Wow – just wow.
As a rabid but jaded fan of the Buffalo Bills I have to say the Sunday’s drubbing of the Kansas City Chiefs was impressive and unexpected. There’s not much to say – “wow” really sums it up nicely.
This had the potential to be a classic early season Buffalo Bills game – two teams starting with even records and no major injuries. Both teams have solid if unspectacular players and quite honestly neither team was in another league in terms of talent. I knew the game was a very winnable contest for the Bills yet the recent history of the team had me thinking they would probably flying back home on the wrong side of the wins column. Buffalo has a nasty habit of slow starts and losing games they really should have won. Whether its bad breaks, bad bounces or just bad play, the Bills have found a way to lose such games – when you’ve seen enough of them you start expecting that it could happen.
What I never thought I would see is a game totally dominated by the Bills. The Chiefs were as flat as I’ve ever seen a team (remember, I follow the Bills – I know from flat teams) even as a boisterous home crowd did their best to spur them on. No matter what you think of the Chiefs, they have some pretty rabid fans who make Arrowhead Stadium a very tough place to play if you’re not wearing crimson and gold.
I’m not as young as I used to be and I admit that while playing poker on Saturday night I threw back more than a few Black Tooth Grins – always fun until the following morning. Besides feeling like I wanted to sleep all day I actually didn’t feel too bad and after some coffee and a shower I was ready to start my day – a day watching football.
When I tuned in to the football game I saw a team fumble the opening kickoff and pay for it with 7 points. I saw a team that had trouble moving the ball and making defensive stops. I saw a team that had a touchdown called back followed by a sack – suddenly 3 points from 36 yards out became zero points from 49 yards out. What was weird was that this team was NOT the Buffalo Bills. It was like being in Bizzaro World where fair is foul and foul is fair (holy mixed metaphors Batman! That’s a literary reference to Superman and Shakespeare in the same sentence). The aftereffects of the Black Tooth can be severe, but I’ve never seen them induce euphoric shifts in reality – I was pretty confused.
But my eyes did not deceive me – Buffalo was playing a solid game and nothing was going right for Kansas City. Part of me wanted to feel bad for the Chiefs fans – having been in that dark place many a Sunday afternoon I know what it’s like – but I was too busy being giddy. Yes – you heard that right – giddy – me, a charter member of the nattering nabobs of negativity club.
The Bills seemed to play a good game across the board – Fitzpatrick looked sharp and in command. Receivers made some great catches and had some nice yards after the catch. We actually saw a tight end make a huge impact – Scott Chandler reminded me so much of Jay Riemersma it wasn’t even funny - a big kid out of the midwest with decent hands and the ability to drags some players after being caught. Fred Jackson was his usual self – shifty, slippery, hard-working and still unheralded – what a leader. Perhaps the most shocking of all was the play of the offensive line – Ryan Fitzpatrick had time to throw and they opened some holes in the running game. They generally held Tamba Hali in check – not an easy task.
Defensively the Chiefs did not run roughshod over the Bills although they would have likely seen more on the ground had KC not fallen into such a deep hole early. Tackling was generally good, especially by the secondary coming up to make the stop on short and swing passes. Penalties were kept to a minimum as were big plays by Kansas City. The Bills were ready to play and played they did – shocking the league and even a curmudgeon like me.
And so Bills Nation celebrates an exciting win. The inevitable optimism fans have coming into the season (you can’t believe how many Bills fans STILL feel that the Bills are headed for double digit wins and a playoff appearance) has been bolstered by a strong initial outing. They are celebrating so much they might actually put down their pitchforks and let a guy like Jerry Sullivan of The Buffalo News stay in town another week with health and property intact.
I’m happy – no doubt about that – but it doesn’t change my outlook on the 2011 Buffalo Bills all that much. Like Sullivan I see a team with a lot of needs that is in a different league than their big-spending and winning-focused cousins in New York and Boston. I’ve always known that when the Bills pull it all together and get a complete effort they are capable of hanging with and beating teams outside of the top ranks. Heck – with some luck and extraordinary circumstances they can even beat elite teams, but 9 out of 10 times you’ll lose that bet.
So let’s not get carried away – there’s still a long way to go – let’s see what they look like in week 3 when New England comes to town. They beat the Chiefs and can certainly beat the Raiders but the last time we started out so hot we got burned – at 5-1 Bills fans were talking playoffs as if they were a forgone conclusion and reveling in being in the top 5 of the various “power rankings” and look how that turned out – the front office got the boneheaded idea to extend Dick Jauron’s contract (lest we lose him?) and when we started to play good teams our record fell precipitously. If we start out 2-0 maybe someone will extend Chris Kelsay’s contract again and if we beat New England I fear what they could do (make Russ Brandon head coach?). Feels good to win but the Bills are like your buddy that gets a little too happy when he’s drunk and does some really, really stupid things without any lens of clarity.
The Bills got the win monkey off their back early – they know they can win and that’s a huge advantage for them as they progress into the season. Starting out at 0-8 in 2010 was brutal – like watching a baseball pitcher fall into a funk and not knowing what to do – winning cures everything.
I still think the Bills are much like the Pittsburgh Pirates of baseball – a team that captures some talent from time to time and get fans excited (they aren’t always at the bottom but they are never at the top) but run like a business. Keep costs low to keep operating profits high. Spend money if you can make more by spending it but generally that means not going whole hog after a championship. Forbes magazine has the Bills listed as the team with the 8th best operating income meaning they are being run profitably (although NFL teams seem to share the same openness of their financials a Hollywood movie studios). Keep some talent so the whole thing doesn’t collapse, maintain some level of fan optimism, hope that you win some games but keep the operation profitable. Hard to compete against some of the other teams in the league if that’s how you run you ship.
But I digress – my thoughts on the Bills organizational strategy is another topic for another day. Suffice it to say, I’m pretty happy and for once I am happy about the reception I’ll get in the office tomorrow (right now I’m actually working with a colleague who lives in the KC area and has season tickets – that’ll be a fun conference call tomorrow!). Tonight maybe I’ll throw back some more Black Tooth Grins and continue to celebrate. Nah – I don’t need to risk losing reality because right now, reality is pretty sweet as a Bills fan.