'I saw a hunger in our football team': Sean McDermott happy, kind of, with Bills' 35-0 romp
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – A playful smile crept across Sean McDermott’s face Sunday afternoon when I asked him if the Buffalo Bills’ 35-0 evisceration of the Miami Dolphins was as complete a victory as he could have hoped for.
“Nice try,” McDermott said.
Oh Sean, for once, let your guard down and just enjoy it.
You see, as an NFL head coach, it’s an inherent trait they all share. They’re never completely happy, no matter how one-sided the score. I guarantee you, when the Bears beat the Redskins 73-0 in the 1940 NFL championship game, George Halas was griping about something.
NFL head coaches can find fault in a major league pitcher’s perfect game, or a stroll through Letchworth State Park in the autumn. I know, I know, I’m one to talk, especially if you follow my Twitter feed during Yankees games.
To his credit, about 10 minutes later I tried again with McDermott and this time he avoided lamenting the things the Bills clearly need to work on this week when they begin preparations for the Washington Football Team’s visit to Orchard Park, and he walked back his initial hesitance to fully enjoy what took place at Hard Rock Stadium.
“I mean, I’ll take the win, I’m happy for that, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I don’t want to just jump over that like it doesn’t matter. It does matter, but it’s a journey, too, and it’s about how you grow every week and how you get better every week and your mindset and focus every week. So that’s why the NFL is the way it is.”
The way the NFL was for the Bills Sunday was this: They were so much better than the team that many believe will be their toughest challenger in the AFC East.
Last week was undoubtedly a gut punch, losing the emotional home opener to a Steelers team that Buffalo is also better than – for proof, Raiders 26, Steelers 17. This was a soul cleanser, so, whether he chooses to revel in it or not, at least for the proverbial 24-hour window, McDermott must know that his Bills put forth quite an impressive performance.
Just ask Miami coach Brian Flores.
“Give Buffalo credit, they’re a good team, they played well in all three phases,” said Flores, now 0-5 against the Bills, the last two of which have been by a combined 65 points. “We need to do a much better job from an execution standpoint and give ourselves an opportunity to be in the game, which I thought early we missed a lot of opportunities.”
Sure, there were some problems on offense, including two turnovers and some misfires by Josh Allen, but in the end, Buffalo scored five touchdowns and none of them came cheap as their shortest drive was 41 yards.
“They’ve got some really good players over there and they made some really good plays today,” Allen said of the competent Miami secondary. “But there’s some things that we need to do better communication-wise and it starts with me. There’s going to be a lot of stuff to learn from on this tape. Again, winning the way we did, it feels good.”
Defensively, it was a masterpiece as Miami produced just 13 first downs and 216 total yards of offense behind beleaguered quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Jacoby Brissett. The Bills pass rush, augmented by blitzing, came up with six sacks while the secondary blanketed Miami’s improved receiver corps and the longest gain through the air was 18 yards.
“We felt like we left some things out there last week, as you guys heard us throughout the week talk about it,” said safety Micah Hyde. “We were focused all week; it was just great preparation. Went out there today and just had a blast”
Added his safety partner Jordan Poyer about bouncing back, “The whole, ‘it’s one game, don’t panic.’ We learned from that film, we watched it, we spent the 24-hour window on it and we moved on from it. This team has been together long enough to where we’ve dealt with wins, we’ve dealt with losses. We’ve learned how to do both.”
Add it all up and this was a sixth straight victory over the Dolphins which ties Buffalo’s longest winning streak in the rivalry. The Bills swept the season series three straight years from 1987-89 for the previous six-game binge, though the Dolphins will say “hold my beer” on any of that as they won 20 in a row in the 1970s.
The Bills could not have scripted a better start. They won the coin toss and deferred, sacked Tagovailoa on two of the first three plays to force a punt, and then on their second offensive play, Devin Singletary ripped up the middle for a 46-yard touchdown.
Miami’s next possession ended with A.J. Epenesa driving Tagovailoa into the dirt after as he threw errantly on fourth-and-2, giving the Bills possession at their own 48, and sending Tagovailoa to the locker room for the rest of the day with injured ribs.
Allen immediately hit Emmanuel Sanders with a pretty 35-yard pass as the receiver beat cornerback Byron Jones, putting the ball at the 6, and eventually Allen found Stefon Diggs for a five-yard TD and a 14-0 lead.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the end of the Buffalo offense in the first half. The Miami defense became impenetrable, and it was only because of the Dolphins’ repeated offensive failures that allowed Buffalo to remain in front.
Brissett’s first three series ended with a three-and-out punt, an interception by Levi Wallace, and a fumble by Jakeem Grant that was forced by Taron Johnson and recovered by Matt Milano at the Bills 11.
With all that good fortune, the Bills did absolutely nothing. In fact, Allen was picked off five snaps later by Xavien Howard, but was bailed out when the Bills’ Dane Jackson stopped Malcolm Brown on a fourth-and-2 play for another huge red zone turn away.
After gaining 98 net yards on their first two possessions, the Bills managed just 38 on their next six before halftime, the last ending when Tyler Bass was wide right on a 53-yard field goal attempt.
Ugly, ugly, ugly. And still, a 14-0 lead.
Needless to say, the Bills were pining for a good drive coming out of halftime, and to their credit, they got it as Allen returned to looking like the guy we saw last season. He completed five of seven passes for 56 yards, the last two being a seven-yarder to Diggs to convert a third-and-6, and then an eight-yard TD pass to a sliding Dawson Knox.
“I thought there was good communication leading into halftime by our offensive staff and came out and got into a better rhythm in the second half there,” said McDermott. “Brian (Daboll) did a really good job with that and Josh seemed to find his rhythm as well. I didn’t think we were really into a rhythm in the first half, even though we scored 14. So, it was good to see that in the second half.”
Just like that, all of the struggles of the first 30 minutes were washed away, and the Bills continually pulled away the rest of the day with Zack Moss putting up two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
“I saw a hunger in our football team this week,” McDermott said. “We got plenty to work on, though, and that’s what we’ve got to get back to. We’ll start on the plane as coaches watching the film and try to improve every week, that’s the goal.”
Lets at least hope McDermott had a beer on the happy plane ride home.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.