Bills position grades: Terrel Bernard achieves feat not done in NFL in 32 years


Staff member

Terrel Bernard’s big first season as the Buffalo Bills’ starting middle linebacker hit a new high Sunday.

With two more sacks against the New England Patriots, Bernard reached 6.5 for the season. He is the first NFL player in 32 years – since Philadelphia’s Seth Joyner in 1991 – to record six or more sacks, three or more interceptions and three or more fumble recoveries in one season.

Bernard has three INTs and three fumble recoveries.
Bernard’s production prompts an inevitable comparison with his predecessor. In five full seasons with the Bills over a span of 74 games, Tremaine Edmunds had 6.5 sacks, five interceptions and one fumble recovery. This season for the Chicago Bears, Edmunds has four interceptions, one fumble recovery and no sacks.

“Tremaine left for free agency this past offseason, and TB steps into a spot where there were a lot of question marks, quite honestly,” head coach Sean McDermott said. “And I think he’s done a really nice job of leading our defense, growing in the understanding, as well of our defense, and then his ability to lead because he understands the defense more and more each week. He’s only going to get better.”

Here’s a position-by-position grading of the game, based on video review and scored on a scale of 0 to 5:
Quarterback (1.0). Josh Allen posted his lowest passer rating of the year (53.3) and his second lowest in the last four seasons. He underthrew Dawson Knox on the deep sideline interception, with cornerback Alex Austin tricking him by double-covering the play. Allen overthrew an open James Cook on a wheel route and underthrew Stefon Diggs twice, the second on a play-action pass with good protection that would have been a TD. Perhaps his frustration was to blame for the careless fourth-quarter fumble that the Bills were lucky to recover.

With two rushing TDs, Allen now is tied with the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts for most rushing TDs by a QB in a single season (15). That’s the second-highest total in Bills team history, one behind O.J. Simpson’s record of 16 set in 1975. Allen went without a TD pass, snapping his team-record 23-game streak.

Running back (3.0). What makes the Pats’ defense so tough is it is difficult to survive playing a drop-back passing game, yet the Pats are stout enough up front to stop the run with just six defenders. Fortunately, the run game was good enough to settle things down and rescue the offense.

Buffalo’s 127 rushing yards were the most in 11 games against the Pats, who were yielding only 95 a game.

James Cook crossed the 1,500-yard mark in yards from scrimmage and is second among NFL running backs behind only Christian McCaffrey. His 1,515 total is 16th most in a season by a Bills back.

Offensive line (2.0). It didn’t help Allen that the Pats’ pass rush befuddled the Bills’ protection schemes. It was partly due to well-conceived blitzes and partly due to the fact the line had trouble with Christian Barmore and Deatrich Wise, in particular. Wise beat Connor McGovern for the sack on the first play. Barmore had two early hurries against O’Cyrus Torrence. Morse was beaten up the middle by Ja’Whaun Bentley early.

New England blitzed on four of the first five dropbacks. Allen was just 2 of 9 vs. the blitz for 60 yards, with one sack. Nevertheless, the one-on-one pass blocking by Dion Dawkins and Spencer Brown was good.

The Bills ran 12 times for 50 yards on the tackle trap play, with the ball-carrier following Dawkins nine times and Brown three.

Receivers (2.0). Stefon Diggs had four catches for 26 yards on seven targets, and Allen was looking for him a bunch more, to no avail. Diggs now has 10 straight games without 100 yards and six of his last seven with fewer than 50 yards. He should have had an 88-yard TD in the third quarter, but Allen didn’t get enough air under the ball. Dalton Kincaid beat an elite safety in Kyle Duggar for his 51-yard catch, just his third catch of 20-plus yards this season. There were four drops in the first half, by Cook, Knox, Trent Sherfield and Latavius Murray.

Defensive line (4.0). Ed Oliver had a sack, an interception and two other hurries. DaQuan Jones returned to the lineup and had first-down run stuffs late in the second quarter and to start the third quarter. The edge setting by Greg Rousseau, Leonard Floyd and Shaq Lawson was good.

Linebackers (5.0). With 10 tackles in the game, Bernard stands 12th in the NFL in total tackles with 134, the most by a Bill in a season since Preston Brown had 144 in 2016.

Defensive backs (5.0). With two interceptions, Rasul Douglas now has five on the season, tied for fourth in the league. And Douglas caused the other interception, deflecting the first Bailey Zappe pass into the arms of Oliver. Micah Hyde had a good pass breakup in the deep middle against DeMario Douglas. Taron Johnson had tight man coverage in the end zone on an incompletion for Douglas late in the second quarter. Jordan Poyer had 10 tackles and two run stops.

Special teams (1.5). The dominance of the defense allowed the Bills to overcome allowing a TD on the opening kickoff. Siran Neal got caught inside and Dane Jackson missed a tackle. The upside for the special teams was Sam Martin had a second straight outstanding punting game. Martin became the third punter this season and the first in Bills history to have six punts downed inside the 20 in one game. His net punts went for 53 (on a 4.91 hang time), 40, 41, 47, 47 (on a 4.52 hang time) and 53. Neal downed three of them, the last one at the 3, which was big because the Pats still were down by only six points.