Sunday afternoon, Bills vs. Raiders. With just over six minutes to go in the third quarter Buffalo is leading 20-7 on a rainy afternoon in Orchard Park. It is second and 20 thanks to a holding call on the previous play. With the ball on their own 32-yard line, Tyrod Taylor takes the shotgun snap, looks right, can’t find an open target and feels the pressure. Taylor spins out of the pocket and end up even deeper behind the line of scrimmage but now he’s got all day to throw the ball – his escapability has bought him seemingly unlimited time. Taylor finally finds a target – Brandon Tate at the 40-yard line. Tate catches the ball and as two defenders close on him he spins away from the would-be tacklers and cuts across the field. By the time Tate is pushed out of bounds at the Raiders 48-yard line he has gained 24 yards and picked up the first down. Tate ends up on the Bills sideline and is mobbed by exuberant players – for a moment it appears that he is involved in some sort of scuffle with an opposing players and the refs come running in to break it up only to find there is no animosity – just a bunch of Bills players who can barely control themselves - welcome to 2017 Buffalo Bills football.
Perhaps no other play this season so clearly illustrates the 2017 Buffalo Bills than Tate’s first down on Sunday. You start with the long odds of converting a third down from 20 yards – it certainly didn’t look good after Jordan Matthews was called for holding on the previous play. Long odds are where the Bills started the season – only the biggest Buffalo homers thought the Bills would do much this year.
When Tyrod looked back he didn’t find a man open – something that has plagued the Bills this season. Whether it is receivers not getting separation from the defense, Taylor not being able to find the open man down field or not wanting to take too much of a risk, the passing game has struggled in 2017. Fortunately, Tyrod did what he does best – used his legs to get out of a jam. With the pocket closing in he spun around to negate the pass rush and found himself with plenty of time to throw. It’s hard to think of another quarterback in the league who becomes as slippery when they use their legs than Taylor.
And then Tyrod threw the ball. By now Tate had found a spot in the zone and sat on it waiting for Taylor to find him. Taylor threw a nice pass, but he didn’t have to put it in a tight window or lead his receiver – he had to step up and make the throw when he saw his target.
Despite issues with the receiving corps this season, Tate hasn’t seen much action – on Sunday he was only on the field for 7% of the snaps and had only caught a pass in one other game all season. Despite not being a big name player, Tate made a big time move by spinning and juking past the first down marker into the arms of his teammates. This is what the Bills have done on all season – had unexpected, little-known guys step up and make plays – not only do what they are supposed to do, but go above and beyond and do something great.
The reaction from the Bills on the sidelines to Tate’s play was something to behold – it almost looked like something out of the movie “Rudy” – Tate was mobbed by excited well-wishers. Not just well-wishers, but by team members who have bought into the Bills system this year. Gone are guys that were unwilling to embrace the new McDermott way and what remains are guys who are believers.
It was sad to see Marcell Dareus go this week. I know – they guy was making a ton of money, hadn’t lived up to his ability and had a difficult attitude and I don’t miss him for any of those reasons. I miss him because he represents another high Bills draft pick that the Bills somehow missed on again. Nobody can be happy that the Bills spent the #3 overall pick just 6 years ago and never got anywhere near that type of value for him. Instead of having a player playing at his prime on a second contract the Bills had a malcontent tying up big money who was a another league suspension away from missing serious game time. The fact that many consider the Bills lucky to have gotten any sort of draft pick for him in addition to salary relief should make Bills fans cry – he certainly should have been worth far more than that. Had Dareus been on the sideline on Sunday I have a hard time envisioning him being one of the players in middle of the congratulatory scrum – not saying he’s a bad guy, just that I don’t think he’s all in on the new McDermott regime.
Instead of relying on guys like Dareus, the 2017 Bills are getting it done with no-name guys. I don’t say that to mean that these guys aren’t talented, just that nobody expected much from them. It seems that every week we see someone step up that you didn’t really know much about – this week it was Tate, Matt Milano (forced fumble, fumble recovery for TD) and Trae Elston (lead team with 11 tackles, interception – first start since being signed on October 3). If anyone out there was wearing a jersey for any one of these guys you get major bonus points or you’re related to the player. Heck, even kicker Stephen Hauschka had a forced fumble – not only is the kicker out in the scrum, he’s batting the ball loose! That’s the type of character we see in the 2017 Buffalo Bills.
So far this season I’ve had to adjust to these unusual winning ways of the Bills, but it has been great to enjoy as a fan. Instead of wrestling with new and painful ways to absorb losses, I’m wrestling with adjusting to wins – it hasn’t been completely easy but it is more fun. It seems as if the Bills are overcoming tough situations with long odds, making the best of their talent and abilities, relying on lesser-known players to do what is expected of them and maybe more, and buying into the season whole heartedly as a team – if only there was a simple way to illustrate such a concept….