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Bills report card: Josh Allen-Stefon Diggs duo has been fun to watch, impossible to defend

Sal Maiorana
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

The primary takeaway from Buffalo Bills safety Micah Hyde Monday night during his Zoom call with reporters was this: He’s happy he doesn’t have to deal with his superstar teammate, wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

“That boy Diggs is a problem,” Hyde said with a big smile, interrupting a question. “I’m sorry, let me just say this: Diggs is a problem, man. Woo. I got a front-row seat. I got a free ticket to watch them play. Man, it’s impressive. To see them, it’s like they’re playing Madden out there. They’re gelling together. It’s awesome to see.”

I couldn’t have written it any better than that. Diggs was a terror, yet again, in the Bills’ 38-9 laugher over the New England Patriots. He caught nine passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns, torching a secondary that had no answers once Josh Allen started to figure out their coverage schemes.

And as far as Diggs is concerned, “We’re still scratching the surface on the potential we have. I feel like Josh is still a young quarterback but he’s playing some elite ball, throwing for 300-plus, making great decisions, he’s not turning the ball over, he’s running. I don’t know the past, I just know Josh right now and he’s playing great football. As a receiver, I just want to give it all I’ve got for him, make the plays for him.”

He’s succeeding. Like no other Bills receiver ever has.

This latest grandiose performance raised Diggs’ reception total to an ever-expanding team-record 120, and his 1,459 yards are also the new standard in Buffalo as he soared past Eric Moulds. He now leads the NFL in both categories, and his eight TDs are one short of his career personal best.

“I think the results kind of speak for themselves, the way that we’re kind of able to ad-lib some plays, trust him to get open, and him trusting me in getting the ball there,” said Allen, who had his eighth 300-yard game of the season.

Coach Sean McDermott, who became the first Bills coach to sweep a season series from the Patriots since Wade Phillips in 1999, is running out of things to say about the Allen-Diggs combination.

“They’re both on the same page and that gets back to during the week and what they do,” he said. “The communication that needs to unfold. They do their part studying and getting on the same page. Really impressed with the two of them and overall with our offense tonight.”

An understatement if there ever was one as the Bills totaled 31 first downs, 474 yards, had nearly 40 minutes of possession time, went a combined 8 of 15 on third- and fourth-down conversions, and were 4-for-5 in the red zone.

“You can’t help but be excited,” said Diggs. “Six months ago, who knew we would be here right now? Nobody would have. I went into this thing like, ‘let the chips fall where they may.’ Who would have thought it would have gone as well as it has? I’m just thankful to be where I am and thankful for the people that I’m around, they make it fun, Josh makes it fun. He tells me, ‘Just get open and catch the ball.’”

Here’s how I graded the Bills’ performance:

PASS OFFENSE: A+

Allen will not win the league MVP award, but there’s no one right now who can say that Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes have played better than him in the second half of the season. Allen was once again flawless, a player who could not look more comfortable in an offense. He completed 27 of 36 for 320 yards and four TDs and never came close to a turnover or a sack. Meanwhile, Diggs was simply unstoppable as he scored Buffalo’s last three TDs. He turned a crossing route into a 50-yard TD, broke a tackle to score his second, and then made a diving catch for his third. TE Lee Smith even got into the act, catching an early TD, and Dawson Knox, after dropping a TD pass, made a couple nice grabs and finished with 51 yards. In all, counting a fake punt pass completion, 10 Bills caught passes and it should have been 11, but Taiwan Jones dropped a TD pass when he was wide open. As for the offensive line, it could not have played better in pass protection as Allen was hardly ever under pressure, not that it even matters these days because he always finds a way to escape and make a play.

RUN OFFENSE: C+

Dec 28, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Buffalo Bills running back Zack Moss (20) runs the ball against the New England Patriots in the half quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Bills still aren’t running the ball the way they’d like to, but it’s kind of a nitpick when you can throw it as well as they do. Yes, there’s that nagging feeling in the back of your mind that you can’t shake, the one that says come playoff time you have to be able to run it at least semi-well, especially if the weather turns ugly which it obviously could. Devin Singletary runs hard, but he just doesn’t make much happen and I still think Zack Moss should get the bulk of the carries. He has a little more power behind his runs, and it seems like he’s just as quick to the edge as Singletary. Allen had a beautiful 22-yard keeper to convert a fourth-and-1 and finished with 35 yards. As good as the offensive line has been protecting Allen, it still needs to be better at the point of attack on the ground. The final total was 130 yards with Moss’ 57 leading the way.

PASS DEFENSE: A

Bills defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson (right) sacks Patriots quarterback Cam Newton in the first half of New England's 38-9 loss to Buffalo Monday night, in Foxborough.

This grade should be an incomplete because the Patriots couldn’t even challenge the Bills with their Pop Warner-level passing attack. Newton is astonishingly bad and if this wasn’t his last game with the Patriots, next week will be. He was 5 of 10 for 34 yards before Belichick pulled him early in the third quarter and let Jarrett Stidham — who also isn’t the answer — finish the game. Of course, part of the problem for the Patriots QBs is they have exactly zero playmakers at wide receiver. The Buffalo secondary did whatever it wanted and the two QBs finished 9 of 21 for 78 yards. The Bills were able to get three sacks, one of them coming when Matt Milano came on a blitz, got Newton off his spot, and Quinton Jefferson finished it off for a 13-yard loss. Milano and Dean Marlowe also had sacks on blitzes. The Patriots were so inaccurate, of the 12 incompletions they threw, only one was broken up by a Buffalo defender. 

RUN DEFENSE: C

The Bills got off to a bad start as the Patriots were rolling on the ground and they had 130 yards in the first half. Sony Michel broke a 29-yard run on the second play of the night, J.J. Taylor had a 28-yard burst, and Newton somehow scored on a nine-yard run when he should have been wrapped up. But then once the game got out of hand, the Patriots couldn’t do a thing and they rushed for just 15 yards in the second half, although it didn’t help that they had the ball less than eight minutes after intermission. Milano was all over the place, in on eight tackles, and it looks like he’s finally healthy, just in time for the playoffs. Tremaine Edmunds, who looked bad on the Newton TD, was in on five tackles and Jordan Poyer had four. One concern will be how Poyer comes out after having to leave the game to get a concussion check. He said he was fine after the game, though.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

Andre Roberts returned the first kickoff 49 yards to give the Bills a great drive start on their initial possession which ended with a Tyler Bass field goal. And then later in the first quarter, the Bills took advantage of a situation that presented itself on a punt. No one for the Patriots was in front of gunner Siran Neal on the right side, so the Bills audibled and up-back Jaquan Johnson took the snap and threw a quick pass to Neal for the first down. Neal wasn’t done. He made a great tackle on a second-quarter kickoff inside the 10-yard-line. Roberts also had 25 yards on punt returns. Corey Bojorquez had another low maintenance game, punting only twice and making them count for a 54-yard net average. 

COACHING: A-

Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott congratulates Isaiah McKenzie, left, and Devin Singletary after a series against the New England Patriots in the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 28, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Sean McDermott was a man on a mission. He not only wanted to win, he wanted to make a statement, and he did. I’m not going to say he out-coached Bill Belichick because it really wasn’t a fair fight given the rosters. In other words, it was exactly the way it has been for so many years in the past, Belichick not necessarily out-coaching his Bills counterpart but succeeding because his team was so much better. That said, I love of McDermott continues to stay aggressive in every phase. The Bills are always attacking in all three phases. Brian Daboll had another great night calling plays, though it sure must be easy when he’s got so many weapons at his disposal. I still think he has to find a way to make the run game work, but maybe it won’t matter. On defense, again, the Patriots are so weak offensively that Leslie Frazier didn’t have too many challenges. The Bills still have to be a little better against the run as the Patriots rushed for more than 320 yards in two games even though the Bills knew it was coming.

Sal Maiorana can be reached at maiorana@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.