As long as Deshaun Watson is taking the quarterback snaps, Houston is never out of a game.
Watson rallied the Texans from a 16-0 hole, and his elusiveness in the pocket led to a 34-yard completion to Taiwan Jones inside the Buffalo Bills 10.
From there, the Texans kicked the game-winning field goal in a 22-19 overtime win over the Bills on Wild-Card Saturday.
Watson did virtually nothing against the Bills’ defense until he capped the team’s first touchdown drive with a 20-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Watson also threw a short TD pass in the fourth to Carlos Hyde that gave Houston its first lead of the game.
But it was Watson’s escape of an apparent sack at midfield that will define his playoff-winning performance.
Buffalo blitzers Siran Neal and Matt Milano each had their arms around Watson, who shrugged the two tacklers off on a scramble to the right. There, he found the little-used Jones on the right side near the first-down marker.
Jones, with his only touch of the game, reeled in the pass, made Bills safety Micah Hyde miss, and he rumbled down to the Buffalo 9.
The Bills, seeking their first playoff win since December 1995, will have to wait another season to break its 24-year playoff victory drought.
With the season now over for the Bills, what did we learn today? Here are five things:
The good and the bad Josh Allen
In four quarters plus 12 minutes of overtime, we saw both sides of the Allen coin. He was nearly flawless in the first half with an excellent quarterback scramble, a touchdown reception on a throwback from receiver John Brown, and he completed the passes he needed to make.
The second half was nearly the opposite. He lost a fumble early in the fourth that led to a Houston field goal, he took ill-timed sacks, and on a good quarterback run on the Bills’ drive for a tying field goal, inexplicably flipped a lateral over the head of teammate Dawson Knox while he was falling to the ground.
Yes, that’s a good sandlot play – if it worked – but the lateral nearly cost the Bills a penalty, and worse, the ball.
Playing it safe – too safe
As has been a theme all season for Buffalo, when it gets a lead, the offensive play-calling tends to lean towards the ultra-conservative.
Late in the first half, the Bills wasted valuable time as the clocked ticked down. With over a minute left in the half at the Houston 32, Allen completed a short pass to Cole Beasley. The clock continued to run, and fortunately, Buffalo completed a first-down pass to Devin Singletary for three yards to the Houston 23.
During those two plays, the Bills lost 47 valuable seconds, and inexplicably, after calling a timeout, with 30 seconds left ran Frank Gore for one yard. With the clock running, again, Allen had to spike the ball on second down to stop the clock. Then, Allen threw a low percentage pass to Duke Williams toward the right corner of the end zone.
That incompletion led to one of four Stephen Hauschka field goals.
Yes, the Bills put points on the board, but touchdowns will always trump field goals. The clock management and play-calling was not championship caliber, and the Bills’ mentality on offense – next season – should be redirected toward scoring touchdowns.
The Bills averaged 19 points a game on offense this season, and that will not get it done in today’s NFL.
Pass rushers had their best game
Forget about the missed sack in overtime – Watson did that to every team this season. The Bills had a season-high seven sacks, pressured Watson throughout the game, and forced the Texans to change their game plan.
If not for Watson’s superlative individual effort to evade Buffalo rushers, the Bills would be moving on to the divisional round of the playoffs instead of the Texans.
Jerry Hughes, the Bills’ most tenured player, had three sacks and three tackles for a loss in his best effort this season. Trent Murphy, who had two sacks last week, had a second straight two-sack game.
Where was Beasley? Knox?
It was a good move to elevate Duke Williams to the active roster, and he was the Bills’ most targeted receiver today with 10 targets.
As for free agent signee Cole Beasley, he’s a first down waiting to happen every time he is targeted, but his usage went silent for long stretches today.
In the slot, he is virtually uncoverable, and he caught a 10-yard pass for a first down with under 30 seconds to play leading to the Bills’ tying field goal.
He had one pass thrown his way in overtime – a low throw from Allen that went incomplete. Beasley is a weapon in the mold of the Patriots’ Julian Edelman, and he was vastly underused today.
Buffalo’s tight ends were also a non-factor. Dawson Knox had one catch in two targets, and veteran Lee Smith had one catch for eight yards. That was it for the Buffalo tight ends.
Knox, as we found out this season, is also a weapon and a mismatch for opposing defenses. But the tight ends were clearly not part of today’s offensive game plan.
Bills offense needs to get better
The Bills have put a championship caliber defense on the field the past two seasons. They finished in the top three both years, and it’s reasonable to expect the Bills will maintain a top-line defense in 2020.
Head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane fixed the defense fairly quick, but three years into the McDermott regime, the offense is still a work in progress.
In McDermott’s three seasons, the Bills’ offense has finished 29th, 30th, and 24th out of 32 NFL teams.
If Buffalo didn’t have a top-three NFL defense this season, it’s possible Buffalo could’ve finished with another six-win campaign.
Off Buffalo’s seven losses this year, six of those were one-score games. But in those losses, Buffalo scored two touchdowns or less. And, in all of its losses, it scored less than 20 points.
Some of this offensive inefficiency could be related to the first point: playing it too safe. It appears the offensive directive is to plays its cards close to the vest with Allen, and instead of making aggressive play calls on early downs inside the opponent’s 30, opts for low-risk, low-reward running plays.
The Patriots didn’t win six Super Bowls over the previous 18 years by playing it safe. To paraphrase Patriots coach Bill Belichick, “find an opponent’s weakness, and attack it without mercy.”
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