The Buffalo Bills have responded after each of their first three losses in 2019.
If they can do so again after their fourth loss – which came Sunday at New Era Field to the Baltimore Ravens – they’ll be headed to the postseason.
The Bills have not had a two-game losing streak this year. After falling to New England in Week 4, the Bills came back to beat the Tennessee Titans in Week 5. Buffalo’s next loss came to Philadelphia in Week 8, but it was followed by a win over Washington in Week 9. Then after losing in Week 10 to Cleveland, the Bills bounced back with a win at Miami in Week 11.
“Every time we’ve lost, we’ve done a great job of bouncing back,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said after Sunday’s defeat. “A lot of that is credit to (coach) Sean (McDermott) as far as putting us in that mindset, but also the leadership in each room, as far as making sure these young guys don’t dwell on something too long and move on. We’ve practiced that, we’ve done that all year, so I don’t see any of that carrying over into the Pittsburgh game.”
The Bills are one of just six teams in the league to avoid back-to-back losses so far this season, joining the Texans (8-5), Saints (10-3), 49ers (11-2), Seahawks (10-3) and Packers (10-3).
“It’s week to week in this league,” safety Micah Hyde said. “The good teams are able to flush wins and flush losses and move on to the next week. I have all the confidence in the world in this team, the leaders on this team and the coaches are able to do that.”
Doing so this week will be harder than it has in the past. The Steelers, who have won three straight games and seven of their past eight, have one of the league’s top-ranked defenses. In other words, they’re in a different weight class than the Redskins, Dolphins or Titans (with Marcus Mariota at quarterback) were.
“We’ve got to learn from some things that happened [Sunday] to ultimately make us a better and stronger football team moving forward,” McDermott said.
To McDermott’s credit, his team has done that after each loss this year. Responding to adversity is something every team must learn. Now in Year Three of the McDermott-Brandon Beane partnership, the Bills are getting there. In the same vein, that’s why their coach wouldn’t buy the idea of playing the Ravens close Sunday as being any sort of a “moral victory.”
“Where we are as an organization, the way we’ve built this thing, and the progress we’ve made, our mindset is to go win the football game and to win every game,” McDermott said. “We respect every opponent, but maybe the first year (they could have a moral victory), possibly. But where we are now, and the mindset of our organization is we expect to win, especially we expect to win these games late in the year. Great environment out there. It's been a long time since that type of environment has been around here and I'm happy for the fans, but I'm also disappointed that we lost the football game. There are no moral victories, but we have to learn from it and continue to grow as a football team and as an organization.”
The Bills remain the fifth seed in the AFC postseason standings. They are a game behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East race.
If Buffalo wins out, which would mean a win over the Patriots in Week 16, it will need New England to lose to either Cincinnati in Week 15 or Miami in Week 17 to win the division.
The Bills could lose to the Steelers on Sunday and still win the AFC East, regardless of what the Patriots do against the Bengals. For that to happen, the Bills would need to win their last two games and have the Patriots lose their last two. In that case, both teams would finish 11-5, but the Bills would win the second tiebreaker, which is divisional record.
If the Bills beat the Steelers on Sunday, it also appears they would clinch the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs. That’s important, since it means a game against the No. 4 seed, likely the winner of the AFC South, assuming the Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs hold onto the second and third seeds. The Texans and Titans are tied atop the AFC South at 8-5 and play each other twice in the final three weeks of the season.
Game ball: Tremaine Edmunds
The Bills' entire defense gets credit for limiting the dynamic Lamar Jackson to just 40 yards rushing, but that effort started with the second-year middle linebacker. Edmunds finished with eight tackles, two of which went for losses, and also had an interception.
"That's exactly what Bob Babich and the rest of our coaching staff was talking about -- how physical he played yesterday," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said of Edmunds. "That was really, really good to see. He's been coming along in that area and he has a really good grasp of what we're trying to do on defense. That was the other part we keep urging him, to play more physical, and yesterday he did it."
1. Wide receiver Cole Beasley played a season-high 73 snaps – 97% of the team total. That number was matched by John Brown. Isaiah McKenzie continues to be third among wide receivers in playing time, playing 54 snaps (72%).
2. As expected, the Bills went with a bigger lineup against the run-heavy Ravens. That meant linebacker Lorenzo Alexander played 41 snaps (68%), while nickel cornerback Taron Johnson was on the field for just 23 snaps (38%).
3. Blocking tight end Lee Smith has been almost completely erased from the offensive game plan in recent weeks. Smith played just three snaps against the Ravens (4%). Smith has played a combined 36 snaps in the Bills’ last four games.
4. The rotation between Levi Wallace and Kevin Johnson continues, and was close in playing time against the Ravens. Wallace played 33 snaps (55%), while Johnson played 25 (42%).
5. Devin Singletary dominated playing time at running back. Singletary played 61 snaps (81%), compared to just 14 for veteran Frank Gore (19%).
The red-hot Steelers welcome the Bills on Sunday Night Football -- Buffalo's first appearance in that coveted time slot since the 2007 season. The game kicks off at 8:20 p.m. Here are three things to know about the Steelers:
1. The defense is legit. Pittsburgh leads the NFL in takeaways with 33, is second in interceptions (18) and second in sacks per pass attempt (10.86%).
"They're really good," offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. "I think they've got eight or nine first-rounders. They can rush the passer. They can stop the run. ... Got a lot of good players, they've got a good coaching staff."
2. They're winning with a young quarterback. Devlin "Duck" Hodges became the first undrafted rookie NFL quarterback to win his first three starts since Ed Rubbert in 1987 for the Redskins.
"I see a guy who, from the little bit of tape that I’ve watched, seems to be very composed for the amount of experience he has and he's making some plays with his arm, but he also is making some plays with his feet," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "He scrambled and picked up some first downs, showed some athletic ability, but his poise and composure, that's what kind of stands out. He looks like a guy who has done this a lot longer than his experience actually shows. So, he'll be a guy we will have to contend with. They’ve got some other weapons on offense also that will help what he has to get done but his composure and his poise is kind of what stands out."
3. They are used to the big stage. Pittsburgh is no stranger to national television. It is 28-9 in prime time at Heinz Field, including 12-3 in its last 15 games.
Story topics: Brandon Beane/ Cole Beasley/ Devin Singletary/ Frank Gore/ Isaiah McKenzie/ John Brown/ Kevin Johnson/ Lee Smith/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Micah Hyde/ Sean McDermott/ Taron Johnson/ Tremaine Edmunds