By Chuck Pollock, Senior Sports Columnist
On this day, Bills man-handled the Cowboys
All season long, as the Bills dropped six of eight one possession games, the subliminal message seemed to be, Buffalo, for all its talent, just wasn’t physically tough.
Then came Sunday afternoon at rainy Highmark Stadium against, of all teams, the Dallas Cowboys, 10-3 and tied for the NFL’s best record while averaging 40 points per game during their live five-game win streak.
So what happened?
The Bills flexed their muscles for 60 minutes and absolutely thrashed owner Jerry Jones’ pride-and-joy, 31-10, in a game which wasn’t that lose.
And while Buffalo improved its playoff position for the second straight Sunday by beating a quality opponent — at Kansas City seven days earlier — the reeling Cowboys left Orchard Park wondering about their own toughness.
It’s a word no pro athlete ever wants to hear, but for all the world, it appeared Dallas collectively quit in the second half, seemingly raising the white flag following the first possession after intermission.
And it wasn’t the Bills’ elite quarterback Josh Allen who performed the surgery.
They didn’t even need him.
The only weapon Buffalo required was James Cook — Dalvin’s brother — who played the role of one-man wrecking crew. The second-year pro from Georgia, who was benched after fumbling on his first carry as a rookie, had the game of his career.
WHEN IT WAS was over, Cook finished with 25 carries for 179 yards — second-most in the NFL this season — and a touchdown. One of those runs was seemingly stopped after a yard but his offensive linemen PUSHED him for 11 more. It was a carry where Buffalo absolutely handled Dallas’ defensive front seven mano-a-mano.
After that first-half play, you had an idea where this game was headed.
And Cook didn’t stop with his rushing performance. He also had two receptions for 42 yards and a TD. Thus, he accounted for 221 yards of Buffalo’s 351 of which a season-high 266 were on the ground.
BUT BEING manhandled by Buffalo wasn’t enough, the Cowboys, the NFL’s most penalized team, also managed to play very dumb.
Three times in the first half, thoughtless Dallas infractions handed the Bills 18 points.
The first, after the Cowboys had seemingly forced a Bills field goal attempt on its opening drive, but a needless roughing-the-passer call extended the possession which became a TD. Next, after Dallas seemingly had made a stop, a poor-technique roughing- the-kicker infraction continued the Bills TD drive. Finally, just when coach Mike McCarthy’s crew apparently had gotten a stop, an unnecessary-roughness flag on an incomplete pass toward Kahlil Shakir extended another Buffalo touchdown possession.
SO NOW what for the Bills?
Buffalo improved to 8-6 on the season, but is still not in the AFC’s top seven teams that would make the playoffs. But the Bills’ postseason odds have improved from 21% following the loss to the Eagles to 50% after beating the Cowboys.
Currently, the conference playoff outlook is the four division leaders: Baltimore (11-3), Miami (10-4), Kansas City (9-5) and Jacksonville (8-6) with wildcards Cleveland (9-5), Cincinnati and Indianapolis both 8-6. Two other teams — Houston and Buffalo — with that same record are still in the hunt. Pittsburgh and Denver, both 7-7, lost Saturday and are still alive but barely.
There’s actually a thought that the Bills’ best path to the playoffs is to win the division.
The Dolphins blew a two touchdown lead in the final minutes at home, a week ago, and lost to Tennessee. Even after beating the Jets Sunday, their closing schedule is home against Dallas, at Baltimore then Buffalo at Hardrock Stadium.
The Bills are at the Chargers, 5-9 and in disarray with quarterback Justin Herbert out for the season and coach Brandon Staley fired, Saturday night. Then comes a home game against the Patriots (3-11). If Miami loses to either Dallas or Baltimore, and the Bills win twice, Buffalo, with a win over the Dolphins, would claim the AFC East based on tiebreakers.
OTHER NOTES from the Bills’ domination of the Cowboys:
— An interesting conspiracy theory surfaced during the week before the game. It became known that the referee would be Craig Wrolstead and that Dallas was 8-0 the last eight games his crew had worked.
And while that’s true, you couldn’t prove it Sunday as Buffalo was called for only one penalty and the Cowboys for five.
— Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen’s 1-yard rushing touchdown was his 11th this season.
— The game’s lone takeaway came when Buffalo cornerback Christian Benford picked off Dallas QB Dak Prescott, his first.
— Cowboys’ rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey has now made all 31 of his field goal attempts.
— Buffalo’s first of three sacks of Prescott was recorded by end Leonard Floyd, giving him a team-leading 10½. End Jordan Phillips got one for 2½ ,linebacker Tyrel Dodson and end Greg Rousseau split one giving them two and five respectively. Floyd’s total is a career high and triggered a $1.5 million performance bonus.
— Dallas’ only sack of Allen was recorded by defensive tackle Mazi Smith, his first.
— Inactives for the Bills were safety Micah Hyde (neck/stinger), defensive end A.J. Epenesa (ribs), offensive tackles Germain Ifedi and Alec Anderson and defensive tackle Poona Ford. Taylor Rapp replaced Hyde as starter.
— Among Dallas’ inactives were two starters, safety Malik Hooker (ankle) and defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins (knee). Early in the game guard Zack Martin, the Cowboys’ top offensive lineman, left with a quad injury and didn’t return.
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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