DENVER — As the Broncos prepared this week for their Week 15 matchup with the Bills, Head Coach Vic Fangio lauded third-year quarterback Josh Allen for his play.
"He's having a hell of a season," Fangio said Wednesday.
On Saturday afternoon in Denver, he had a hell of a game — and it was far too much for the Broncos to overcome in a 48-19 loss to the newly crowned AFC East champs.
Allen completed 28-of-40 passes for 359 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 114.5 quarterback rating, and he also ran three times for 33 yards and a pair of scores.
"Josh Allen is a great quarterback," Fangio said after the game. "He's right up there with the best in the league and he's multi-faceted in that he's hard to get down, and he's a good runner. They have quarterback runs for him and he throws it great. He's a great quarterback, no two ways about it."
Against a beat-up Denver secondary that is missing cornerbacks A.J. Bouye, Bryce Callahan, Essang Bassey and Duke Dawson Jr., Allen threw the ball at will for much of Saturday's game. Stefon Diggs, who entered the game with a league-leading 100 catches, added another 11 receptions on 13 targets for 147 yards. No receiver has gained more yards in a game against the Broncos since San Francisco tight end George Kittle recorded 210 yards in a 2018 game. Cole Beasley, meanwhile, added another eight receptions for 112 yards.
"It's a challenge, no two ways about it," Fangio said. "We couldn't help them enough with the pass rush when we were trying to play coverages to help them. It was a challenge — it obviously is, I'm not going to deny that — but we have to find a way to play better than we did and get a couple more stops than we did."
Both of Allen's passing scores came in the first half, as the Bills scored touchdowns on three of their four first-half possessions. The Denver offense, at least for the first 30 minutes, did enough to keep the Broncos around. After falling behind 14-0 on the heels of three empty possessions, Denver benefited from a muffed punt in the second quarter that led to an opening touchdown. After Allen pushed the lead to 21-7, Lock led the Broncos on a nine-play, 75-yard drive in a minute, 44 seconds to again draw Denver within a score. The drive, which was aided by a roughing the passer penalty, ended with a pair of near-perfect throws to Jerry Jeudy and Noah Fant. The second-year tight end finished the game with a career-high eight receptions.
It was the type of drive that suggested Drew Lock could build on his performance from a week ago in Carolina. And unfortunately, it wouldn't last.
At halftime, the biggest qualms were a pair of missed kicks — a 51-yard field goal and an extra point — that could've cut Buffalo's lead to 21-17. Taylor Russolino was kicking in place of Brandon McManus, who is on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, and he would end up being just one of the Broncos' concerns. Fangio said afterward that he expected Russolino was going to "kick better" than his 1-of-4 performance.
"I thought offensively, we had a pretty good first half," Fangio said. "We had a chance, if we made the field goal and extra points, to have 17 points and you're looking at a tight game. Then in the second half, particularly in the third quarter and early in the fourth, we couldn't get anything going offensively. And while that's going on, defensively we were struggling to stop them. They were throwing it, their passing game was getting us, [and] with the quarterback in the pocket, we had a hard time getting close to him and covering them. They had the long kickoff return too to start the second half, so it was a total team disappointing performance in the second half. Give Buffalo credit: They are a really good football team, they have a great quarterback, they have a great group of receivers and they play good defense, and that's why they are 11-3."
The Bills continued the offensive onslaught after halftime, as they used a 53-yard kick return to spur a seven-play, 43-yard touchdown drive to extend the lead to 28-13.
Instead of responding with another score, Lock was strip-sacked from behind on the Broncos' next offensive snap and Buffalo's Jerry Hughes returned the fumble for a touchdown.
"Obviously, [I'm] very upset with myself after that one," Lock said. "I just stepped up, kept my eyes downfield and didn't necessarily feel it from behind. I should have."
The second-year player has now turned the ball over in every game in which he's played, save for Week 1 against the Titans.
The Bills went up 35-13, and Denver didn't challenge the rest of the way.
Allen and the Bills scored on four of their five second-half possessions as a 20-0 run after the break ballooned the lead to 41-13. The only stop the Broncos got came at their own 4-yard line as the Bills tried to go up four scores midway through the fourth quarter. Alexander Johnson and Shelby Harris combined to make a fourth-and-1 stop, but the Broncos' offense followed the effort with a three-and-out.
Lock was just 2-of-4 for 3 yards in the third quarter as the offense totaled one first down and nine total yards.
"It was definitely a bad day," Lock said. "It was not a good day for us. I wouldn't say that any of us are feeling in a way that we're taking a step back, but that was not a good day for us, by any means, and our job is to figure out why it wasn't, what we did wrong, what we could have done better and go from there."
They would add another touchdown in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 41-19 — Russolino missed another extra point — but the Bills quickly gained back the advantage.
On the first play of their final drive, Devin Singletary broke free for a 51-yard touchdown run to push the scoring total to 48.
"Towards the end of the game, myself included, I wouldn't say it was an effort issue but it has to be a little bit higher intensity, knowing the situations of what's going on," safety Justin Simmons said. "It's not a lack of effort and want-to. Guys want to, it's just that much more amped up. They're a great team. They do what they do really well. We just needed to find something, and we couldn't do it."
Denver has allowed that many points just 12 times since the 1970 merger, and it's the first time a team has reached that mark since the Eagles posted 51 points in 2017. With the loss, Denver also secured its fourth consecutive losing season.
The Broncos find themselves in that unenviable position because of their inability to string together wins this season. Denver has won consecutive games just once this season — back in Weeks 4 and 6 when the Broncos defeated the Jets and Patriots.
"If you can't put streaks together, it means you're losing, so it sucks, it's frustrating," Lock said. "It's frustrating. It would be great to be able to do that. It's just about us executing, going out there and giving ourselves a chance to do that."
After a first half that was good enough to give Denver that chance, it vanished early after the halftime break.
"A lot of things went wrong there," Fangio said. "The kick return, the sack-fumble that got returned for a touchdown. We just didn't play well. The entire team, all three phases."