ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Question the Buffalo Bills for nearly losing to the fading, in-transition Los Angeles Chargers.
What can also be true is this being the type of slow-starting, turnover-filled outing the Bills would have lost two months ago.
Whatever was missing in style points was made up by Buffalo (9-6) winning its third straight and fourth of five to continue solidifying its bid for a fifth straight playoff berth.
The Bills also maintained an outside chance at winning a fourth consecutive AFC East title, with a season-ending showdown looming at division-leading Miami.
“It’s not easy to win. It’s not easy to win by a lot each and every week,” quarterback Josh Allen said, a week after Buffalo’s 31-10 rout of Dallas. “I’m just fortunate that we found a way.”
The familiarity of so much that went wrong during the Bills past struggles was apparent at SoFi Stadium on Saturday. The most notable difference was the final score for a team with its playoff hopes hanging in the balance and a group doesn’t often lose once the calendar turns to December, by improving to 17-2 since 2020.
Where a minus-three turnover margin cost Buffalo in a season-opening overtime loss to the Jets, the Bills defense kept the score within reach by forcing the Chargers to settle for two field goals off two second-half takeaways.
Where the Bills’ slow-starting offense dug too deep of a hole in a 25-20 loss to Jacksonville on Oct. 8, Allen and interim coordinator Joe Brady were quicker to find answers with Buffalo scoring touchdowns on its final two drives of the first half.
Where special teams were the difference in Buffalo’s 24-22 loss to Denver a month ago, the same unit came away with the go-ahead score on Tyler Bass hitting a 29-yard field goal with 28 seconds remaining. Punter Sam Martin contributed by pinning the Chargers inside their 20 three times.
And don’t forget crediting coach Sean McDermott for putting the final kickoff in play to run a few crucial seconds off the clock after failing to do so against Kansas City two years ago in an eventual 42-36 overtime playoff loss. McDermott also sent his defense on the attack, with Ed Oliver sacking Easton Stick on the first snap to essentially seal the victory.
A week after Allen stood aside to let Buffalo’s ground game trample the Cowboys, the quarterback played a key role in the clutch to post his 13th career game-winning drive. Allen set up the field goal by going four of five for 39 yards, including a 13-yard completion to Khalil Shakir on third-and-4, in which the back-pedaling quarterback lofted a pass in the face of a pass rush.
Buffalo’s defense, meantime, was exceptional when taking into account it was missing six regulars with safety Micah Hyde (neck) and edge rusher A.J. Epenesa (rib) missing their second consecutive outings, and with tackle Jordan Phillips (wrist) landing on injured reserve.
McDermott referenced experience and faith when discussing how he stuck by running back James Cook and returner Deonte Harty after both fumbled in Bills territory.
Whereas earlier in the season he might have benched one or both, McDermott said: “I have confidence in those guys, and we’re at the point in the season where you put your best players out there.”
Having already lost to non-playoff teams such as the Jets and New England, the Bills were the better team in L.A.
“We gutted it out and we found a way,” Allen said.
An Oliver-led pass rush that got to Stick five times, and limited the Chargers to convert four of 14 third down chances.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Ball security. Cook fumbled twice, and lost one at his 32 to set up Cameron Dicker hitting a 53-yard go-ahead field goal with 5:26 left. Harty fumbled a punt return at his 33, which led to L.A. going up 10-0 early in the second quarter. Allen’s interception was his 15th of the season.
WR Gabriel Davis. After being held without a catch in three of his past four games, the fourth-year receiver had four catches for a season-high 130 yards, including a 57-yard TD.
Harty’s fumble was inexcusable, though the Bills are thin at the return spot.
LB Terrel Bernard returned after a non-contact injury to his right foot/ankle. … CB Christian Benford returned after being evaluated for a neck injury. … DT DaQuan Jones has a chance to return this week after missing two months with a torn pectoral muscle.
51 — Allen’s TDs rushing total after scoring twice, leaving him six behind O.J. Simpson for second on the team list.
Close home schedule against New England with a chance to make up for blowing a lead in the final seconds of a 29-25 loss to the Patriots on Oct. 22.