ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Low energy wasn’t going to be an issue for the slow-starting Buffalo Bills on Thursday night.
After riling up the crowd in the end zone following warmups, receiver Stefon Diggs gave what coach Sean McDermott called an impassioned pregame speech. Josh Allen then responded by throwing two touchdown passes and running for another — while shrugging off aggravating an injury to his throwing shoulder — and the Bills hung on to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-18.
“Well, I mean, I could feel the team. They came out with an attitude and it started in the locker room, really.” McDermott said, of Buffalo’s early intensity level. “Stefon Diggs, there’s a little motivational couple of words he said to the team before we went out there. That’s what a leader does. He did a phenomenal job of basically setting the tone.”
Diggs finished with nine catches for 70 yards, but wasn’t always the primary target. Gabriel Davis had a career-best nine catches for 87 yards and a touchdown, and rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid scored his first career TD on a 22-yard catch in a game the Bills never trailed.
And following a week of questions about his “low-positive” approach, Allen came through for the Bills (5-3), throwing for 324 yards on 31-of-40 passing. He had been listed on the Bills’ report with a right shoulder injury and was checked in the blue medical tent in the second quarter, but remained in the game.
Allen was in his comfort zone from the beginning in overseeing a hurry-up offense to find a rhythm that had been lacking in Buffalo’s previous three outings. He also was unafraid to take off and run with the ball in finishing with 41 yards rushing — his most since a season-best 46 in beating Washington in Week 3.
“Personally, I feel like I did, but I will let you guys write about that whether you guys thought I did or not,” Allen said, on bringing a higher energy level. “This team moves really well when I’m able to get the ball around to our playmakers.”
The tempo, urgency and throws over the middle the Bills offense was criticized for previously lacking all became apparent on an opening drive. Buffalo settled for Tyler Bass kicking a 37-yard field goal after its drive stalled at Tampa Bay’s 19.
Allen was hurt while being sacked on the play before he scored on a 13-yard touchdown scamper early in the second quarter. He returned in time for the next series after being examined.
“I’ll be sore for a couple of days, but we’ll be fine,” he said.
Buffalo limited the Buccaneers’ Baker Mayfield-led attack to less than 200 yards of offense through three quarters and 302 overall. And Bills punter Sam Martin contributed by landing three punts inside Tampa Bay’s 10.
Mayfield tried to rally Tampa Bay (3-4) late. He threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans, followed by a 2-point conversion to Cade Otton, to get the Buccaneers within six with 2:44 remaining. But it took Tampa Bay 17 plays and 7:21 to march 92 yards for that score.
The game ended when Mayfield’s Hail Mary attempt from his own 45 fell between several players in the end zone. The Buccaneers have lost three straight and four of five since opening 2-0.
Mayfield finished 25 of 42 for 237 yards and two touchdowns, including a 3-yarder to Chris Godwin, who was the closest to Mayfield’s final throw when it fell to the turf untouched. Running back Rachaad White led the Bucs with seven catches for 70 yards and had nine carries for 39 yards.
“I thought everybody fought their tails off tonight. The effort wasn’t our problem. We hung together, we were tough, we clawed, we scratched, we fought our way back in there,” Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles said. “We were right there. A few plays here or there, a few penalties here or there. We feel like we can get better from that.”
The Buccaneers were flagged 11 times for 74 yards. That included offensive lineman Nick Leverett picking up an unnecessary roughness call following the 2-point conversion, which forced Tampa Bay to kick off from its own 20.
“We gave ourselves a chance,” Mayfield said. “It just shows we are a few plays away. We have the fight. Now we just have to have the execution.”
The Buccaneers scored 10 points in a 54-second span to tie the game in the second-quarter. Chase McLaughlin hit a 57-yard field goal and Godwin scored two plays after Tampa Bay safety Antoine Winfield Jr. tipped Allen’s pass, and the ball was intercepted by defensive lineman William Gholston.
Allen responded by leading Buffalo on a nine-play, 75-yard drive, capped by the quarterback rolling to his right and throwing across his body to find Kincaid open over the middle.
Allen’s TD run was the 43rd of his career, matching Steve Young for second-most all-time among quarterbacks. And he now has 199 combined passing and rushing touchdowns, tying Hall of Famer Dan Marino for second among quarterbacks in their first six seasons.
Bills receiver Khalil Shakir sensed a difference in a game he had six catches for a team-high 92 yards.
“We just came to this game with a different mindset,” Shakir said. “Obviously, ups and downs, but McDermott tells us don’t ride the roller coaster. Stay consistent as a team and stay on the gas pedal.”
Buccaneers: At Houston on Nov. 5.
Bills: At Cincinnati on Nov. 5. Last January on the road against the Bengals, Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest and needed to be resuscitated on the field. The game was halted and eventually canceled. Hamlin has resumed playing but has only been active once this season.
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