It’s easy to get excited about the Buffalo Bills after their week 2 victory in Miami – I should know – I did so much hooting and hollering in front of the TV this past weekend my wife and kids left the house.
Instead of repeating their previous appearance in South Florida (a meltdown of epic proportions) or even their failure to hang on against the Patriots in week 1, the Bills looked good for the entire 60 minutes on the field. It hasn’t happened much in recent years, so when it does it makes it all the more sweet – I enjoyed it.
But where did this come from? In the week leading up to the game the Bills all but issued a press release that they were rebuilding (the worst kept secret since the whole, “we’re not going to name a starting quarterback yet, but doesn’t that Losman kid look pretty good?” charade in training camp) when they put Troy Vincent on IR for a seemingly non life-threatening injury. From a business standpoint the move made sense, but from an injury standpoint it was puzzling (if that’s what they do when you get a hamstring pull I shudder to think about what the Bills would have done if Vincent had sprained his ankle – would they have euthanized him?).
The Bills were heading into the heat of Miami, a place where they hadn’t won an early season game since 1999. Miami was picked to be a Super Bowl contender this year (although honestly, when was the last year the Fins weren’t predicted to be contenders by some national sports writing buffoon in the past decade?). They had a genius coach in Nick Saban and scored a heck of a catch by acquiring Daunte Culpepper to solve their recent quarterback woes. Ricky Williams and his herbal remedies were off in Canada leaving young Ronnie Brown the ability to handle the running game without looking over his shoulder. To top it all off, ex-Bills head coach Mike Mularkey would be calling the plays as offensive coordinator (please don’t laugh – this really is a positive for Miami if you buy the conventional wisdom that he knows the Bills personnel better than just about anyone).
Youth and speed – that’s what happened. Oh, and some really solid coaching. And spectacular special teams.
The Bills started 3 rookies on defense and that defense thrived. The pass defense was outstanding. Duante Culpepper was sacked 5 times in the first 15 plays (anyone remember Rob Johnson?), was picked off by Angelo Crowell on a drive deep into Bills territory and finished the half with a QB rating of just 65.5. When he wasn’t being sacked he was being hurried as Bills defenders ran through the offensive line much like opponents used to do to the Bills offensive line. The secondary did a fantastic job in coverage – often times there was nowhere for Culpepper to throw.
Against the run the Bills didn’t fare as well, giving up a 4.7 yards per carry average to Ronnie Brown, but due to the tenacity of the pass defense they limited his carries to only 15 – late in the game down by 16 points the Dolphins didn’t have the luxury of running the football.
Offensively the Bills were very conservative, allowing the defense to protect the points they did put up on the board. Willis McGahee ran well and got the yards to move the chains when needed. J.P. Losman was on a very short leash – don’t force the ball, don’t turn it over.
On special teams Brian Moorman showed why he has been to the Pro Bowl by landing 5 punts inside the 20 yard line, 4 of them inside the 10. Coy Wire blocked a punt which led to a Bills field goal. Roscoe Parrish had a nice punt return that setup another Bills field goal.
So the Bills are a legitimate playoff contender, right? Not so fast.
Not to take anything away from the Bills, but Miami has looked bad in their first two games. Daunte Culpepper has looked slow and tentative – his mobility seems to be a thing of the past. That’s a tough thing to lose when your offensive line is suspect to begin with. On Sunday the line started L.J. Shelton and Bennie Anderson – Bills fans must have enjoyed watching sub-par blocking for once. Let’s not forget that the man calling the plays, Mularkey, seems to have a real aversion to changing the game plan and making adjustments – Sunday’s unyielding commitment to a bad gameplan gave Miami no chance to win.
Let us not forget that this is a very young team. What we saw on Sunday shows the talent level on the team and what they can accomplish, not what they will accomplish week in and week out. Consistency comes with maturity, and at this point new players, new coaches and new systems will make this team maddeningly inconsistent. Some weeks this team will look like word beaters, other weeks they will look like they simply aren’t ready for prime time.
Future rollercoaster ride notwithstanding, I’m as happy about this team as I’ve been in years – not because I expect double-digit wins, but because they are showing real signs of progress. The coaching has been solid – simplifying the defensive schemes to accommodate young players who are learning on the job, a conservative offense that doesn’t force young players to be the hero or the goat, adjusting the gameplan to how the game actually unfolds, and doing things based on the strength of the personnel involved rather than commitment to a system which might not have the right players (shocker!).
So revel in this week’s success, anticipate some really good and exciting games and some very good progress. Be ready to jump up and cheer and proudly proclaim that you are a Bills fan. But also remember that this team is going to want to make you tear your hair out, burn your jersey, speak in tongues, and swear a life of football celibacy. Enjoy the ride, and careful eating those chicken wings.