-old. He finished the regular season with 4,283 yards passing on 63.3% completion rate with 35 touchdowns while also adding 762 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. 

Allen finished the season just one yard behind his career-high in rushing yards but set career-highs in completed air yards per completion and passing touchdown percentage. He also registered only a 15.5% bad throw rate, which is the best mark of his career. In many ways, the signal caller just continues to get better.  


Team Effort

The Bills may have won the game on Sunday, but the recovery of Damar Hamlin was clearly the high point of the week, and simply getting through it all deserves praise for the entire organization from the top down. As Tre White said, the entire week “was a sh*@show.”

But the team battled through, as they have all season. Whether it’s been the season-ending injuries to key players, multiple blizzards, the death of Dawson Knox’s brother, Dane Jackson being taken off of the field in an ambulance, and Hamlin suffering a cardiac arrest, this team has shown its resilience and cohesiveness all season. From the emotional openness of Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane to the leadership of Allen and Stefon Diggs, this team has continued to come together for one another. 

Seeing guys like Nyhein Hines and John Brown play big roles in the win on Sunday is just another example of how every member of this team has been ready to step up when called upon this season, on the field and off. It’s a testament to their character and leadership and it was one of the crowning achievements of Sunday’s game. 

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Stefon Diggs of the Bills skies to try and pull in a touchdown
New England Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones (31) pushes Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) out of bounds on a potential touchdown catch during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Orchard Park. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)