After joyously watching archnemesis Bill Belichick chuck a sideline phone in disgust six days earlier, Buffalo Bills fans were treated Sunday afternoon to another sideline moment that brought smiles to their faces and the faces of dental hygienists everywhere.
During a break in the action in a 30-point rout of the Miami Dolphins, the cameras zoomed in on Bills All-Pro wide receiver Stefon Diggs, sitting on the bench, aggressively flossing his teeth. After the game, he smilingly explained that pulp from orange slices had wedged between his bicuspids, molars and incisors, and that he opted to take matters into his own hands before returning to the field where he and his mates continued drilling the overmatched Dolphins.
The new scouting report on Diggs reads: superb hands, precise route-runner, tremendous hygiene. If I’m Oral-B, Glide, Listerine or one of the other major dental floss manufacturers, I’m on the phone talking to Diggs’ agent about a six-figure endorsement deal.
We can debate whether otherworldly Bills quarterback Josh Allen is more deserving of National Football League Most Valuable Player honors than Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes, but there’s no debating which trade has had the greatest impact this season. The bold acquisition of Diggs last March for several draft choices just might be the final piece of the puzzle that enables the Bills to win their first Super Bowl. It was an audacious transaction, reminiscent of ones consummated by Bill Polian during his construction of the juggernaut Bills a quarter-century ago. The move should help current general manager Brandon Beane win his first NFL Executive of the Year Award, regardless whether the silver Lombardi Trophy finds its way to One Bills Drive.
No Buffalo pass-catcher — not Andre Reed, not Eric Moulds, not Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion — ever had a season as prolific as this one by Diggs, who led the league in receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535). And, to think, many believed Beane had given away way too much to acquire Diggs from the Minnesota Vikings.
There’s risk involved in every trade. Diggs’ supreme pass-catching skills were obvious to everyone, but he also had been tagged with the dreaded “diva” label after missing meetings and practices on purpose in order to force his way out of Minnesota. Happily, Diggs put toxic worries to rest upon his arrival in Buffalo, going out of his way to fit in and mentor. As Allen has said repeatedly, Diggs’ work ethic is second to none. He quickly become a team leader by example and word.
Allen clearly has benefitted, and so have the Bills other pass-catchers. Great athletes can have a multiplier effect and elevate their teammates. And that’s certainly been the case with Diggs. Not only does he give Allen a true No. 1 receiver who can win those 50-50 battles with safeties and cornerbacks, but he also draws extra coverage, freeing his fellow receivers to get open and thrive.
Allen and Diggs are sympatico in ways the Jim Kelly-to-Andre Reed connection was in years of yore. Playing off their uniform numbers, Reed liked to joke that 12 plus 83 equaled six — as in the number of points awarded for a touchdown. Well, the new Allen-to-Diggs equation is 17 plus 14 equals six. The two combined for eight passing TDs this season, and considering Allen is 24 years old and Diggs just turned 27 and is under contract for three more years, this just might be the start of a long, fruitful relationship.
While Diggs might be the missing piece of the puzzle, Allen remains the most important piece. He has taken quantum strides this season, a tribute to his God-given skills and dedication. With an NFL-best 48 touchdown passes and only five interceptions, and a national cache firmly established from 16 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Rodgers probably will win the MVP in a landslide. But a powerful case could be made for Allen, who became the first quarterback in history to have at least 4,500 passing yards, 35 touchdown passes and five rushing touchdowns in a season. His 4,987 combined passing and rushing yards is 10th best in NFL annals.
The third-year QB threw for more yards than Rodgers and had more combined touchdowns (45 to 40) than Kansas City’s Mahomes. And he did so against better overall competition. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bills had the 14th-toughest schedule, while the Chiefs’ sked ranked 18th and the Packers’ 24th.
Kansas City defeated the Bills, 26-17, in late October in a game in which the defending Super Bowl champions relied on a punishing rushing attack rather than Mahomes. If serve holds in the postseason, the teams will meet again in the AFC Championship Game in Arrowhead Stadium in a clash that could be a classic. Kansas City finished with a league-best 14-2 record, but may be vulnerable. In six wins leading up to a meaningless regular-season finale loss in which they rested their starters, the Chiefs won by an average of just 3.7 points per game. Buffalo, meanwhile, pummeled teams by an average of 20 points during a finishing kick that saw it win its last six and nine of its last 10. The Bills’ only defeat during that stretch came on that “Hail Murray” prayer of a pass by Arizona’s Kyler Murray.
And if the Bills advance to the Super Bowl, they could face the Packers, the NFC’s top seed. What a matchup that would be. But first things first, beginning with Saturday’s wildcard game in Orchard Park against Indianapolis. Colts coach and all-time Bills hero Frank Reich has done a magnificent job reviving the career of ancient quarterback Philip Rivers, and building a stout defense and potent run game. But Buffalo has much more talent, and should win. And win again the week after that, setting up an Allen vs. Mahomes matchup that portends to become this generation’s version of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning.
I believe Allen is up for the challenge. The Dolphins pressured him frequently, but the strategy backfired as he completed 11 of 13 for 139 yards and two scores while being blitzed. His improved ability to read defenses and find the right target was underscored by his NFL-record-tying touchdown tosses to 13 different receivers.
But when crunch times arrives, we all know where the ball is going. From Allen to Diggs. A dangerous combo you can really sink your teeth into.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.