ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills entered Thursday night’s battle with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in need of a win that would erase the sting of last week’s humbling loss to the cellar-dwelling Patriots — and to also keep the pressure on the AFC East-leading Miami Dolphins. The Bills got that victory, taking down the Bucs by a 24-18 score to move to 5-3 on the season.
The Buccaneers, meanwhile, fell to 3-4 and a full game behind the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons, with the early promise of Baker Mayfield and the offense giving way to deeper concerns. Here’s what to know about each team’s performance:
The tone of what the Buffalo Bills offense wanted to accomplish was set on the first drive of the game.
The Bills quickly went down the field, using some no-huddle — something that was saved for late in games in recent weeks — and allowing Josh Allen to use his legs on the second play with an eight-yard gain. The 10-play, 77-yard drive ended in a 37-yard field goal by kicker Tyler Bass, but it more importantly showed a shift in what the Bills offense could do early.
After scoring 10 points combined in the first halves of the last three games, the Bills scored 17 against the Buccaneers. A variety of offensive players got involved, the offense put together five drives of eight or more plays, controlling the game early — something that was also absent consistently in recent weeks and became more of an issue late in the game. Allen used his legs effectively with seven rushes for 42 yards, including a rushing touchdown. The quarterback had his best passing performance in weeks as well, completing 31 of 40 passes (77.5%) for 324 yards, two passing touchdowns and an interception, just his third 300-yard passing game of the season.
While this was a step in the right direction for the Bills’ trend of slow starts, this remains a unit with work to do with some of the issues flipping to the second half. Three straight punts allowed the Buccaneers opportunities to get within striking range and the downfield passing game remains something to work on. But against Tampa Bay, with tougher opponents still to come, it was enough.
Describe the game in two words: Greatly needed. It wasn’t perfect or even close to it with the defensive issue of giving up big drives late in games popping up yet again, but after recent struggles against beatable opponents, all three units stepped up at times and earned the win.
Promising trend: Things are going up for Dalton Kincaid. With tight end Dawson Knox (wrist) placed on injured reserve earlier Thursday and Quintin Morris (ankle) out of the game, the rookie was the only active tight end, and he took advantage, including scoring the first touchdown of his career in the second quarter on a 22-yard pass from Allen and a great sideline catch in the third quarter. Kincaid didn’t have as many receptions as last week, but he continues to get more involved in the offense, playing a career high 83.8% of snaps.
Buy on a breakout performance: Wide receivers Gabe Davis and Khalil Shakir. This isn’t a simple one as Davis has a history of big games and hasn’t yet strung together these types of performances consistently, but his involvement in the offense vs. the Buccaneers was key and that success is something that this unit can build off. Both players stepped up on a lighter night for Stefon Diggs, with Davis setting a career high with nine receptions on 12 targets for 87 yards and a touchdown, while Shakir was involved from the start and had the best game of his career with six catches for 92 yards. Four different players recorded at least five receptions and 50 receiving yards, tied for the most in a game in franchise history (last in 2011).
Pivotal play: Sam Martin‘s punt with five minutes remaining in the third quarter. It might not be the flashiest play or even a game-decider, but it’s a good example of the role Martin and special teams played in Thursday’s game, punting the ball 48 yards to the Buccaneers’ three-yard line with the drive resulting in a three-and-out. Martin had three straight punts within the 10-yard line, and two within the five, setting up the Bills’ defense. — Alaina Getzenberg
Next game: at Bengals (8:20 p.m. ET, Nov. 5)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Through the first quarter of the season, the Buccaneers squeaked by opponents with meager offensive production thanks to a stifling defense adept at taking the ball away. But against better opponents — like the Bills on Thursday night — the defense just hasn’t been able to carry the weight as the offense can’t get moving, resulting in a three-game slide.
The Bucs scored two offensive touchdowns but could not consistently extend drives. Offensive coordinator Dave Canales said earlier this week, “We should feel frustrated. We should feel like there’s more out there for us,” but they haven’t found it yet. Meanwhile, on defense, third down continues to be a major problem, with the Bucs allowing 7 of 13 conversions. Their league-leading red zone defense also gave up two touchdowns.
Quarterback breakdown: Baker Mayfield completed 25 of 42 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Against one of the fiercest pass rushes Mayfield has seen all season, Mayfield was sacked three times, while running back Rachaad White was their leading receiver with six catches for 65 receiving yards. Up until 2:44 to go in the fourth quarter, Mayfield completed just two passes on five attempts to Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans, finding him a crossing route for a 24-yard touchdown and punctuated by a two-point conversion to tight end Cade Otton. With Canales’ offense specifically designed to get the ball in their top two playmakers’ hands — Evans and Chris Godwin — they can’t afford to have Evans shut out nearly the entire game.
Troubling trend: Penalties. With an offense predicated on incrementally moving the ball downfield rather than explosive plays and a high-risk, high-reward defense that takes a lot of chances, the Bucs can’t afford to rack up penalties. Right tackle Luke Goedeke had three false starts, including one as the Bucs attempted a comeback in the fourth quarter. Later, a holding call on rookie guard Cody Mauch wiped out a 42-yard completion to Evans. This is two weeks in a row that the Bucs have had double-digit penalties after averaging six per game through the first three weeks.
Promising trend: The Bucs’ last-ranked rushing attack showed some signs of life, averaging 4.6 yards per carry: an end around from Godwin got 14 yards, a 4.3 yards per carry averaged by White and a 15-yard run off left guard Aaron Stinnie, who stepped in for injured Matt Feiler, and left tackle Tristan Wirfs. For the second straight week, a Trey Palmer holding penalty wiped out a big run for White, with a 26-yard rush nullified by Palmer. And the Bucs could seldom turn to the ground game given they spent nearly the entire game trailing, including a 14-point deficit less than 5 minutes into the third quarter. — Jenna Laine
Next game: at Texans (1 p.m. ET, Nov. 5)