ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Rarely do you hear a quarterback wishing that the team’s punter had been on the field more often. But for the Buffalo Bills, it’s been two games without a punt from Matt Haack, something that hasn’t been done since the 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I wish [Haack] would have punted three times tonight. Obviously we want to end every drive in a punt or field goal or kick, whatever it is, making sure that we’re holding on to the football," quarterback Josh Allen said, referring to three Buffalo drives ended by interceptions against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
As Allen described it, the win wasn’t necessarily “pretty,” with it statically being one of the quarterback’s worst passing games of his professional career. But it proved something important for this playoff-bound team (10-6): It could win in the elements without Allen having his best day.
“It takes all three phases to win the game,” center Mitch Morse said. “I think there were points in every part of this game where one phase had to pick up the other."
Allen threw three interceptions in the span of six plays, which the Falcons turned into 10 points. It was Allen’s second career game with three interceptions (2019 vs. Patriots). He finished the game completing 11 of 26 passes (42.3%) for 120 yards, his fewest passing yards in a start since 2018.
It was his second-worst completion percentage as a starting quarterback -- just behind his 2018 rookie performance vs. the Jaguars -- against a defense that has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 69.1% of passes coming into the game, 30th in the NFL.
Allen struggled against pressure, completing 47% and throwing for 102 yards against standard pressure, both season lows. All of three of his interceptions came in those situations and all were to the right side of the field, although he was not sacked for a second straight game.
Allen told Fox after the game that he felt like the “kid that did nothing on the school project, but got an A today.”
It wasn't all on Allen. One of the interceptions came on a tipped pass and receivers struggled to hold on to passes in the snowy conditions, including a would-be touchdown through receiver Stefon Diggs’ hands.
So how did the Bills come away with a double-digit win? Halftime adjustments played a part.
“We had to get our guys reenergized and back believing in what they were doing and how they were doing it,” coach Sean McDermott. “But I thought the coaches did a great job with that and the players executed.”
Atlanta dominated the second quarter to take a 15-13 lead as Buffalo allowed some big passing plays. But after halftime, the Buffalo defense held the Falcons scoreless and the Bills' ground game exploded, finishing with a season-high 233 rushing yards and 150 rushing yards after contact -- their most in a game since ESPN Stats & Info began tracking it in 2007. The 19 rushing first downs in the game were the most by the Bills since at least 2000.
Allen ran for almost as many yards as he threw, with a career-high 15 carries for 81 yards and two rushing touchdowns, both on designed rushing plays. He also had a career-high 50 yards rushing after first contact. Giving the dynamic Allen so many carries can be a good thing, but it also increases risk of injury.
“Obviously we want to be mindful and selective where we can with that because of Josh and the position he plays,” McDermott said. “But it’s a good complement to what we do.”
Which is why running back Devin Singletary putting together the day he did is so important for what’s to come. The running back had season-highs in yards (110), rush TD (2), and rushing first downs (7). He had 75 of his yards and both of his touchdowns in the final two quarters. On the Bills' 11-play, 80-yard drive in the third quarter, Singletary accounted for seven rushes, including the score.
“Devin has really taken advantage of his opportunities. He's made our lives a lot easier,” Morse said. “I think there were some muddy holes in there and he made us right a few times and that's all you can ask for a running back and then he brought the juice. When you finish a play, he's the first one to pick you up even if he's the one who had the big gainer.”
The rushing attack has received plenty of criticism throughout the season, and the offensive line has dealt with a vast amount of changes due to injuries, performance and COVID-19 -- including offensive tackle Ryan Bates starting his second career game against the Falcons.
But the Bills showed they could win ugly games on the backs of players other than Allen, both on offense and defense. Five defensive players walked away with sacks.
“It just shows that if we need to pick up Josh, we can do that with other guys,” left tackle Dion Dawkins said. “And it’s not just on Josh. It just shows the growth of our organization, that it's not all on Josh’s shoulders.”
For the team to have sustained success in the postseason, the Bills will still need Allen’s arm. But being more balanced on offense can only help.
“These games are going to be tough,” McDermott said. “It’s late December, early January now, the weather is what it is and that’s the style of game they’re going to be and we’ve got to be able to adjust through the course of the game.”