- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2021

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — If Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills was truly a “measuring stick” for the Washington Football Game, as coach Ron Rivera suggested it would be for his team, then Rivera might need more than one stick. 

After all, Sunday’s 43-21 loss for Washington was one-sided from start to finish. 

Washington’s top-five defense from last year? The unit gave up 484 total yards to quarterback Josh Allen and the Bills offense. Taylor Heinicke? The feel-good story of weeks 1 and 2 couldn’t translate the success he had at home into his first road start of the season. He managed 212 yards and two touchdowns — but he also tossed two interceptions. The Bills were so completely dominant over the Burgundy and Gold that Buffalo’s special teamers were dancing and nodding to the crowd after touchbacks. 

The Bills, it should be noted, are considered among the NFL elite this year. This is a franchise that has been on the rise the past few years under coach Sean McDermott, Rivera’s protege who got the Bills to the AFC Championship last year. 

But analysts wondered if Washington could have a similar trajectory under Rivera — especially given last season’s surprising trip to the playoffs and young core.

So far, Washington (1-2) seems to be trending in the wrong direction. The Bills’ 43 points were the most Washington surrendered since the team’s 47-16 loss to Dallas to conclude the 2019 season. That loss, and the year it capped, prompted owner Dan Snyder to make wholesale changes to the franchise, including bringing in Rivera. 

The defeat also marked another disappointing performance for the defense, which now has underwhelmed for three straight weeks. Allen completed 74% of his passes for 358 yards and four touchdowns.

Rivera spent the week stressing that the defense needed to clean up its mistakes. The problems, he said, were more than fixable, telling reporters the issues boiled down to missed assignments and undisciplined play. “If it wasn’t fixable, if we weren’t good enough, I would be as frustrated as I get at times because this is a good football team,” he said. 

But against Buffalo, Washington was anything but disciplined. The Bills had little trouble racking up chunk plays, including a 23-yard gain on third-and-15 just three plays into their opening series. Allen routinely extended plays with his legs — notably hitting Emmanuel Sanders for a 28-yard touchdown to take a 7-0 lead. 

The Washington offense wasn’t much better. On the unit’s first drive, the team was forced to punt after J.D. McKissic’s pass-interference penalty wiped out what would have been a 16-yard gain on third-and-12. Then, on the next possession, Washington botched another would-be third-down conversion: tight end Logan Thomas fumbled around mid-field. Buffalo’s Matt Milano recovered. 

The Bills used an efficient eight-play, 52-yard drive over the next 4:12 to increase their lead. Allen found running back Zack Moss for the 7-yard touchdown, with Moss beating linebacker Cole Holcomb in pass coverage. That series, too, was extended by an untimely pass interference call on cornerback William Jackson III on third down — another way Washington failed to get off the field. 

The game went out of more control from there.

Heinicke stepped up in the pocket, trying to evade the closing pass rush and targeted Terry McLaurin. But the pass was forced — and safety Jordan Poyer easily grabbed it on the outside. The interception gave the Bills the ball in prime territory, and Allen wasted no time in finding tight end Dawson Knock for the 14-yard score. 

Washington faced a 21-0 deficit not even halfway through the second quarter. 

For a moment, however, the momentum seemed to change. Running back Antonio Gibson zig-and-zagged his way to the end zone on an explosive 73-yard screen pass, putting Washington on the board. 

Then, on the ensuing kick-off, the Burgundy and Gold caught the Bills off guard with a short kick — with Dustin Hopkins recovering his own kick at the 18-yard line. Five plays later, Heinicke punched it into the end zone — diving headfirst for the touchdown, crossing the pylon in a similar manner as he did in Washington’s playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

But the shift proved short-lived. After all, to truly stage a comeback, Washington would need to have an answer for Allen — and it didn’t. The Bills scored twice more for field goals. And while Buffalo was held to field goals — taking a 27-14 lead into halftime — the Bills kept racking up yards and points. 

The dagger came in the third. Backed up to their own 7-yard line, the Bills calmly worked their way down the field, using a no-huddle offense to pick apart Washington’s secondary on a 17-play, 93-yard drive that lasted just under nine minutes. Allen capped off the series with a five-yard touchdown to Sanders.

Washington scored once more. The team plays the Atlanta Falcons next week. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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