ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Given the number of injuries that both the Buffalo Bills (7-8) and the Dallas Cowboys (4-11) had dealt with coming into Week 16, Sunday felt more like a preseason game. Throw in some sloppy, cold and rainy weather and this one had all the makings for a lousy affair. Yet even given those circumstances and having nothing left to play for Buffalo got the job done, earning a 16-6 victory over Dallas and halting a dreadful three game skid.
“I know we’re not competing for the playoffs and I know what that means to this community and how at this point we are with that,” Ryan said after the win. “But you can’t be disappointed in the efforts of the players out there. [I mean] you’re playing without 10 starters and the guys that stepped up did a tremendous job.”
With LeSean McCoy sitting out due to an MCL injury in his right knee, the Bills handed the keys over to rookie back Karlos Williams and their best kept secret Mike Gillislee, who eaach put together equally masterful performances. Williams continued to thrive in his rookie campaign, accumulating 76 yards rushing on 17 carries and scoring the Bills first touchdown of the game from one-yard out. Gillislee would score as well – on a 50-yard run in the fourth quarter – piling up 93 yards of his own on just nine carries. It was the third straight contest in which Gillislee has scored since being signed off the practice squad back in Week 13.
“We knew McCoy was going to be out so we did some extra studying and just both worked harder this week to prepare for the game,” Gillislee said of he and Williams’ efforts this week. “I always had the confidence, it was a matter of the opportunity and the Bills game me a hell of an opportunity. I’m taking advantage of it.”
Gillislee has certainly made the most of his opportunity, using his 23 carries this season to post 239 rushing yards and a 10.4 ypc average. Those are practically Madden type numbers being posted by a guy who no one knew mere weeks ago. Ryan and the Bills have certainly taken notice.
“You know that’s two games in a row that he’s housed a couple of them,” Ryan pointed out afterward. “The kid just does a tremendous job for us and really gotta tip your hat to him. I mean even in protections, all that stuff you learn as a back, he’s done it. And you gotta give credit to Anthony Lynn as well. He has those guys ready week in and week out.”
Joining in on the rushing frenzy was quarterback Tyrod Taylor who added 67 yards of his own on the ground also breaking yet another Bills’ record. With 56 seconds remaining in the second quarter Taylor’s six-yard run from the Dallas 13 pushed him passed Doug Flutie as the franchise’s leader for single-season rushing yards by a QB. Flutie set the initial record back in 1999 when he rushed for 476 yards, but Taylor now takes over after piling up 517 yards this season, with one game still to go.
“Week in and week out our coaches do a good job scheming up our run game and putting guys in the best situation as far as going out there and making plays,” Taylor said. “We were able to take advantage of some of the looks we got today and was able to pop some big runs.
In total Buffalo accumulated 236 rushing yards – there third most for a single-game this season – in comparison to Dallas’ 121 rushing yards. Passing wise Taylor finished the day 13-for-18 for 179 yards tossing a single interception and no touchdowns – the first time this season that the fifth-year QB has thrown a pick and not a touchdown.
His counterpart Kellen Moore, who made his first career NFL start threw the ball 31 times and completed just 13 of those attempts for a dismal 48.6 completion percentage. He bested Taylor in terms of yards, throwing for 186, but also went without a touchdown and had one interception on the day. It was the perfect storm for Buffalo, who wanted to force the inexperienced Moore to beat them through the air rather than let veteran back Darren McFadden run all over them.
Even as depleted as the Bills were with injuries and having to watch several others like DT Marcell Dareus and WR Marcus Easley leave the game with ailments of their own, guys step up to help them earn this win. No, it wasn’t pretty – the defense looked weak in spots and the offense continued to show it’s usual signs of inconsistency – but when they needed it most they got stops and they scored just enough to hold off Dallas.
Starting with the ball, Dallas made pretty easy work of the Bills’ defense as they pushed it down to the Buffalo 28-yard line on 11 plays and set up Dan Bailey for a 46-yard field goal.
On the ensuing drive Buffalo – with nothing to lose – took a gamble facing fourth-and-three from the Dallas 35, but failed to convert on a dropped pass, deep down the right side to Chris Hogan. Dallas took over and moved the ball into Bills territory with just two plays, looking to extend their lead. They’d reach the Buffalo 32 before two missed passes by Moore ended the drive and set up Bailey for a 50-yard try, which came up short.
Starting at their own 40, Buffalo would get a much needed spark on their next possession as Karlos Williams used his first carry of the game to barrel his way into the Cowboys’ secondary for 26 yards. Once a 15-yard facemask penalty was tacked onto the end of the run, the Bills were in business at the Dallas’ 19. Three plays later a swing pass to Gillislee looked like it had gone for six from 15 yards out, but after further review he was marked down at the one. That set up Williams to punch it in for the Bills first score of the game, giving them an early 6-3 lead.
Dan Carpenter would miss the PAT – his fifth of the season – and that score would hold with 48 seconds remaining in the first.
Later on, after a Bills’ punt and terrific return by Lucky Whithead to the Buffalo 44, Dallas would get within reach of the endzone all the way to the Buffalo four-yard line. The Bills’ defense however would dig deep, force a stop and hold the Cowboys to just a field goal as Bailey knocked it in from 22 yards out.
On the ensuing possession – just before halftime – Buffalo put together their longest drive of the game, using 13 plays to set themselves up on the doorstep of the endzone with a first-and-goal from the Dallas eight. After a penalty that became first-and-goal from the 13, but Buffalo used two plays to get up to the Dallas four. Facing third-and-goal Taylor looked to his right and lofted a ball he probably should have zipped toward Hogan on the right side, resulting in an interception and ending the half with the teams tied at six.
A very sluggish third quarter saw each team punt once and turn it over once, with a 32-yard, Carpenter field goal as the lone score of the quarter.
On their final two fourth quarter drives Dallas would move the ball fairly well across the 50 and up to the Bills’ 44, but failing to convert on third-and-four and third-and-eight respectively, punted the ball away on both occasions.
Finally, the Bills would get the dagger they needed on a drive that began with 6:53 remaining in the game. Backed up at their own eight, things looked bleak when they had moved the ball just four yards to the 12 and faced a crucial third-and-six. A stop for Dallas would have flipped the field in their favor. Instead, Taylor would drop back and feeling some pressuring closing in off the left side, stepped up in the pocket. Another would-be tackler came his way and yet again he slipped away and began rolling to his right. One final defender had a shot at sacking Taylor but the elusive QB used a quick stutter step to freeze him enough that he could get the edge and get out of bounds after a pickup of seven and a first down.
Six plays later a read option hand-off to Gillislee off the right side went the distance as the former practice-squad back got the edge, took a hard step inside to get the linebackers out of position, then cut back outside and bolted 50 yards down the sideline for a score.
Now leading 16-6 it was all the Bills needed the rest of the way despite 2:25 remaining in the game, following a Whithead fumbled the ensuing kickoff return, which allowed Buffalo to run out the clock the rest of the way.
“All these guys are pros,” Ryan said. “All these guys deserve to be in the National Football League and I think they showed that today. Guys had to step up in a big way and I thought they did.”
While the win means very little for Buffalo perhaps the one saving grace is that it prevented them from going 0-4 against a miserable NFC East, which features just one team over .500 at this point in the season. The win also put Buffalo in position to avoid a losing season should they earn a win over the New York Jets next Sunday – a game Bills’ RB Boobie Dixon dubbed ‘their Super Bowl.’
With the Jets sneaking by New England in overtime via a 26-20 win, Buffalo now has a chance to spoil New York’s playoff dreams with a win at home next week.
“We don’t want to be in a spoiler role,” Ryan said of the opportunity that lies in front of them in Week 17. “We want to be in the role of win and we’re in and everything else. That’s what we expected going into the season. Obviously that didn’t happen, but at the same time we’re gonna play. We have an opportunity to play in front of our fans again and that’s important to us.”