ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Turns out, the Buffalo Bills can win without LeSean McCoy carrying the load.
With McCoy bottled up for a second straight week, the Bills leaned on Tyrod Taylor’s efficient passing attack and an opportunistic defence in a 26-16 win over the previously unbeaten Denver Broncos on Sunday.
Taylor completed 20 of 26 for 213 yards and two touchdowns. The defence closed the victory by forcing the Broncos to turn over the ball on each of their final four possessions with two interceptions and two fourth-down stops.
That’s fine with the running back nicknamed "Shady," who was limited to 21 yards on 14 carries, while adding seven catches for 48 yards.
"Hey, if we have to sacrifice the run game to get guys open downfield, if they want to stack the box, we’ve got to find other ways to win," McCoy said. "Tyrod responded in a major way. And if we have to win like that, I’d bet my last dollar on Tyrod. And I’m a betting man."
Taylor was fortunate on his first touchdown pass, a 2-yarder that deflected off the hands of Zay Jones just inside the goal line, and ended up in Andre Holmes’ hands in the back of the end zone.
There was nothing faulty about his second touchdown, a 6-yarder to Charles Clay that put Buffalo up 20-16 with 6:20 left in the third quarter. Rolling to his right, Taylor, stopped and threw across his body to find Clay wide open in the end zone.
The Bills (2-1) bounced back from a 9-3 loss at Carolina in which their offence was stuck in neutral with McCoy limited to a 9 yards rushing .
Their defence finally generated turnovers, something it failed to do against the Panthers.
E.J. Gaines and rookie Tre’Davious White each intercepted Trevor Siemian. Then there were Buffalo’s two fourth-down stops.
Deon Lacey tackled De’Angelo Henderson for a 1-yard gain when Denver attempted a fake punt on fourth-and-2 at its own 31 early in the fourth quarter. And the Broncos’ final drive ended when Siemian underthrew a pass to Emmanuel Sanders with 1:47 remaining.
In falling to 2-1, Denver looked nothing like the team that dominated in a 42-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys last week.
"We didn’t play the critical parts of the game well today," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said.
And the Broncos have some work to do on fake punts, including cornerback Lorenzo Doss scrambling on the field at the last moment.
"We had a late sub on the field so we kind of gave them time to adjust," Joseph said. "It didn’t work, but in my opinion, it was the perfect timing."
The Bills capitalized on their next possession, with Stephen Hauschka hitting a 53-yard field goal to put Buffalo ahead 23-16. Then after White intercepted Siemian on the next Broncos drive, Hauschka sealed the win by hitting a 27-yard field goal with 3:14 remaining.
Denver’s points came on Jamaal Charles’ 12-yard touchdown and Brandon McManus hitting three field goals.
Broncos linebacker Von Miller’s attempt to pull a fast one on Taylor backfired. Offering his hand as if to help up Taylor, Miller then pulled it away at the last second right in front of an official. Miller was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct to extend Buffalo’s final scoring drive.
"I killed the game today with that penalty," Miller said. "I just have to be better than that and I will be better than that."
McCoy knelt, then sat and stretched during the anthem a day after he caused a stir by tweeting, "It’s really sad man" and then used an obscenity to describe Trump. Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly joined the team on the field during the anthem and held up his left hand while holding a Bills cap.
"As a president, you are supposed to lead," McCoy said. "I can’t stand and support something where our leader of this country is acting like a jerk."
More than half of the Broncos players, including Miller, safety Aqib Talib and receiver Demaryius Thomas, knelt on their side of the field.
Fans began to boo as the Bills players walked in unison onto the field. They stopped booing once the anthem began.
Broncos: Rookie starting left tackle Garett Bolles started a week after fearing he tore his left Achilles tendon. Tests, however, revealed he sustained a bruised bone and returned to practice on Thursday.
Bills: Starting left tackle Cordy Glenn (right ankle) and DT Marcell Dareus (right ankle) were ruled out after being hurt in a 9-3 loss at Carolina last week. Third-round draft pick Dion Dawkins started in place of Glenn, while Cedric Thornton started for Dareus.
Broncos: Host Oakland Raiders next Sunday.
Bills: At Atlanta Falcons next Sunday.