I don’t know how the Bills did it, but they did – they finally passed a test. Completely, historically destroyed in their previous 2 contests, the Bills faced a road game against a decent team and won their second game outside the confine of Orchard Park. The team needed a win – the fans did, too.
The game got off to an inauspicious start when Fred Jackson coughed up the ball on the very first play from scrimmage, giving the Cardinals a scoring opportunity right off the bat. Like many Bills fans, I just shook my head in disbelief yet total belief – it was going to be yet another long Sunday afternoon.
The Bills defense held the Cardinals to a 3 and out series covering 2 yards – the result was a 49 yard field goal – not bad considering the world of trouble they were in. The Bills offense continued to show signs of weakness on their first drive, covering 31 yards in 7 plays that came to a halt at the Arizona 44 yard line when Ryan Fitzpatrick failed to complete a pass on 3rd and 6.
Things got interesting on Arizona’s next drive. Chris Kelsay found a way to collapse the pocket and sack Kevin Kolb for a safety – the type of play that can really change the momentum of a game. Sure enough, the Bills started their running game and drove the ball 49 yards in 10 plays that culminated in a pretty 10 yard touchdown run by C.J. Spiller – things were starting to feel better.
The remainder of the half saw two teams struggle to make sustained drives, but Buffalo much-maligned defense was starting to look pretty good, getting nice pressure on Kolb. As a Bills fan, you did get that gnawing feeling that regardless of how well the defense was playing, 9 points was not going to win the game – the offense, especially Fitzpatrick, needed to step up and put some more points on the board.
By now Bills fans should be used to optical illusions on the football field – it seems what we see isn’t what we really see. Just like the homerun throwback by Tennessee wasn’t a forward pass (it just looked that way to any sane person), it was actually a lateral – we all just saw it from a bad angle. By the same token, we all must have had a bad angle and seen it wrong when the Cardinals got a first down a full chain link short of the marker – Gailey challenged the spot, but hey, just give it to ‘em.
Sadly, the first down prolonged a drive that turned into 7 points for Arizona, and the Bills squandered their final possession before the half on some puzzling short pass play calls that got them nowhere – they went to the locker room down 10-9 at the half.
In the third quarter Arizona tacked on a field goal and Buffalo got another touchdown thanks to some really nice runs by Spiller.
Buffalo held on to a 3 point lead into the fourth quarter. They had run the ball well all afternoon but had trouble moving it through the air. Fitzpatrick was his normal self – inconsistent and throwing many balls behind his receivers and unable to make a throw longer than 10 yards. With clock control and solid defense, the Bills might just be able to hang on for the win, but then again this is the Bills.
Playing conservatively almost all afternoon (and at times even too conservatively), the Bills decided to get cute with 4 minutes to go. For reasons known only to God and Chan Gailey, the Bills ran one of the most ill-advised plays you may ever see – a deep ball thrown out of the wildcat by Brad Smith that was, of course, intercepted. Instead of killing clock, instead of trying to put another 3 points on the board, the offensive mind of Chan Gailey hit a bout of dementia – having a guy who never throws the ball throw the ball with the game on the line. Even if it had worked you would have had to shake your head at the stupidity.
Queue the doom we’ve all seen before. Jay Feely lines up for a career long 61 yard field goal and hits – just like you knew he would. Buffalo does what you’d expect them to do in the situation – take a sack and get 9 yards on 2 short running plays burning a grand total of 19 seconds to go 3 and out. After a bad punt by Powell, the Bills commit a penalty, then give up a 28 yard pass play that put Arizona well within winning field goal range, especially for a guy who just hit from 61. Been here – seen this – it’s not pretty – the Bills snatch defeat from the jaw of victory using a stunning combination of bad luck, utter stupidity and mind-numbing poor play.
I don’t know what cosmic force shifted, but the usual-scripted ending didn’t happen – Feely’s 38 yard winner not only bounced off the post, but somehow didn’t go in anyway – are you kidding me? The Bills didn’t lose? I guess this extends the game and the Bills will find another way to lose.
The Bills take the opening drive down to the Arizona 35, but opt to punt rather than try a long field goal. Many see this as a controversial call – not going for the long field goal, but I actually agree with the call. If you don’t have a strong degree of certainty that Rian Lindell is going to hit from 50+ you risk missing and giving the Cardinals very good field position. Under the new overtime rules, once Buffalo gives up possession, all Arizona needs to do is score to win. Good field position and a kicker who has hit from 60+ is not a good thing. I agree that you may be better off making your opponent make a longer drive, led by their backup quarterback and facing your defense that has, on the whole, played pretty solid all afternoon. The gambit paid off when Jairus Byrd intercepted the ball and Lindell kicked a 25 yard field goal. Holy crap – the Bills actually won it!
So the Bills are 3-3, just like the rest of the AFC East. Before you get too excited, let’s have a reality check.
The Bills needed this win to gain some confidence back after being dismantled – big win no matter how you slice it. The defense played well and finally got pressure on the quarterback, but let’s not forget that the Cardinals lead the league in sacks allowed – Kolb has spent so much time on his back looking up at the ceiling his last name might as well be Kardashian. The Bills posted 5 sacks on the day, 2 short of where they would have been had the officials ever heard of the in the grasp rule (seriously – how do you let a guy throw from a full sitting position and call it incomplete?).
For all the pressure on the quarterback, the Bills once again showed their game plan was completely inflexible. When Kolb learned he could beat the Bills with his feet he gashed the bills for huge runs time and time again – Buffalo made no adjustments to shut it down. Imagine if that was a quarterback with even better wheels – imagine if they had exploited this earlier in the game.
Buffalo’s passing game is still in deep trouble. Fitzpatrick is not the answer, but sadly is the answer as the Bills have no better options right now. It’s scary to think how bad you have to be not to even get a shot at taking over for Fitzpatrick given how inconsistent and ineffectual he has been. Scarier still that the Bills saw enough to give up a draft pick for a guy they don’t even dress for the games.
Most troubling perhaps is the state of coaching on the Bills. Chan Gailey really made some bad decisions with his play calls – playing too conservatively at times and playing recklessly when caution was best advised. Somehow the gods were smiling on the Bills on Sunday and they came away with the win, but they probably shouldn’t have. Defensively Gailey has abdicated all responsibility for his team to Dave Wannstedt. Here’s a guy screaming that he wants to be a coordinator, not a head coach – how can you be that absent on one side of the ball and still think you’re a head coach?
Enjoy the win, Bills fans, but please temper it with some reality. There are better teams out there, with better offensive lines, better running backs and more mobile quarterbacks. There are teams who will load the box even more and dare a noodle-armed quarterback to beat them. There are more wildcat formations, and more Brad Smith passes at inopportune times out there – it’s going to be a long season.