A column by Sun Senior Columnist Chuck Pollock
And suddenly it’s crunch time for the Bills.
Last Sunday’s 32-6 win over the Jets at Highmark Stadium improved them to 6-5 and kept alive their faint playoff hopes heading into the most challenging part of Buffalo’s schedule.
And tomorrow afternoon (4:25, CBS-TV, 95.7 FM, 100.1 FM, 550 AM) at Lincoln Financial Field, the Bills will play the first of consecutive road games against last year’s Super Bowl teams, interrupted by a bye week.
First up is Philadelphia, 9-1, then, two weeks later it’s Kansas City, 7-3.
Still, for the Buffalo faithful, as brutal as those two games are, there’s some reason for optimism.
On Monday night at Arrowhead Stadium, the Eagles avenged that 38-35 loss to the Chiefs at Glendale, Ariz. in Super Bowl LVII, with a 21-17 comeback victory.
But here’s what stuck out, it was not a well-played game befitting two of the NFL’s elite teams.
KC seemed in control, but Philly stuck around until late in the fourth quarter when it took the lead. But the Chiefs’ Marquez Valdez-Scantling, free by two steps, dropped the potential game-winning touchdown in the end zone with a minute-and-a-half left. It was Kansas City’s third brutal drop of the game and 23rd of the season, most in the NFL by five.
It was hardly a Lombardi Trophyesque performance and had to leave Chiefs coach Andy Reid apoplectic.
What’s certain is this, if that’s the way the Eagles and Chiefs are going to play against the Bills, they have a shot.
PHILADELPHIA is a 3½ -point favorite Sunday and Buffalo also figures to be the underdog in three other key stretch games — at Kansas City and Miami and home against Dallas.
But even a split with the Eagles and Chiefs could keep the Bills alive for the postseason.
And while Philly has the league’s best record, it hasn’t been dominating. Five of its wins have been by a touchdown-or-fewer and its loss was to the offensively pathetic Jets who turned the Eagles over four times including three interceptions of quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Interestingly, Sean McDermott, tied for second with Lou Saban in all-time coaching wins for the Buffalo franchise (68), behind only Marv Levy (112), has beaten 29 of the other 31 NFL teams in his 6½ seasons, but has yet to do so against the Eagles and Cardinals, 0-1 against both.
And while Buffalo’s offense seemed to rediscover its potency against the Jets — quarterback Josh Allen threw three touchdown passes and running back James Cook provided a ground game — the situation, defensively, only got worse.
Buffalo had already lost its three best defenders for the season — cornerback Tre’ Davious White, outside linebacker Matt Milano and tackle Da’Quan Jones — due to injury, and the win over the Jets was more punitive.
Cornerbacks Dane Jackson and Taron Johnson were both in the concussion protocol this week while safety Taylor Rapp sustained a neck injury and missed every practice Two other members of the defensive backfield — safety Micah Hyde (neck) and cornerback Cam Lewis shoulder) — were limited.
In Friday’s final injury report, both Jackson and Rapp were declared out of the Eagles game.
That leaves Buffalo painfully short in the defensive backfield. Behind starters Rasul Douglas and Christian Benford at corner, the only reserve is Cam Lewis who’s also a backup safety. The only other true safety behind Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer is Damar Hamlin.
THE REALITY is, though, if Buffalo is to win this game it will be on the strength of Allen’s right arm.
On Monday night, after he connected on a NFL season-record 81-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Khalil Shakir, ABC cameras caught Allen on the sideline mouthing, “I’m bleeping back.”
And during the week, the sixth-year quarterback seemed his formerly confident self.
“We’ve talked a lot internally about how to kind of spark or ignite this team, and we feel like we’re in a good spot right now,” Allen said. “Obviously, our backs are still against the wall. We’ve still got to go win a lot more games. But you can’t win the next one, until you win this one.
“That’s all our focus is on, is the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at 4:25. We’re going to do everything we can to put our best foot forward and give ourselves the best opportunity to go win a game.”
And wide receiver Stefon Diggs added of Allen, “He had a moment where he told us, ‘Listen, if I’m acting like (expletive), just tell me. I need it to shake me up a little bit.. “We all kind of get into this moment of you want to do everything right and I can imagine how hard it is at quarterback, but he told (us) ‘Look at me, if I’m not doing X, Y, Z, just tell me. I need it. Obviously sometimes I need a little push in the back – is the nicest way I can say it – or foot in the (butt) is another way.”
Diggs added, “He does such a great job, this past week you saw the energy. You saw him getting back to having fun and having a little bit more of a clear mind. That kind of goes hand in hand. I feel like execution brings energy, so him executing at a high level brought that Josh that we know and love back.”
The question is whether that’s enough.
Eagles 24, Bills 20
Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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