Bills bring NFL’s top-ranked defense into matchup vs. Falcons

Buffalo Bills free safety Jordan Poyer (21) celebrates his interception with cornerback Taron Johnson (24) and safety Micah Hyde (23) in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021. The Bills won 31-6. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Credit: AP Photo/Butch Dill

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Buffalo Bills free safety Jordan Poyer (21) celebrates his interception with cornerback Taron Johnson (24) and safety Micah Hyde (23) in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021. The Bills won 31-6. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Credit: AP Photo/Butch Dill

The Buffalo Bills, who’ve hit some rough patches this season, are closing in on their second consecutive AFC East title.

Only home games against the Falcons and the New York Jets stand in their way.

The Bills (9-6) will host the Falcons (7-8) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.

The Bills, who are coming off a 33-12 victory over New England, haven’t won back-to-back division titles since they racked up four in a row from 1988-91 under coach Marv Levy.

The locals, after years of suffering at the hands of Tom Brady and the Patriots, greeted the team at the airport.

“We love playing at home,” McDermott said. “We love playing in front of our fans. We get greeted at the airport probably unlike any other team that I’ve been around. It’s pretty special to see that outpouring of love and appreciation for the way the players played. I really appreciated that.”

It’s been a bumpy ride of highs and lows for the Bills, who lost to Jacksonville 9-6 on Nov. 7.

“We’re just trying to take it one week at a time here,” McDermott said. “Each week is a new week.”

The Bills, who beat Kansas City earlier in the season, are led by quarterback Josh Allen and the No. 1-ranked defense (yards allowed and passing yards allowed).

Allen completed 30 of 47 passes for 314 yards, three touchdowns and had a 104.4 passer rating in the win over the Patriots. He also rushed 12 times for 64 yards.

Allen, who was taken seventh overall in the 2018 draft out of Wyoming, tossed his 100th touchdown pass and became the ninth player in NFL history to reach 100 passing touchdowns in his first four seasons.

Wide receiver Cole Beasley, who’s been fined more than $100,000 for not following COVID-19 protocols, will miss this game. The outspoken anti-vaxxer is on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

With Beasley out, wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, a former Georgia standout, had a career-high 11 catches on 12 targets for 125 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots.

“He’s makes those plays in practice,” McDermott said. “Just catching the football. The fundamental part of it. He brings energy all the time to our football team.”

McKenzie also returns punts and kickoffs for the Bills.

Allen’s top receiver is Stefon Diggs, who was selected for the Pro Bowl. Diggs has caught 89 passes for 1,091 yards and nine touchdowns. The Bills top rushers are Devin Singletary, who has rushed for 672 yards and Allen, who’s rushed for 619 yards.

The Bills’ defense, which allows 287.9 yards per game (No. 1 in the league) is led by linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. Edmonds leads the team with 97 tackles.

Also, the secondary is anchored by safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, who each has five interceptions. Cornerback Tre’Davious White suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 31-6 win over the Saints on Thanksgiving.

Kicker Tyler Bass, who played at Georgia Southern, has made 26 of 30 field-goal attempts this season.

“They are a really good football team,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “I’m a little familiar with them, here and there, from playing them the last couple of years when I was in Tennessee. Good scheme and fast defense. They’ve invested a lot in that front seven.”

The Falcons have the 25th-ranked offense (309.5 yard per game).

“They are the No. 1-ranked defense in the league for a reason,” Smith said. “They have some explosive players on offense. They present a lot of problems. We’re going to have to play really well when we go up there on the road in Buffalo.”

McDermott, who was Carolina’s defensive coordinator from 2011-16 under Ron Rivera, has a little bit of “Riverboat Ron” in him. The Bills made three of four fourth-down conversions against the Patriots. He uses analytics to help him decide when to go for it, while Rivera was more of a gut-feeling guy while in Carolina.

“We had some opportunities where we wanted to go for it on fourth down,” McDermott said. “Then they executed well. Those are important situations for us to execution in. I was really happy to see the level of play in those situations.”

The Falcons need a victory to keep their playoff hopes alive.

“This is a good football team coming in here in the Atlanta Falcons,” McDermott said. “They’ve got a quarterback that’s seen a lot of ball over the years. It’s certainly a good football team.”

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