Anatomy of (Yet Another) Choke: Vikings @ Bills (11/16/22)

Bills fans thought they had hit rock bottom last week. Losing to the Jets was only the beginning, as Josh Allen was diagnosed with a UCL sprain after the game. Even worse, next week, they wouldn’t be getting another doormat, but a scrappy Vikings team trying to come to terms with their impressive and surprising success. They would be looking for a signature statement to put them on the map as NFC contenders. Unfortunately for Minnesota, Allen’s injury was mild, and he was cleared to play on Sunday, and he would be starting. At kickoff, the Bills were -5-point favorites against Minnesota, at home.

They would prove all the upset picks right on the opening drive by going 3-and-out and getting stuffed by the Purple People Eaters and Buffalo defector Harrison Phillips. The offense, led by Kirk Cousins, promptly marched down the field for a touchdown as Justin Jefferson torched that injured Bills secondary. It is here that the Bills’ offense got rolling once again. They finally got a running game going and capped off their scoring drive with a Devin Singletary touchdown. Even better, Minnesota went 3-and-out on their next drive and the Bills cashed in for another touchdown. When you think things couldn’t get worse for the Vikings, Kirk Cousins throws a pick. The Bills, set up in prime field position, could only get a field goal. I’d say this would be a harbinger for things to come, but let’s forget that. The Bills scored another touchdown. Up 24-10 going into the locker room. It would take a miracle for the Vikings to come back.

This sentiment would be emphasized early in the third quarter as Kirk Cousins threw another interception and the Bills got 3 more points. However, Minnesota has been a second-half team all year. They are known across the land for dramatic, last-second victories. Then Vikings fans got a break from their misery as Dalvin Cook ran off for a 76-yard rumble to make it a two-score game.

The 4th quarter was sheer ugliness. Both teams exchanged punts and turnovers, sometimes in quick succession. This was until Minnesota scored a touchdown to make it a one-score game. Greg Joseph knows the stakes. He decided to keep the memes afloat by hitting the upright on the extra point, keeping it at a 4-point game. Buffalo, predictably, proceeded to do absolutely nothing with the ball and punted it back to Minnesota. However, all was well in Bills Mafia. The defense did its job to force a 4th and 18, and then Bills Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier put a rookie 1-on-1 against the Vikings’ best receiver. The Vikings converted with one of the best catches of the season thus far. After this miracle play, Minnesota got down to the goal line. It is here that the Bills’ defense goes back to brick wall mode. They stuff the Vikings on 4th down and get a critical turnover to give Buffalo the ball back to try and run out the clock.

There was, however, one problem: the Bills would have to start from their goal line. This was their downfall. Josh Allen fumbled the exchange from his center and the Vikings recovered for a touchdown to take the lead with 40 seconds left.

Bills fans might be scratching their heads furiously as to the play call, but never mind. Look at the high-end talent! Buffalo marched down the field, with some help from the refs for not reviewing a catch that shouldn’t have counted, and ties the game to force overtime.

However, this is where the Bills experience Deja vu. They lose the overtime coin toss. However, unlike the playoff game, the defense decided to show up. Despite getting to the goal line, Minnesota could do nothing as Ed Oliver sacked Cousins to force them out of striking distance for a touchdown. They were forced to kick a field goal and give the ball back to Allen and the Bills with 3 minutes left in extra football. The Bills did their job, marching down the field to the 20. Coming out of the two-minute warning, though, Josh Allen has a trick up his sleeve. Faking out everyone, including his own team, he throws a dart down the middle to the end zone. Do you know who wasn’t fooled? Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson. Interception, game over. The Vikings win an epic game in Buffalo and have the signature statement win they’ve needed. The Bills, meanwhile, are in freefall. The supposed best team in the NFL has now fallen to 6-3 and has dropped all the way to third in the division. Miami and the Jets both hold tiebreakers and are ahead. Pain.

Whenever I think this team can’t go lower in the art of disappointment and pain inducement, they stumble upon a portal to another dimension and dig there. This is a statement of legitimacy by Minnesota, that I will give them, but for the Bills, it’s a colossal choke. A 17-point lead with 2 minutes left in the third quarter should have been game over. A team they had dominated all day long, an offense that they had generated 3 turnovers against, a defense that couldn’t stop their newfound running game, all those opportunities were completely squandered because the entire team chose to clock out 30 minutes early.

In reality, what the game boiled down to was that 4th down interception at the beginning of the 4th quarter. If the Bills do the right thing there and take the points, none of this probably happens. The Vikings don’t use it as a giant momentum swing to keep their comeback alive. The Bills aren’t playing for a tie on the final drive and could have won with a walk-off field goal. The game doesn’t go to overtime, where the Bills are notorious for coming out on the wrong side, and that’s regardless of whatever goal line hijinks may have occurred in this alternate reality. Not to discount the other screw-ups by Buffalo that could have made a difference, too. I’m sorry, but how do you blow a 4th and 18 with what is supposedly the #1 defense in the league? How do you let them march to the 1-yard line? Why didn’t the offense line up in shotgun formation to throw a screen out of the end zone? If it weren’t for the refs, this game doesn’t even go to overtime, that “catch” by Davis shouldn’t have counted. But by sending this game to overtime, we witnessed even more ineptitude.

Offensive Coordinator Ken Dorsey needs to change his tactics or get fired, there, I said it. His red zone play calling seems to be something out of The Hack’s Denver playbook. Chuck it into the end zone, and repeat, and repeat. He goes for broke on every single down, playing right into Allen’s one critical flaw; he tries to play hero ball on every snap, even when it’s far from the best decision. In what world is it a good idea to make that last throw? Davis was in double coverage! If that ball isn’t in the exact right spot, it’s going the other way, and unfortunately, that’s what happened on that play.

Another concern is Allen’s propensity for red zone interceptions. One of the most mentioned stat lines last year was that he had never thrown a red zone INT in his career. That has changed drastically this season. In the last 3 games, Allen has thrown five of them, two of them last week against the Jets and another two in this game. If this keeps happening, I honestly don’t know if the Bills will make the playoffs. They’re good, but with how deep the AFC is unless they change something fast, they aren’t going anywhere.

Speaking of which, thank god they get Cleveland and Detroit these next two weeks. Knowing the Bills, they’ll find a way to screw this up too. Cautious optimism is key. As I write this, Kirk Cousins is probably wearing five figures worth of ice and partying it up on the Vikings’ charter plane. I should be happy for the Vikings finally breaking free of the narratives, but all I feel is pain and resentment. This Bills team is going to break me by the end of the year, I can feel it.


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