A blowout playoff win followed by an interview with the Chicago Bears. For Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, this is the definition of ‘strike while the iron is hot.’
If the Chicago Bears were intent on doing comprehensive research for their simultaneous searches for a new head coach and general manager, perhaps their Saturday night homework should have ended with a peek into the interview rooms at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
Start with Bill Belichick. Legendary coach of the New England Patriots. Defensive mastermind. Six-time Super Bowl winner. Yet as his night came to a close, Belichick was humbled, conquered, obviously frustrated. His top-five defense had been slaughtered by the Buffalo Bills, smashed to pieces like a rotten pumpkin in a 47-17 loss in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs.
“We just couldn’t keep up with them tonight,” Belichick said. “They certainly deserved to win. Well-coached. They executed well and we just couldn’t do much of anything.”
Belichick’s blank expression and curt, monotone delivery were hardly new. He often responds this way even after impressive triumphs.
But the level of his humiliation was certainly rare. Belichick’s previous 11 postseason losses with the Patriots came by an average of nine points. On Saturday, the Patriots trailed for good after the game’s first possession and lost by 30.
Somewhere in Lake Forest, the quintet of leaders guiding the Bears searches should have been scribbling notes with Belichick’s impressions of the Bills offense led by coordinator Brian Daboll, who was on the Bears’ interview itinerary for Sunday.
Bears Chairman George McCaskey should have had a pen and legal pad to document Belichick’s disappointment.
We just couldn’t do much of anything.
“They were too much for us tonight,” Belichick added.
Around the bend in the underbelly of Highmark Stadium, Bills quarterback Josh Allen was a bit more emotive. Sitting beside running back Devin Singletary, Allen’s satisfaction with the night’s results was apparent. How could it not have been after a trouncing like that?
Allen noted how well the Bills prepared to play a familiar opponent.
“Guys were dialed in,” he said. “We practiced hard. We put together a really good game plan. And Daboll lit it up.”
You don’t have to be a sophisticated football evaluator to understand what the Bills did Saturday night was extraordinary and rare. They possessed the ball eight times and assembled an eye-popping drive chart: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, “victory formation.”
The Bills amassed 489 total yards and 29 first downs. Their offense didn’t turn the ball over, never punted and didn’t allow a sack. Fifteen of their 54 plays went for at least 15 yards. Only two produced negative yardage — a pair of Mitch Trubisky kneel-downs to kill the final minute off the clock.
All of this in a playoff game. Against a stingy, Belichick-led defense.
For some of the Bills’ most influential leaders, the timing of the romp couldn’t have been better. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has two head coaching interviews scheduled — one was with the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, with his meeting with the Bears pushed back to later this week. Bills assistant director of player personnel Joe Schoen was also set to meet with the Bears about their GM opening.
Strike while the iron’s hot, right? This is the very definition of that. And particularly for Daboll, who had Saturday’s offensive masterpiece to present to the Bears as evidence that he has the aptitude and vision to catalyze a long-awaited awakening in Chicago.
Daboll’s work with Allen over the last four seasons has to be Exhibit A in his sales pitch for a head coaching gig, particularly as it relates to his ability to bring out the best in a young, uber-talented quarterback.
The Bears’ mission to develop Justin Fields into a star is at the center of this newest reboot. Nothing is more important to the long-term prospects of the organization than the effort to get Fields to reach his full potential.
In Buffalo, Daboll has found answers over the last four years to a similar challenge. Allen was the third quarterback selected in the 2018 draft, taken at No. 9 after the Cleveland Browns selected Baker Mayfield first and the New York Jets followed two picks later by grabbing Sam Darnold.
Like Fields, Allen wasn’t great as a rookie. He started 11 games and had 10 touchdown passes, 14 turnovers and a 67.9 passer rating. Fields started 10 games this season with seven TD passes, 15 turnovers and a 73.2 rating.
Yet three years later, Allen has climbed his way onto the top shelf of NFL quarterbacks while pushing his team into Super Bowl contention for the second consecutive season. He threw for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2020. Both marks would have shattered the Bears single-season records. Allen followed this season with 4,407 yards and 36 TDs.
At this stage, no one in the league would be surprised if the Bills were in the Super Bowl in four weeks — especially after Saturday night’s trouncing of the Patriots.
Daboll’s fingerprints are all over Allen’s growth. Around the NFL, there has been praise for how Daboll not only has tapped into his quarterback’s greatest strengths, but also has worked to polish Allen’s weaknesses, developing his touch and improving his savvy in seeing the field.
The connection between the two has been evident, with Daboll helping Allen build command and take ownership of the Bills offense while also understanding how to utilize the team’s weapons to Allen’s liking.
Allen has praised Daboll as a leader he loves dearly. And he has taken to Daboll’s teaching in a way that has produced championship results. The Bills have won the AFC East for two years in a row and will play the Kansas City Chiefs with a berth in the conference championship game on the line.
So much was on display Saturday. The Bills showed how calculated they can be in using play action; how they can mix in an effective screen game; how they can establish a reliable running game and stress even a top-tier NFL defense in so many different ways. Allen threw for 308 yards with five touchdown passes. The Bills added 174 rushing yards with Singletary scoring twice.
Now add this to that legal pad of notes at Halas Hall: Before 2020, the Bills had not won a playoff game since 1995 and during one stretch went 18 years between playoff appearances. Now they have three playoff victories in the last 13 months and appear to have a window lodged open to chase a Super Bowl for at least the next four or five years.
Sounds fun, right?
Certainly conversations with Daboll, Frazier and Schoen should provide the Bears with valuable insight into the kind of turnaround they are again attempting to make.
But if those Zoom interviews aren’t quite enough, there’s now a 2-hour, 56-minute fireworks show the Halas Hall leaders can watch.
Bills 47, Patriots 17.
Touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, “victory formation.”
“Coach Daboll is dialing it up,” Singletary said.
For what it’s worth, Daboll’s first NFL job came as a quality control coach in New England during Belichick’s first season coaching the Patriots.
So, yes, Belichick had more than a little familiarity with the man at the controls of the Bills explosion Saturday. In years past, Belichick has publicly praised Daboll for keeping his offenses fundamentally sound, for understanding the personnel he has to work with, for finding creative or sometimes basic ways of creating mismatches.
On Saturday, Belichick witnessed what it looks like when it all comes together. And Daboll had a new opportunity to strike while the iron is hot.