The last time the Packers had a disappointing loss to a Washington-based football team, they had a chance to sort things out against the Buffalo Bills. Unfortunately for the Packers, this is a very different team than the one that helped them temporarily right the ship in 2018, but looking back on that matchup, some of the pieces were in place for the juggernaut the Bills have become today.
Though they’d soon run into their own issues, the 2018 Packers were a well-established, veteran team. Head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers were more than a decade into their working relationship, and the rest of the roster featured plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, even if that year’s team was hardly a powerhouse.
The Bills, meanwhile, were just finding their feet. Head coach Sean McDermott was in his second season at the helm, and he’d just hired new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (now the head coach of the Giants) to work with that side of the ball. Daboll’s charges included rookie quarterback Josh Allen, who was very much in the developmental phase of his career.
The Bills had selected Allen with the seventh overall pick that spring and, at least as far as these things go in the 21st century, were bringing him along fairly slowly. He didn’t start in Week 1, but got some clean-up duty, making his first start in the NFL a week later.
Allen basically looked the part of a raw rookie quarterback through his first month on the job. Arriving in Green Bay for his third start, he’d completed 39 of 70 passes for 515 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions, and things didn’t get much better against the Packers.
Packers’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine had a field day with Allen, pressuring him relentlessly with blitzes and stunts. The Packers racked up seven sacks as a team that day, including three from Kyler Fackrell, who was in the midst of one of the more unusual seasons in Packers history. One of Fackrell’s three sacks didn’t even involve him really touching the quarterback. Allen fell while dropping back to pass, and Fackrell just happened to get credited for the sack. Hey, take ‘em however you can get ‘em, right?
The Packers also picked off Allen twice; Jaire Alexander caught what amounted to an arm punt in the end zone for his first career interception, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who was winding down his time in Green Bay, battled Kelvin Benjamin for another later on.
On offense, the Packers struggled against a Bills’ defense that was rounding into form under defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. They didn’t have the talent then that they do today, but Frazier’s unit played well against Aaron Rodgers and company. The Packers scored two touchdowns in the first quarter, but for the remainder of the game, they only crossed the Buffalo 34-yard line once and had to settle for four field goals. The Bills harassed Rodgers throughout the day, picking off a twice-tipped pass, dropping another sure pick, and forcing a fumble on one of their two sacks. Rodgers, to be sure, was still hobbled from a tibial plateau fracture sustained in the season opener, but Buffalo did their level best to make things hard on him in addition to any injury-related issues he was still facing.
The Packers ultimately put the Bills away pretty handily, but in retrospect you can see some of the early roots of the team the Bills have become. They took their lumps at Lambeau in 2018, but they’re more than ready to return the favor now that their plans are bearing fruit.