Another Sunday another win for the Buffalo Bills – strange to say that. It’s easy to forget just how mediocre the Bills have been in this time of playoff drought, so Sunday’s win gives us some perspective. The Bills have not won three consecutive games since the opening weeks of the 2011 season – that’s more than 5 whole seasons. The Bills played 79 games between these two “hot streaks”, and in all honesty, three consecutive wins isn’t really even that impressive. Over that same span the Bills had three streaks of three consecutive losses and one terrible streak where they lost seven straight (think back to the time when you started to empathize with Christopher Walken’s character at the end of The Deer Hunter).
Sunday’s win had that classic Bills feel to it. In victories against Arizona and New England, it really seemed like the Bills, while not exactly playing mistake-free football, had things well under control throughout most of the game. Sure the lead in New England never advanced beyond two scores, but the way the home team was playing it didn’t seem like you would need to put up big points to finish them off and 16 points ended up being more than enough. But Sunday’s game in Los Angeles was different. After a brief layoff, that gnawing feeling in my gut was back – the one that grows and grows as the Bills continue to dangle a win out there for their opponents to seize. The one that eats at you when Dan Carpenter misses another extra point. With less than five minutes to go in the game the Bills were holding onto a four point lead with a defense that looked pretty tired – it did not do good things for my stomach or my blood pressure.
I had a huge sigh of relief when the Rams tried to pull off a fake punt and the Bills snuffed it out, leaving Buffalo within field goal range with 3:41 left to play. On the very next snap LeSean McCoy juked his way down to the LA one yard line and the Bills were in good shape. When Buffalo punched it in with two and a half minutes to go and out the Bills up by two scores I could finally relax – with no Patriots in sight I realized a miracle comeback wasn’t going to happen.
At 3-2 the Bills are about where I thought they would be after five weeks, although I personally saw them with wins over Baltimore and the Jets and losses to Arizona and New England. The Rams didn’t really scare me until I saw that they were 3-1 – every year the Bills seem to play at least one game against a team that you think should be a fairly solid W when the schedule comes out that somehow turns out to be one of the best teams in football that season – it never fails and I was worried the Rams might be that team.
I’m torn over what to think about the Bills with their first third of the schedule in the books. I’ve been really amazed at the amount of top talent on this team that just isn’t on the filed – Marcell Dareus, Shaq Lawson, Reggie Ragland, Sammy Watkins – those are some major pieces to be missing. Cordy Glenn has been banged up as has Aaron Williams. It’s hard to know what this team could be because so much talent is not on the field. On the other hand, some of the replacement players have far exceeded expectations – Zach Brown leads the NFL in tackles and has 2 forced fumbles, and Lorenzo Alexander leads the league in sacks – who saw that coming?
Defensively the Bills rank 15th in total yards, 4th in sacks and have 11 takeaways – a marked improvement over last year. In their three wins the defense was very good – especially in shutting down Arizona. That team emerged one week after being completely throttled by the Jets in week two – a week where both Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby were burned over and over again on national television. On Sunday the defense let the Rams drive the field a number of times and the corners again struggled, but they made some big stops and held LA to field goals – fail on those stops and the Bills could have been flying back to Buffalo with a loss.
Offensively the Bills have generally been able to move the ball, especially on the ground. The Bills rank third in total yards rushing, averaging 137 yards on the ground per game. McCoy has been fun to watch – he is healthy, and with that health you can see how quick and shifty he is – he’s had some tremendous runs, making quick cuts and bursting into the second level. Through the air the team is dead last in passing at 169 yards per game, but the Bills haven’t had to rely on getting things done via the passing game. While not lighting it up statistically, the passing game hasn’t exactly been a weakness. Tyrod Taylor has been sacked 10 times which is about average, and has only thrown two interceptions, which is tied for third in the NFL.
Sunday was a great example for Taylor as he went 12 of 23 for 124 yards and two touchdowns. He had some low points like lining up under the guard instead of the center causing a bad snap and 18 yard loss. Two plays later he used his legs to scramble 22 yards and convert a third down. On both of his touchdowns it looked as if he had to think and act quickly as his original option was unavailable, yet he managed to make the play and put points on the board. On a team that coach Rex Ryan wants to “ground and pound” the emphasis isn’t on the passing game and the Bills are down their top receiver, but it’s hard to see Taylor as a franchise quarterback so far. I like Taylor and I think he’s got promise, but I don’t know if he’s worth the $90 million contract hanging out there. Tyrod is not winning the games for the Bills, nor is losing them and it’s been a long time since losses couldn’t be hung on the quarterback. If the definition of a franchise quarterback in Buffalo has become “he’s not the reason we lost” it really has been forever since Jim Kelly took the field.
Despite the rare three game winning streak and the ability to find new talent where expected talent has been sidelined, I’m having a hard time getting too excited about the future of the season. I think it’s great that the Bills have two more winnable games ahead of them before a rematch with New England and a Monday night game in Seattle. The Bills could get a dose of confidence if they found themselves at 5-2, and that could help carry them through the tougher portion of their schedule. On the other hand, the last time the Bills were 5-2 they completely tanked and finished 7-9, so the history is there. Because the Bills have been so mediocre in the playoff drought period, I tend to be skeptical and favor a “show me” approach before I get too excited about the team. For now I think I’m going to sit back, enjoy some football and let the Bills continue to surprise me – hopefully in a positive way.
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