The frustrating thing about the Buffalo Bills is when they've been good this season, it has looked really good.
It's hard to believe the same team that barely beat the New York Giants after being outplayed and then lost to the New England Patriots was the same team we watched Thursday night. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came in with a 3-3 record and were never really a threat to win. Not many teams will be competitive when Josh Allen is locked in and the Bills defense plays like it did against Tampa Bay.
The Bills beat the Buccaneers 24-18 — the game wasn't as competitive as the score would indicate — to improve to 5-3. It's not exactly where the Bills want to be. But performances like Thursday night are a reminder that it's a long season, and Buffalo still shows that capability of being among the best teams in the NFL.
That's the confounding part. Why can't the Bills look like that most games?
Bills come out hot
The Bills have had four bad performances this season, three of which turned into losses. But early into Thursday's game it was clear it would be one of their good nights.
A big part of the Bills' offense Thursday night was Allen running the ball, which had been mostly missing through seven games. There was a lot of chatter about Allen running more to help the offense, and that happened Thursday night. It's a difficult balance. Allen seemed to bang up his shoulder as he was tackled on one run and went to the medical tent to get checked out, which is a reminder of why Allen hadn't run so much. Buffalo wants him healthy. But it's hard to scale back Allen's running after seeing how it sparked the offense. Allen threw for 324 yards and rushed for 41 more.
The Bills weren't perfect. They failed in a goal-to-go situation, with Allen having a pass batted down on fourth down. Allen had a pass that was deflected at the line and was intercepted. That turnover led directly to a Buccaneers touchdown.
And yet the Bills weren't threatened for most of the game.
Allen ran for a touchdown and threw one to rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid in the first half. In the second half he threw another to Gabriel Davis. That gave the Bills a 24-10 lead, which they held for most of the second half. Aside from the touchdown Tampa Bay got from a short field after Allen's interception, the Buccaneers didn't sustain much offense. It seemed like a huge deficit to overcome. And it was, though Tampa Bay made it interesting with a long, late touchdown drive.
Bills look good in all phases
The Buccaneers started 2-0 this season. They're 1-4 since then. Thursday night was a tough assignment, facing a Bills team that was frustrated after a bad loss to the Patriots last week.
Baker Mayfield was playing on a banged-up knee, and until one drive in the fourth quarter against a backed-up Bills' defense, he wasn't effective. A big part of Mayfield's struggles was the play of the Bills' defense, which had been missing cornerback Tre'Davious White, linebacker Matt Milano and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, who are all on injured reserve. They didn't seem to miss them Thursday night, which is a good sign.
Overall it was a positive game for the Bills. Allen was running again. The offense was humming without Stefon Diggs having a huge night. Other options, like Kincaid, Davis and Khalil Shakir, all had good games. The defense didn't allow any long drives until late in the game, when it was willing to keep the Buccaneers in front of it and make them eat up the clock. That drive was kept alive by a couple of fourth-down penalties, and then Mike Evans caught a touchdown on fourth-and-10 after it caromed off Bills cornerback Christian Benford's helmet. That touchdown and the two-point conversion pulled the Buccaneers within six points, but the 17-play drive took 7:21 off the clock. The game was practically over when Diggs caught a big third-down pass after that for a first down right before the two-minute warning. The Bills did have to punt after that, but the Buccaneers had only a few seconds left and their Hail Mary on the final play was unsuccessful.
The final score was closer than the game itself. For the most part, the Bills looked like they were back. Now comes the real trick: Sustaining that for at least a few weeks.