ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- In just over seven minutes, the Buffalo Bills' mistakes played a large part in the Miami Dolphins erasing the Bills' three-score lead in Sunday's wild-card playoff game.
After being down down 17-0 in the second quarter, the Dolphins took advantage of three turnovers from quarterback Josh Allen (two interceptions, one fumble) to take a 24-20 lead, with 18 points coming off those turnovers (a season high for Buffalo). The Bills found a way to come back and win the game 34-31, but the costly turnovers were the latest in what has become a troubling trend for Buffalo.
The Bills are in midst of an eight-game winning streak, but they've turned the ball over three times in each of the past three games. In the first five games of the streak, the Bills had three total turnovers.
“I think I was going to church more then. I'll be there twice this week,” coach Sean McDermott joked.
Against the Cincinnati Bengals in the divisional round Sunday (3 p.m. ET, CBS), limiting turnovers has to be a priority, but McDermott expects it will be corrected.
“If I knew what it was that got us through that versus what it's been, I'd be doing that," McDermott said. "... We've got players that know what's expected, and I trust them to take ownership of it.”
Allen finished the regular season leading the NFL in turnovers (19) in 16 games, which was one fewer after the Week 17 game with the Bengals was canceled. There have been only three games this season where Allen didn’t turn the ball over.
The quarterback has been limited at times with injuries and continues to be listed on the injury report with his right elbow although he has mostly been a full participant in practice over the past two months. Some of those turnovers have come down to questionable decision-making.
"I think out of the whole game, I think I made one bad decision, and it was the deep ball to [wide receiver] John [Brown, the first interception]," Allen said of Sunday's win over the Dolphins. "And obviously we want to end every possession with the ball in our hands, whether it's a touchdown, punting it away or kicking a field goal. And that's our mindset, that'll never change.
"There is a thin line between being aggressive and being a little bit reckless.”
The Bills' defense has done its part to limit the impact of the turnovers. Buffalo had the second-best scoring defense during the regular season (17.88 points per game) and was tied for 10th in fewest points allowed off turnovers with the Titans (56), despite having the third-most turnovers (27). The only teams with more were the Colts and Texans, the bottom two teams in the AFC.
The key for the Bills is finding a balance between Allen's making aggressive plays and making the best possible decisions.
“I think it is making sure that we are playing smart, not conservative, and there's times where we do want to take those opportunities, and there's times where it's, 'Hey, let's check it down' or whatever the situation might be,” offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey said. “So, it's a constant battle of making sure we're trusting our eyes, trusting what we see, trusting our progressions and playing a caliber of ball that gives us the best opportunity to win.”
"Smart, not conservative" is a maxim Dorsey often uses, something tight end Dawson Knox thinks might have come from former offensive coordinator and now-New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll.
Knox noted Allen does a good job of not letting his mistakes impact his confidence.
“He moves on, and he doesn't let that mentally slow him down from anything 'cause I think anytime you let a previous play affect you going forward, it might beat you twice,” Knox said. “So, we always talk about not letting one bad play beat you again on the next play, so all you can do is move on. You got to have a short-term memory in this league.”
If the Bills beat the Bengals, Allen would be just the third player in the past 45 seasons to lead the NFL in turnovers and reach a conference championship (Eli Manning in 2007 and Jim Kelly in 1992).
“We're not going to get caught up in a couple bad plays that we had last week,” Allen said. “... We're going to focus on the good and learn from it.”