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Gut-wrenching loss to Vikings raises host of questions about Bills

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- There may come a time, maybe if they make it to the Super Bowl, when the Buffalo Bills might agree with Von Miller's reaction to Sunday's gut-wrenching, manic 33-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Miller, citing his 12 years of experience and noting the struggles of his Rams team last season, sought to try to view the loss from the bright side, such as it was.

"If anything, I like the position we're in," Miller said, smiling. "You want to be tested going into December and the later months."

They were not seeing it Miller's way on Sunday. A 17-point second-half lead lost, a blizzard of mind-boggling plays (find the Justin Jefferson highlight reel, for starters), an extraordinary goal-line stand, an inexplicable botched snap on their own 1-yard line -- with the game seemingly secured -- that turned into a Vikings touchdown, a drive to send the game into overtime and then, most unfathomably, a second red-zone interception by Josh Allen to lose the game. 

That is what the Bills saw, in all its glory and goriness, while the nation watched the best game of the regular season send the Super Bowl favorite plummeting all the way from the AFC's top seed to third place -- behind the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets -- in the AFC East.

That is what the Bills saw, in all its glory and goriness, while the nation watched the best game of the regular season send the Super Bowl favorite plummeting all the way from the AFC's top seed to third place -- behind the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets -- in the AFC East.

It was the kind of game that Miller said he would have to explain to his children, the kind that prompted Vikings offensive tackle Brian O’Neill to shake his head as he walked off the field and announce, "Holy f---!"


It was the kind of game that the Vikings needed to finally arrive on the nation's radar. And the kind that is going to produce -- had better produce -- a whole lot of reflection and self-scouting for the Bills.

"Von always says, 'Don't blink,' " receiver Stefon Diggs said quietly. "And I feel like we might be blinking a little bit."

Perhaps that is it. For the third straight game, the Bills did not score a second-half touchdown. For the third straight game, Allen threw a red-zone interception, a continuation of a sloppiness that has marred his usual brilliance this season. Diggs noted that the Bills start sharp, but then hit a lull -- he pointed to when he had a false start during a fourth quarter drive that ended with a punt. For the second straight game, they lost.

A 17-point road comeback against a team like the Bills undoubtedly answered the question that has followed the Vikings all season -- yes, they are most assuredly for real, we know now. A rematch with the Bills in the Super Bowl suddenly looks a lot less like a long shot than it did before kickoff.

But it also raised a host of questions about the Bills. Are they losing their focus? And then are they pressing when games are slipping away? Does Allen take so much on his shoulders that he is making mistakes in the name of trying to make plays? Certainly, that seemed to be the reason for the interception in the end zone that ended the game -- it was simply a bad decision, made by a quarterback who wanted very badly to end the game definitively and victoriously, and perhaps, to make amends for getting his team in that jam in the first place.

Allen was disconsolate afterward, staring into space, rarely making eye-contact, speaking so quietly he was hard to hear. That he was even playing with an injury to his throwing elbow is a testament to his toughness and competitiveness. That he is making an unusual number of errors creates problems that have to be fixed immediately, and has made him, improbably, as much the reason the Bills have lost their last two games as the reason they have won so many others.

"It comes down to my shoulders and my shoulders only," he said of his interceptions and the fumbled snap.

It is clear coach Sean McDermott senses a rebuilding of his team's confidence is in order. He used some variation of the phrase "I believe in them" repeatedly. He told the team he believed in them. He said it about Allen. He said it about the coaches. He said it about defensive back Cam Lewis, who was making his first start and was the defender on Jefferson's jaw-dropping, falling-backward, one-handed, 32-yard catch on fourth-and-18.

So, McDermott believes, although he also said he needed to do a deep dive into why his team is stalling in the second half, that the team has to make an adjustment to cut down on the turnovers that have bedeviled them even in wins this season. He might also be wondering how to shore up the Bills' mental toughness. One of the most mystifying trends about them is that the Bills are 2-9 in one-score games since the start of last season. That mostly means they win a lot of games by more than one score, but it also means that Miller might have a point -- this team needs to prove it can overcome adversity. The good news is they have quite a bit of it to overcome right now.

McDermott did not agree with Diggs' assessment that the Bills might lose their edge, but he said first a team has to prevent itself from losing, and he acknowledged that his comment sounded negative. But he is right. If the Bills make even one fewer mistake -- say, the fumbled snap -- they win. But first, McDermott has to make sure that this loss, as stinging as it was, does not echo for the rest of the season.

"That's part of it -- you've got to hold your confidence throughout the course of the season," McDermott said. "The league tests you in a lot of ways. The season tests you."

This, then, is exactly the medicine Miller thinks the Bills need right now. Miller was brought here after the Bills couldn't hold a lead for the final 13 seconds in the playoffs last season, and it is a measure of how brutal this loss was that it was immediately mentioned in the same breath as last season's gut punch. The stakes, of course, are much different. And the recovery will have to be, too. That loss was laid at the feet of the defense. This one will be borne by Allen. The Bills also don't have an offseason to figure out what is wrong and fix it. They have six days. The season is hardly broken, but it is certainly dented. The repair to the most important part started on Sunday night.

"I got his back, no matter how this shakes out," Diggs said of Allen. "Our quarterback gives a lot of effort. ... He's going to hate it for 24 hours. I got his back. I'll take the good with the bad any day. My quarterback is a winner."

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