ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills, for the moment, can put aside concerns of their recent sluggish starts. And they can also delay confronting whatever lingering memories there might be before making their first trip to Cincinnati since safety Damar Hamlin nearly died on the field in January.
The Bills (5-3), off until playing the Bengals on Nov. 5, earned the benefit of enjoying a long weekend to relax and recuperate after rediscovering a semblance of their dynamic identity on offense following a 24-18 win over Tampa Bay on Thursday night.
The performance was hardly perfect, and yet it provided a template Buffalo can use to maintain ground in a tightly packed AFC playoff race and keep alive its bid to win a fourth consecutive division title entering the final half of the season.
It was an outing in which Allen and the offense shed the lethargy of its previous three games. The offense found a rhythm early with an up-tempo approach in which the quarterback spread the ball — rather than locking in on Stefon Diggs — and showed no hesitation in running when the opportunities presented themselves.
The 17 points scored in the first half were seven more than Buffalo produced in its three previous first halves combined.
Just as important, the two-score lead built through three quarters was enough to take the pressure off a defense missing three key starters, by forcing the Buccaneers to become one-dimensional in having to play catch-up.
“That’s what we want to do, but obviously it’s hard to do that every week,” coach Sean McDermott said on Friday. “But, yeah, the rhythm, the energy, the offense feeding defense, defense feeding offense and special teams baked into that, that was evident through the better of three quarters.”
Yet there remain worrying signs as McDermott alluded to how the game nearly unraveled in fourth quarter with Buffalo having to withstand a Hail Mary incompletion as time ran out.
The Bills are still having difficulty finishing drives. Of their 10 possessions against Tampa Bay, they crossed midfield eight times but only came away with four scores.
That extends Buffalo’s recent trend in which the team has combined for 17 scoring drives on 37 possessions over its past four outings. The Bills were far more efficient in their first four outings with 24 of 38 possessions ending with scores.
The bright side is the Bills appeared collectively and cohesively better as a team than the one that lost to New England a week earlier and barely pulled out a 14-9 win over the New York Giants two weeks ago.
What's unlikely is counting on major reinforcements to arrive before the NFL’s trade deadline on Tuesday.
While GM Brandon Beane freed up about $4 million in salary cap space last week by restructuring left tackle Dion Dawkins’ contract, the move was made more out of necessity than opportunity.
The Bills had little payroll space left to fill the spots of players going on injured reserve — with tight end Dawson Knox (wrist) the latest — while maintaining a small cushion in the event of future injuries.
In the meantime, the Bills hope to return fresh next week for a key game and emotional test at the Bengals, an opponent who eliminated Buffalo in the divisional playoff round in January.
“We will communicate on that,” McDermott said, regarding how to deal with the memory of Hamlin going into cardiac arrest and needing to be resuscitated on the field. Hamlin has since fully recovered and is on Buffalo’s roster, though he has only been active for one game this season.
“I think the biggest thing that’s in front of us is the football game,” McDermott said. “And that’s what we have to keep it about, is that game and what it’s going to take to win at Cincinnati.”
Third-down success. The offense converted 7 of 13 third-down chances and improved to 5-0 this season with a 50% or better success rate. The defense held Tampa Bay to converting 4 of 15 third-down chances, its best outing since limiting Washington to convert 1 of 9 in Week 3.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Takeaways. After combining for three forced fumbles and eight interceptions in its first four outings, Buffalo has managed just three forced fumbles in its past four.
P Sam Martin. Landed three of four punts inside Tampa Bay’s 10.
CB Kaiir Elam. The 2022 first-round pick was inactive for the fifth time this season, with recently signed veteran Josh Norman being elevated off the practice squad to fill the backup CB spot.
McDermott said Allen’s throwing shoulder is sore, a day after the quarterback was briefly evaluated but didn’t miss a snap after aggravating an injury he first sustained two weeks ago.
67-38 — McDermott’s record in Buffalo, leaving him one win from matching Lou Saban for second on the franchise list. Hall of Famer Marv Levy is first with 112 wins.
Bills gets the weekend off before resuming practice on Wednesday for game at Cincinnati.
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