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Graham: Bills discover newfound energy in lopsided win over Jets


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That’s exactly what they needed.

The Buffalo Bills went on a football spree. The offense scored a bunch. The defense inflicted pain. The coverage units were special. They kicked their bullies in the teeth.

Except they also encountered exactly what they didn’t need.

By halftime, the Bills lost three more defenders. None returned, their statuses uncertain. Starting cornerback Dane Jackson was knocked woozy with a concussion. A collision while making a tackle concussed nickelback Taron Johnson and injured safety Taylor Rapp’s neck. Rapp, who showed movement, was strapped to a backboard and taken away by ambulance.

And it’s still too soon to know if the Bills’ biggest recent development will turn out to be what they need most of all.

The Bills seemed to rediscover their joy Sunday night in Highmark Stadium, snapping out of their zombie trance to poleaxe the New York Jets 32-6.

“It ain’t like we’ve been losing by 20,” defensive tackle Ed Oliver said of the Bills being only 6-5 despite outscoring opponents by 104 points this year. “We’ve been losing by three and five, and that s— just gets aggravating.

“To get the job done by a big margin is, obviously, a step in the right direction.”

Was it because Josh Allen’s fuse was re-lit by last week’s decision to fire offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey and make Joe Brady the new play caller? Was it because Buffalo’s defense dummied hapless quarterback Zach Wilson? Was it because the special teams, six days after blowing the conclusion of the heartbreaking loss to the Denver Broncos, screamed back with an explosive takeaway on the opening kickoff?

Hard to say yet, but the Bills bought themselves another week to figure stuff out before facing each of last year’s Super Bowl teams the next two games. The Bills visit the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday, take their bye week and then drop by the Kansas City Chiefs.

“It was a lot of little things,” McDermott said, “that factored into one big boulder of the ‘why?’ You can point to a lot of things that we did right during the week, and the guys executed.”

Bills running back Latavius Murray, who called a players-only offense meeting two week ago in hopes of pulling out of its toilet swirl, was all smiles in the locker room Sunday night.

Murray spoke of the newfound energy Buffalo had, but the 10th-year pro couldn’t describe where exactly it came from.

“It’s just different,” Murray said, trying to explain the “new energy” concept that has echoed throughout One Bills Drive the past seven days.

“Look, I think it was us taking it upon ourselves to lift Joe up,” “It’s not about the X’s and O’s. We love Dorse. He meant a lot to us. With Joe coming in, it gave us a chance to have new energy. We just rallied around that.”

The energy permeated every unit. Six days after getting caught with too many men, giving Denver kicker Wil Lutz a mulligan he didn’t miss, Buffalo’s special teams popped.

Xavier Gipson fielded the opening kickoff. Seven seconds later, fullback Reggie Gilliamslammed the ball out of him, and tight end Quinton Morris recovered. Unable to get a first down, Tyler Bass still gave the Bills a 3-0 lead.

Buffalo’s offense didn’t crackle right away, and not everyone reveled in the Brady reset.

When the Bills kicked field goals on each of their first three possessions, fans got restless. Highmark Stadium booed McDermott decision to have Bass kick a 33-yarder rather than attempting a fourth-and-2 conversion.

But the Bills’ defense injected life into the offense, an unusual phenomenon for them lately.

“They made us work for it in the beginning,” Oliver said. “Then we broke the game open.”

Trade-deadline cornerback Rasul Douglas swiped his first of two interceptions, this one giving Buffalo the ball at New York’s 23-yard line with 5:19 left in the second quarter. Five plays later, Allen connected with tailback James Cook in the flat for a simple 5-yard touchdown.

With the Bills ahead 16-0, the game ostensibly was over. The Jets’ offense had nothing to offer, and the locals were feasting.

Yet another scary scene befell Buffalo’s defense 70 seconds before halftime. A three-way collision among running back Breece Hall, Johnson and Rapp knocked both Bills defenders out of the game. McDermott said he didn’t have any injury insight beyond an update Rapp already was home and not at the hospital.

“Guys lay it on the line for this team,” backup cornerback Siran Neal said. “If somebody rides off on an ambulance, we just know we got to replace them with no dropoff.

“We’re a relentless defense. We hit hard. We attack hard. At any moment, somebody can drop, and we’re prepared for it. That’s what I love about this team. We take pride in putting this team on our back.”

The Bills’ defense would have carried the team even if the offense didn’t wake up.

In addition to Douglas’ two interceptions, he recovered rookie receiver Garrett Wilson’s fumble that linebacker Tyrel Dodson forced early in the fourth quarter. The Bills sacked Zach Wilson five times and mercy replacement Tim Boyle once. They recorded eight quarterback hits and five pass breakups.

Hall ran 10 times for 23 yards and was New York’s leading receiver with five catches for 50 yards and the lone touchdown.

The Bills cannot get much thinner on defense and expect to stone upcoming opponents such as the Eagles and Chiefs and Miami Dolphins.

Then again, they keep persisting.

“We talk about ‘next man up’ mentality, but with the guys that went down today, it’s hard to replace,” Bills linebacker Terrel Bernard said, shaking his head at the ridiculousness of it all. Already gone were defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, All-Pro linebacker Matt Milano and top cornerback Tre’Davious White.

“But we come back each week. We build the connection and the bond, to play our style of football to our standard. We’ve gotten better continuously each week.”

Allen and the offense must continue to remain plugged into that new fuse box. He completed 20 of his 32 attempts for 275 yards and three touchdowns with a meaningless interception. He ran five times for 15 yards and didn’t fumble.

Reserve tailback Ty Johnson tightroped the sideline for a 28-yard catch-and-run touchdown with 10:34 left in the third quarter. Four minutes later, Khalil Shakir took an Allen pass 81 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, making several defenders miss in the open field.

James Cook led Buffalo with 73 yards rushing and another 29 yards on three catches. Rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid remained a reliable outlet. He made a game-high six receptions for 46 yards. The offensive line allowed only one sack and three additional QB hits.

A good time was had by (almost) all.

Star receiver Stefon Diggs dropped his first target. By halftime he had one catch, which he fumbled. Diggs finished with four catches for 27 yards. Gabriel Davis, meanwhile, was targeted zero times. Davis has two receptions over the past three weeks and for the second straight game declined to speak with reporters.

Sunday’s outcome didn’t fix everything. The Bills still remain 1.5 games behind the Dolphins for the AFC East lead and are in a deep tiebreaker hole at 3-5 in the conference with defensive injuries getting obnoxious.

But the Bills sorely needed that win. They needed the Brady decision to work. They all — and Allen in particular — needed to remember they’re good.

“We’ll see where it goes each week,” McDermott said. “It’s a little bit different each week in the game plan and the defense we’re playing.

“But I just think overall, Josh’s play, he looked very in control in the game. Not that it was easy, but it was easy.”

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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