Bills pull defensive U-turn, but don't point to Vontae Davis' exit

Sean McDermott, who took over the defensive playcalling at halftime in Week 2, gave the responsibility back to defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier against the Vikings. Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The halftime when cornerback Vontae Davis abruptly retired could prove to be the 12 minutes that changed the course of the Buffalo Bills' season, only not for the reasons some predicted.

The Bills had allowed 75 points in the six quarters before Davis decided to end his career midway through a game on Sept. 16. His desertion didn't drag the Bills' defense deeper into despair, however; Buffalo has given up only nine points in the six quarters since.

It has been a remarkable turnaround, but the Bills can't blame Davis.

As a healthy scratch, he was not on the field in Week 1 when the Bills allowed 47 points to the Baltimore Ravens.

There also is little evidence to support the idea that Davis' departure inspired the resurgence of the defense. Some players, such as defensive captain Kyle Williams, were not aware of Davis' retirement until the end of that second game against the Los Angeles Chargers. The 65 yards and three points Buffalo allowed in the second half of that contest were not the result of some coordinated effort to play better in Davis' absence. And players were not pointing to Davis quitting when celebrating their near-shutout Sunday of the Minnesota Vikings.

What the past six quarters have shown is there was little credence to the idea that Davis walked out on a lost season and that his departure would further deplete and splinter an already reeling team.

From what Davis told The Undefeated's Domonique Foxworth, there is little to suggest his move was a reaction to the Bills' performance as opposed to a personal decision.

Davis' role on the 53-man roster was blurry before his sudden retirement provided clarity. He was a fringe player, not a vital cog. If there is criticism to come from the situation, it should be directed at the Bills signing him in the first place, not that they were the unfortunate club to have a player walk away in the middle of a game.

If anything, the spark for the Bills' defensive U-turn was coach Sean McDermott's decision to take over playcalling from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier during the same halftime period in which Davis left.

However, Frazier returned Sunday to call defensive shots, and he earned a game ball from McDermott for his work, which included preparing Ryan Lewis -- fresh off the practice squad -- to start in his NFL debut at cornerback because of an injury to starter Phillip Gaines.

If not Davis or Frazier, there is no clear-cut explanation as to why the Bills have played lockdown defense over the past six quarters -- but the numbers are striking.

The Bills were on a pace to allow 50 points per game through their first six quarters, which would be far and away the worst average in the NFL this season. They have allowed the equivalent of six points per game in their past six quarters, which would be by far the NFL's best mark.

The same holds true for yards allowed. The Bills were giving up 435.3 before halftime of Week 2, which would be second worst in the league this season. Since then, they have allowed 238.0, which would be best.

Buffalo's yards per play allowed has dropped from 6.22 to 4.01, which would be good for a jump from 31st in the NFL to first. Their opponent third-down conversion rate also has improved from 47.1 percent to 30 percent, which would count for a rise from 28th to third.