The Buffalo Bills rested multiple starters on defense and were without their slot receiver Cole Beasley.
Andre Roberts, the AFC Pro Bowl return specialist, didn’t field any kicks for Buffalo.
Oh, and quarterback Josh Allen played one half of football, threw an interception on Buffalo’s first drive and couldn’t get anything going on the team’s next two series.
That sounds like a recipe for disaster, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday. Buffalo had multiple players step up in their Week 17 matchup as they cruised to a 56-26 win over the Miami Dolphins. Buffalo’s win secured the AFC’s No. 2 seed and ultimately knocked the Dolphins out of the playoffs.
Following their blowout win, here are 14 reasons to be encouraged.
ENCOURAGED: Josh Allen
It’s not how you start, it is how you start, but how you finish.
Despite a slow start and early interception, Josh Allen showed why he is firmly in MVP talks with an 18-for-25 outing for 224 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. Despite playing the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense, Allen spread the ball around to all of his playmakers while toying with the Dolphins.
If Allen can continue this type of play in the postseason, Buffalo can go far.
ENCOURAGED: Antonio Williams
Bills fans couldn’t keep track of whether Antonio Williams was on or off Buffalo’s practice squad roster at times this season. The Bills clearly liked the back by re-signing him to the practice squad multiple times, but anytime the team needed to open a spot it felt as though Williams was the odd man out.
His perseverance paid off on Sunday with an NFL debut that saw him find the end zone twice on his way to 83 total yards.
ENCOURAGED: Isaiah McKenzie
Have a day, Isaiah McKenzie!
Buffalo’s gadget receiver took on a bigger role with Cole Beasley out of action and he made the most of the opportunity. McKenzie recorded two touchdown receptions on six receptions for 65 yards.
That alone would be enough for an encouraging day, but McKenzie took it one step further with an 84-yard punt return touchdown.
ENCOURAGED: Stefon Diggs, John Brown, Gabriel Davis
The rest of the Bills’ wide receivers also showed up on Sunday. Diggs finished the year as the NFL’s leading wide receiver following a 7-76 stat line.
John Brown’s return to the field was also a success. Brown hauled in a deep ball for a touchdown before halftime and ended the day with 72 yards on four catches.
Gabriel Davis made the most of his two catches leading the team with 107 yards and one score.
ENCOURAGED: Bills OL
Buffalo’s starters protected Josh Allen well after a bit of a rocky start. Allen took one sack and had some pressure come his way, but the unit eventually settled in which allowed Allen to pick the Dolphins apart.
Later in the game with some starters pulled, Buffalo’s OL did not miss a beat and created some terrific running lanes for Williams while also giving Matt Barkley time to deliver some strikes through the air.
ENCOURAGED: Dean Marlowe
There is an obvious drop-off when Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde are not on the field. Poyer and Hyde may be the best starting duo in the entire league. That said, Buffalo has a solid depth option in Dean Marlowe. The veteran recorded two interceptions and almost came away with a third on Tua Tagovailoa on Sunday. Marlowe has been with Sean McDermott since the Carolina days so it is no surprise to see him playing so well when called upon.
ENCOURAGED: Cornerback depth
Buffalo gave their No. 1 cornerback the day off on Sunday and Buffalo’s other cornerbacks did not miss a beat for the most part. Yes, Josh Norman gave up some receptions against DeVante Parker, but most of them came on perfectly placed balls with Norman going step-for-step with the receiver. He was also flagged for a ticky-tack pass interference penalty on a 4th and goal play, but made up for it later with a pick-six interception and a pass defensed on a fourth down play to create a turnover on downs.
Levi Wallace’s name was not said much during the game and that’s generally a good thing when it comes to cornerback play. Rookie Dane Jackson also saw extended reps on Sunday and shined with two passes defensed. He was in coverage for one of Miami’s touchdowns, but his play has been very encouraging when given the opportunity this year.
ENCOURAGED: Inside linebacker play
Tremaine Edmunds made some plays in the open field and recorded Buffalo’s lone sack on Tagovailoa. He finished the game leading the team with nine tackles.
When Buffalo turned things over to Tyler Matakevich, the veteran picked up where Edmunds left off. He had two passes defensed including one near interception and had six total tackles.
ENCOURAGED: Corey Bojorquez
Corey Bojorquez has had a fresh leg this year as the Bills have not needed to punt much during the 2020 season. When called upon, however, Bojorquez has delivering some booming punts. That continued on Sunday with Bojorquez averaging 53.5 yards per punt. Two of his four punts landed inside the 20 with his longest punt going 69-yards.
ENCOURAGED: Tyler Bass
Tyler Bass did not kick any field goals on Sunday, but was a perfect 8-for-8 on extra point attempts. Those kicks helped him finish first in team history in single-season points scored (141). Not bad for a rookie.
ENCOURAGED: Red zone offense
The Bills reached the red zone four times on Sunday. All four drives resulted in touchdowns. It can’t get any better than that.
Buffalo won the turnover battle on Sunday forcing three Tua Tagovailoa interceptions and recovering one fumble. The biggest turnover, of course, was Norman’s pick-six.
ENCOURAGED: Leaving game healthy
Buffalo had a few early scares, but exited Sunday’s game relatively healthy. Defensive back and special teams standout Siran Neal and nickel cornerback Taron Johnson both exited the game for a brief period of time before returning to action.
This last one has to do with how well the Bills played on Sunday. All season long, Brandon and Hayley Beane have been covering the adaption costs for animals at the SPCA based on how many touchdowns the Bills have scored at home.
In a season finale where Buffalo rested key starters and sat Josh Allen after halftime, the Bills found a way to score eight touchdowns. That means eight animals will find forever homes with the Beane family paying all adaption fees.