In March, barely a month after he helped the Los Angeles Rams win the Super Bowl, a tough old linebacker named Von Miller surprised much of the football world by announcing that he was going to sign with the Buffalo Bills. Miller, a veteran of 10 NFL seasons, was about to turn 33, but the Bills were giving him a younger man’s contract: six years, $120m.
“Is 40 open?” he said that day on Twitter, referring to his preferred jersey number. It was.
Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, as elusive and prolific as ever, saw Miller’s No 40 a lot Sunday in a stirring 24-20 Buffalo victory that established the Bills (5-1) as the team to beat in the AFC, if not the entire NFL. Miller sacked Mahomes twice – one on a spin-a-rama – and fought off a double-team that forced Mahomes into throwing a game-sealing interception.
The fearless Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen was fantastic on Sunday, throwing for 329 yards and three touchdowns, the third a 14-yard dart to tight end Dawson Knox that put the Bills ahead with a little over a minute remaining. Two plays earlier, Allen picked up 16 yards on a keeper in which he vaulted over Kansas City defender Justin Reid to extend the run.
But the Bills had Allen last January, when Mahomes outdueled him in one of the greatest playoff games in history. What the Bills did not have then was a defensive playmaker like Miller, an eight-time Pro Bowler. In the final minute of regulation and overtime in that game, Mahomes threw two touchdown passes and led the Chiefs on a frantic, 13-second drive for a field goal at the end of regulation that extended the game. The difference this Sunday, quite literally, was Vonnie B’Vsean Miller.
Down 24-20 on Sunday, Kansas City picked up a first down at their own 30-yard line with 56 seconds to play when Buffalo cornerback Siran Neal was penalized for holding on an incomplete pass. Bills Mafia members surely thought (to themselves): Uh-oh. Here we go, again. But on the next play, Miller slipped past Kansas City tackle Andrew Wylie – whom Miller had beaten for both his sacks earlier in the game.
Chiefs guard Trey Smith slid over to get in Miller’s way, at the very least. But Miller had almost gotten by then to Mahomes, who double-pumped, then threw in a hurry to rookie receiver Skyy Moore. Buffalo’s Taron Johnson stepped in front of Moore and picked off the pass.
It was the Bills’ 13th takeaway of the season, the best in the league.
It was not as if the Bills shut down Mahomes: He finished with 338 yards passing, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He completed five of six passes in a drive that ended with a field goal that enabled Kansas City to take a 20-17 lead. But on the previous play, Mahomes had scrambled for only three yards on a third-and-13. Guess who made the tackle.
“Whether or not he was actually sacking Mahomes, he was affecting him… He was phenomenal,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said after the game of Miller.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier already had put together a largely effective unit, but the Bills now have something extra. A little over a year ago, they beat Kansas City on the road in the regular season, only to lose a much bigger game to the Chiefs when it mattered more. This year, the Bills have a veteran linebacker wearing No 40, hoping to lead another team to the biggest game of them all.
Co-MVPs of the week
Quinnen and Quincy Williams, defensive tackle and linebacker, New York Jets. The brothers from Birmingham, Alabama, are part of the marauding Jets – yes, we can really say marauding – who matched their victory total from last season (four) with a 27-10 pasting of Green Bay. Quinnen, a first-round draft pick in 2019 for the Jets, had two sacks, two tackles for a loss and also blocked a field goal. Quincy, the older brother by two years, had 14 tackles. Quinnen also had three of the nine Jets’ hits on Aaron Rodgers, who was sacked four times and looked older than 38 on a rainy day at Lambeau Field.
Video of the week
Those TV cameras suspended over the field at NFL games rarely provide shots that actually give viewers vertigo, but the overhead cam at MetLife Stadium caught every swerve in the pinballing 47-yard kickoff return by Gary Brightwell of the New York Giants. Brightwell broke three tackles in his return, which followed a Baltimore touchdown, and led to a Giants’ touchdown during their 24-20 win over the Ravens.
Stat of the week
New England’s 38-15 victory over the Cleveland Browns was the 324th in Bill Belichick’s NFL coaching career, tying him with the legendary late Papa Bear himself, George Halas. Rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns for the Patriots (3-3). Next up for Belichick, who won 36 games as the Browns’ coach from 1991-95: Don Shula, with 347. If he passes Shula, Belichick will have the most-ever.
Quote of the week
“You’re so much better than the way you’re fucking playing” – Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady to his offensive line.
Brady helpfully pointed this out shortly before halftime against Pittsburgh, but the second half did not go much better for quarterback, the line or the Bucs, who meekly lost to the Steelers, 20-18.
Brady marched the Bucs 73 yards in 14 plays for a touchdown that trimmed the Tampa Bay deficit to two points with 4 minutes 38 seconds seconds remaining. But Brady’s two-point conversion pass fell incomplete.
The Legend of Brady called for one more Bucs’ possession. But the Steelers, who’d lost four straight before Sunday, kept the ball the rest of the game, with backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky completing two third-and-long passes and forcing the Bucs (3-3) to use their timeouts.
Elsewhere around the league
— Boosted by a true gut-check of a late offensive drive, the Philadelphia Eagles (6-0), the only unbeaten team in the NFL, outlasted their despised rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, 26-17. The Eagles galloped to a 20-0 lead, but Dallas (4-2) scored 17 straight points. The Eagles managed just 24 yards on 10 plays in three drives as Dallas battled back. But the Eagles put together a 13-play, 75-yard drive that consumed more than seven minutes. Jalen Hurts ended the drive by completing passes of 22 yards to AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith, but 10 of the 13 plays were on the ground. The pristine record will last two more weeks because the Eagles have a bye.
— Sunday was not the day to have Lamar Jackson on your side late in a game. Jackson threw a terrible interception and lost a fumble in the fourth quarter of the Ravens’ loss to the 5-1 Giants. Baltimore led 20-17 when Jackson picked up an apparent first down with three minutes left. But the Ravens were called for an illegal formation. The ball was snapped past Jackson on the next play, and he gathered the ball on the run and heaved a pass to Patrick Ricard. Julian Love intercepted it, and Saquon Barkley eventually scored the go-ahead touchdown. Then Jackson lost the handle on the ball when sacked by Giants linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux, and the Giants recovered and ran out the clock.
— Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, trotted out old Article 11 of the rule book in real time Sunday to buttress the league’s support of referee Jerome Boger’s ludicrous roughing-the-passer call last week against Atlanta defensive end Grady Jarrett. The passer, you will recall, was Tom Brady, who was sacked by Jarrett. But Jarrett got a flag for hauling Brady to the ground instead of politely persuading Mr Brady to take a dive. Article 11 has seven meaty subsections and 1,071 words, but the hit on Brady boiled down to this: “This is the one rule – and we have a ton of rules – where the judgment you give the referee, that white hat, is the latitude to call that play in real time,” Vincent said on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown.
— Eight months after their pleasantly surprising appearance in the Super Bowl, the Cincinnati Bengals were looking at a dismal 2-4 start late in their game Sunday against New Orleans. But Joe Burrow completed a modest-looking sideline pass that Ja’Marr Chase turned into a thrilling 60-yard touchdown, pulling his team to a 30-26 victory. The Bengals (3-3) find themselves tied with the Ravens for first place in the blah AFC North, which includes Cleveland and Pittsburgh, both 2-4. Chase caught two TD passes, and Burrow ran for another. Burrow showed up at the Superdome wearing the college jersey of Chase, his LSU teammate.
— It looks as if Taylor Heinicke, 7-8 as a starter last year, will once again be the starting quarterback for the Washington Commanders – but not because Carson Wentz has been kind of dismal. Wentz, who’d led Washington to just one victory in their first five games, fractured a finger on his throwing hand in an unsightly 12-7 victory on Thursday over the Chicago Bears. He will see a specialist on Monday in Los Angeles. Washington coach Ron Rivera, who’d earlier last week replied “quarterback,” when asked what separated his rebuilding team from the other three winning teams in the NFC East, ended his postgame news conference when asked about an ESPN report that said owner Dan Snyder was largely responsible for acquiring Wentz. “Everybody keeps saying I didn’t want anything to do with Carson – well, bullshit,” Rivera said.