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Another Bills Win
Happy, But Realistic.
by Tony Bogyo
October 18, 2016

The Bills keep rolling along and if you’re a Bills fan, you’re likely enjoying the ride. The Bills haven’t won four games in a row since the opening weeks of the 2008 season – Trent Edwards was quarterback, Marshawn Lynch was running the Ball and Lee Evans was the top receiver. The Bills finished 7-9 that season despite the hot start, and that, more than anything, explains why Bills Nation is not more excited than they are.

So many times I’ve been burned getting too excited about the Bills too early – string together some wins and people start think about the playoffs. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with reveling in a hot streak and daydreaming about the postseason, but when you’re a Bills fan it helps to be realistic.

Going into Sunday’s game against San Francisco it looked like it should be a very winnable game. On paper the Bills have a much more talented roster and the 49ers are in flux – rebuilding for the future and already facing a quarterback quandary – sounds like a team with which we’re all familiar. The Bills were favored by more than a touchdown, making them one of the heaviest favorites on the entire slate of weekly games. Coming off a winning streak of three games with confidence and playing on a beautiful fall day at home, this looked the type of game the Bills should dominate….but might somehow find a way to lose.

The early part of the game was not impressive. The Bills fumbled, resulting in a field goal by San Francisco. The defense was also burned on busted coverage as Colin Kaepernick threw a 53-yard strike to a wide open Torrey Smith. Replays showed both Ron Darby and Stephon Gilmore broke to cover the same receiver and Aaron Williams was in no position to make the play once Smith caught the ball, but in real time it looked like there wasn’t a Bills jersey within the same state as Smith.

Offensively the Bills put together some nice drives to put seventeen points up on the board in the first half. LeSean McCoy was absolutely on fire as he racked up 106 yards and two touchdowns in the first two quarters of action. Tyrod Taylor added another 36 yards and had a couple of passes go for 20 yards as the Bills had scoring drives of 75, 75 and 53 yards to end up with 17 points at the half.

With 38 seconds before the half McCoy was down on the field holding his knee – the stadium went dead quiet. McCoy had been the spark powering the Bills in this game and in their latest winning streak. He truly defines the difference between having an average running back and having an elite running back – he’s quick, he’s slippery and he’s running wild. Does anyone still doubt that the Bills got the better end of the McCoy-Alonzo deal?

At the half I felt pretty good about the game as the Bills were moving the ball well, especially on the ground. They were 6 of 7 on third down conversions and held the ball for more than five minutes more than their opponent. They had kept the San Francisco running game in check, but headed to the locker room at halftime only up by four points – 17-13. McCoy appeared to be up and walking, but you never know with knee injuries. I’ve seen far too many Bills losses when the team was playing fairly well but unable to put their opponent away – I was hoping this would not be another one of those games.

The second half started off extremely poorly – the Bills went backwards on two penalties and had to punt. In fact, the Bills punted on their first three possessions of the second half. McCoy played, but only carried twice for four yards and had a 12-yard pass called back on a penalty – so much for utilizing your workhorse and putting away your opponent. Luckily, the defense held up and San Francisco’s first three possessions didn’t yield any points, either.

The game finally turned on a fourth-and-one the Bills stuffed with 4:35 left in the third quarter. Four plays later Taylor threw a touchdown strike to Justin Hunter, bringing his Bills career to two catches for two touchdowns (eat your heart out, Butch Rolle).

In the fourth quarter the floodgates finally opened and the Bills tacked on three more touchdowns to win the game in style – 45-16. EJ Manuel and Jonathan Williams saw playing time due to the lopsided score (hard to remember the last time we saw the Bills substitutes players that much because the Bills were so far ahead).

OK – great win but let’s not get too carried away. If you were watching there were some caution signs to see. First, the Bills weren’t playing a very good team and they couldn’t put them away until nearly three quarter of football were in the books. A win is a win, but if you let a better team stick around like that you’re going to be sorry, and the Bills have lots of better teams still left on the schedule.

Second, Tyrod Taylor is still Tyrod Taylor. I really want to be excited about Tyrod. I want to write about him putting to rest all doubts that he is the quarterback of the future and will take the team to the next level. The truth is, he’s neither winning nor losing games for the Bills. His stats show solid but unspectacular performance – 179 yards, 2 touchdowns with a long play of 30 yards. He does make some nice plays with his feet – he had 68 yards rushing on Sunday and picked up a few first downs to keep drives going, but he’s still having problems finding someone who is open or getting rid of the ball when that is the best option. I know he’s without Sammy Watkins and there is a talent drop off – I also know that his receivers are dropping catchable balls and these are factors beyond his control. The truth is, it doesn’t matter – you can beat bad teams with numbers like that but I’m not sure you’ll get wins against better teams.

The defense, especially the secondary, also scares me. Too many times the pass rush isn’t producing and opposing quarterbacks are able to complete passes to receivers who don’t have a defensive back near them. Against the likes of San Francisco and Los Angeles and Jacoby Brissett you can get away with that type of execution because the pass isn’t always on the money, but it’s not going to be good enough when you’re facing Tom Brady, Russel Wilson and Big Ben. Against an elite quarterbacks if you can’t disrupt them then you need a man right there with the receiver (this is how the Bills seem to get picked apart every year).

Fingers crossed that the Bills aren’t suffering any additional major injuries – if anything they may start to get some plays back into the lineup. The substitutes are playing extremely well – did anyone think Zach Brown and Lorenzo Alexander would play lights out week after week? The Bills travel to Miami next week, a game that should be winnable although the Dolphins looked surprisingly good in beating Pittsburgh on Sunday so no guarantees.

For now I’m content to see the Bills winning twice as many games as they’ve lost – that’s never a bad thing. The real test will come when they get Tom Brady in Orchard Park and travel to Seattle on a Monday Night – those will be tremendous challenges and will provide a good measuring stick to see where this team really exists. Oh, and a game in Miami – can’t overlook that one.

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