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Three & Out: Bills Sit Alone Atop AFC East After Surprising Victory Over Falcons

After New England's loss to Carolina, Buffalo now sits alone atop the AFC East—and much of that is due to the Bills' defense.

Three thoughts from the Bills’ 23–17 win over the Falcons.

1. The Bills are contenders in the AFC. Buffalo beat the Jets in Week 1, then lost to the Panthers in an ugly 9–3 game in Week 2. Few would have pointed to them as playoff contenders after those two games, and even fewer would have thought they could challenge the Patriots in the AFC East. In the two weeks since then, the Bills handled the Broncos at home, and beat the Falcons on the road. Couple Buffalo’s huge win with the Patriots surprising home loss to the Panthers, and the Bills are now alone in first place atop the AFC East, with two of the best wins of any team in the division. It’s far too early to call the Bills the class of the division, especially since they won’t meet the Patriots until December, but it’s safe to say that the AFC East will be more interesting than it has been in a long time.

2. Buffalo’s defense is a force. The Bills entered Week 4 as the only team in the league to not allow a passing touchdown. That changed with Matt Ryan and the mighty Falcons on the other side of the ball, but the Bills defense remained the best unit on the field. Sure, they got a bit of a break with injuries to Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu on Sunday, but they clamped down on what was left of the Atlanta offense. Matt Ryan threw for 240 yards on 41 attempts, translating to just 5.85 yards per attempt, and two interceptions. It was Ryan’s worst YPA since the last game of the 2014 season. Ryan hasn’t had a game with fewer than 7.0 YPA since December of 2015. Ryan’s 5.85 YPA was more than two yards worse than any mark he has put up since the beginning of last season. Devonta Freeman got just 58 yards on his 18 carries. Tevin Coleman hit the Bills for a few big plays, but the Falcons couldn’t get anything going in the second half, scoring just seven points on five possessions. In other words, it was been a long time since Atlanta has been this inefficient on offense. The Bills made that happen.

3. Julio Jones’s latest injury scare could spell trouble for the Falcons

Atlanta wasn’t clicking offensively in the first half the way it usually does, but it was still moving the ball. The Falcons scored 10 points in the second quarter, and took a 10–7 lead into the locker room, with Jones catching three passes for 30 yards. He didn’t emerge from the locker room at the start of the second half, though, and was quickly ruled out because of a hip injury. The Bills defense definitely deserves credit for shutting down Ryan in the second half, but his struggles owed at least partially to Jones’s absence. What’s more, the Falcons offense as a whole looked supremely limited without Jones on the field. Without the threat of Jones holding the Bills secondary deep, they were able to devote more defenders to the run, and that closed off many of the running lanes typically available to Freeman and Coleman. Jones will be re-evaluated early in the week, but the equation for this offense will change significantly if the hip injury forces Jones to miss time.