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Fast Starts A Must For Bills
The first quarter sets the tone for all Bills games
by Tony Bogyo
October 23, 2003

I can’t wait for NASCAR season to be over. Fall is a time for football, not stock car racing and not baseball (I casually follow the long-suffering Red Sox, so fall baseball is always painful).

Maybe I just don’t get it. Not being much of a gearhead myself, I just don’t understand what’s so hard about driving fast and turning left. Watching things go around an oval track at high rates of speed on my TV sounds more like something my cat would enjoy than something that would give me any joy.

The worst thing about NASCAR is that it is not limited to the TV. On my weekly drives down to watch the games with the Boston Bills Backers, I listen to the radio as they break down all the pending afternoon football games. When the games are actually on they jump from game to game to game giving stats and updates - perfect for a guy like me who plays in multiple fantasy football leagues (my name is Tony and I have a fantasy football problem). For the past few weeks, the football coverage I love so much on my radio has been interrupted so that the station can bring me NASCAR coverage. Yes indeed, if you think watching cars drive fast on the track is boring, wait ‘til you follow it on the radio. They might as well be commentating live from the World Championship of Grass Growing - you’ll seriously question how long you want to live if there are people who enjoy this.

Thinking about NASCAR did get me thinking about the Bills and their season. No, I’m not talking about how the team is like Dale Earnhart, or how they’ve pit stopped but are now back at full speed, or how a bunch of bubbas will somehow manage to get everything finely tuned and lead us to victory lane. It’s all in the start. Start fast and you’re doing well, start slow and you’re in trouble.

The Bills have played three strong games this season - New England in week 1, Jacksonville in week 2 and Washington in week 7. In each of the games the team has come out fast and never looked back. In the four games where they played poorly the Bills failed to get out of the blocks early and thus began a 60-minute struggle.

The Bills came out of the gate with attitude against the Patriots. Their first two drives went for touchdowns - 9 plays for 61 yards to start the game and 15 plays for 110 yards later in the first quarter (the field gets longer if you collect penalties - the Bills certainly know about that). Defensively, the Bills first two stints held the Patriots to 3 plays for 3 yards and another three-and-out for 2 yards. Before the game had started it was over - the Bills played from the lead the whole game and looked comfortable the whole game.

Jacksonville was a similar story. The first two Bills drives resulted in touchdowns - 7 plays for 49 yards and 9 plays for 68 yards. The defense held the Jaguars to a three-and-out for 3 yards and 5 plays for 2 yards. Getting in the zone early allowed the Bills to relax and dominate both sides of the ball.

Fast-forward to Washington on Sunday and you’ll see the same pattern start to develop. The Bills began with an 11-play 68-yard drive for a field goal and on their third drive they punched in a touchdown on a 6-play 59-yard drive. Defensively they held the Redskins to two three-and-outs. In the entire first half Washington only had one drive that went longer than 3 plays and it ended in a fumble recovered by the Bills.

Clearly, the Bills seem to settle down and play much better when they play from the lead. Put these guys up by a touchdown early and they exude confidence. Plays are made. More points are scored. The opponent start to get shut down and gets more and more desperate and one-dimensional. If you need proof of the confidence factor you need look no further than the bizarre fumble and recovery against Washington last week. As Sam Gash ran with the ball a defender punched it from his hands, right into the waiting arms of receiver Bobby Shaw. He grabbed it like the play had been drawn up and run in practice a thousand times before - as if he could have done the same thing in his sleep. His smile and swagger showed just how confident the Bills are when they are up on the scoreboard.

So now the Bills face the dreaded Kansas City Chiefs. The undefeated Chiefs. The Chiefs with Priest Holmes, Tony Gonzalez and one of the Best offensive lines in the game. The Chiefs with the thousands of rabid fans at Arrowhead. On national TV. Does it get any uglier?

What are the Bills to do with such a challenge? If they win they can show they are one of the elite teams in the league, their 4 poor games aside. If they lose they are the unpredictable streaky bunch that can’t consistently live up to their potential. Make no mistake about it; this game can be the turning point of the season.

The Bills must start out fast in this game or it will likely be all over by the end of the first quarter. Playing well early will give the team confidence and will allow them to continue to work on the running game. The team seems to get into a rhythm offensively and defensively once they’ve had a good drive and come away with points. If they fail to move the ball early or make a good defensive stop they’ll be edgy trying to get the monkey off their back. The crowd at Arrowhead will start to make things worse and before you know it the Bills will abandon the running game as they try and play catch-up football. If we’ve learned one thing about the Bills this year it is that when they are one-dimensional they are easily controlled and dominated. These are not the Bills of the early 1990s who were never out of it until the final gun sounded - these guys let you know if they are going to win or lose early (on the bright side you’ll know whether to stay up late on Sunday or hit the sack by about 9:15).

It’s all in the start. Gentlemen, start your engines…

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