ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Facing a short week, and questions about Buffalo’s sluggish offense and injury-depleted defense, Bills coach Sean McDermott entrusted his players in believing they’ve been together long enough to know how to tackle adversity.
“Listen, we’ve shown that we know how to win, and we know how to figure things out, and we know how to develop players and find the answers and solutions,” McDermott said, in preparing to host Tampa Bay on Thursday night. “We’re used to this. This is what we do.”
The three-time defending AFC East champion Bills (4-3) are suddenly in turmoil following a rash of injuries sidelining three key defensive starters and not getting help from a slow-starting offense that’s combined for 10 points in the first half in losing two of its past three.
The message was notably similar in Tampa Bay (3-3), where coach Todd Bowles dismissed questions about the Bills struggles by placing the emphasis on his Buccaneers to respond after dropping two straight and three of four.
“I don’t know what’s going on (in Buffalo) exactly. We’ve got to worry about ourselves more than we worry about them,” Bowles said.
“If we take care of ourselves, we will go up and play a good ballgame,” he added. “This is a tough group in there. They have each other’s back.”
The storylines are relatively short in a matchup between two non-conference opponents, and with Tampa Bay making just its third visit to Orchard Park, New York, in franchise history.
The one common denominator is how the outing represents a critical midseason test in determining which team can break out of its slump, and with much of the focus falling on the respective offenses.
The Bucs’ Baker Mayfield-led attack has produced a combined 56 points and is averaging 277 yards per outing over its past four since getting off to a 2-0 start.
Turnovers are an issue, with Tampa Bay committing six over that span, including Mayfield throwing an interception at the Atlanta 26 with 3:46 left in an eventual 16-13 loss to the Falcons last week.
“We’re just so close. I’m getting tired of saying that, but it’s the truth when you go back and watch it,” Mayfield said.
In Buffalo, Allen revealed he might be the reason behind Buffalo’s slow-starting offense after consciously electing to rein in his emotions in a bid to be more on an even keel.
On Tuesday, Allen acknowledged he might have gone a little too far in what he referred to as his “low positive” approach by saying: "Maybe I need to think a little bit less and play football.”
Whatever works best, safety Micah Hyde said, in backing Allen.
“If he said that, then he must be working on that, and I would encourage him accordingly,” he said, before assessing Buffalo’s inconsistent start.
“What is it, Week 8?” Hyde said. “Still a very long season and a lot of ball to be played. We’re confident in our abilities to go out there and stay together and get some wins.”
Mayfield and Allen were part of what was supposed to be a celebrated 2018 draft class in being two of five quarterbacks selected in the first round.
Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick by Cleveland, is now on his fourth team. Allen, whom the Bills traded up to select No. 7, and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson (32nd) are the only two still with their same team.
“I enjoyed the time we spent with him,” said McDermott, of the pre-draft meetings he and the Bills had with Mayfield. “I’ve never obviously been on a team with him, but seems like a good leader.”
RUNNING ON EMPTY
At 77.8 yards per game, the Bucs are 29th in the NFL in rushing after ranking last a year ago. They were limited to 73 yards on 20 carries last week, with 31 coming on Mayfield’s longest run since his rookie season.
“We’re a little bit too one-sided right now, like one-dimensional. We have to do a much better job all around to make our running game go,” receiver Chris Godwin said. “It’s not just the O-line, it’s not just the running back, not the calls. It’s all of us.”
THIRD DOWN STRUGGLES
The Bucs defense might be among the league leaders in takeaways (13) fewest touchdowns (10) and points allowed (17.3 per outing). The unit hasn’t been nearly as good in third down stops (50%) and end-of-game situations.
Last week, Tampa Bay tied the game with 45 seconds remaining only to lose when the defense allowed a 39-yard pass reception helping set up Younghoe Koo’s 51-yard field goal as time expired.
“You can’t play great, then have a few games here or there to say: ‘If it could’ve been for this or would’ve been for that,’” Bowles said. “We can coach it better from a defensive coaching standpoint, and they can definitely play it better.”
TALE OF TWO HALVES
In its past three outings, Buffalo has been outscored 30-10 in the first half, and is outscoring opponents 52-30 in the second half.
The disparity is reflected in Allen's production over that span. He's a combined 30 of 52 for 302 yards with a TD and two interceptions in the first half. In the second half, he's 43 of 59 for 488 yards with seven touchdowns (two rushing), an interception and fumble.
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall contributed.
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