What a difference a week makes.
One week ago I sat back, adrenaline, anger and high blood pressure going, to ponder one of the worst opening day debacles I had ever seen. The last dozen years or so have given us such a varied assortment of tormenting losses, but last week’s stinker was definitely a candidate for the top ten worst Bills losses – that’s saying something. Not only did the Bills get absolutely blown out, they showed amazing deficiencies in areas where we thought they had strength and suffered some key injuries. There was really almost nothing to be happy about – no silver lining.
While a win against the Jets was by no means a guarantee, being able to compete against such a division rival would be required for any team with serious playoff aspirations – that didn’t happen. So week two became (at least in my mind) a must win game. Go 0-1 against the Jets and you start the season in a hole – go 0-2 losing to Kansas City at home and they might just start shoving dirt on top of you.
Fast forward to week two and I’m in a much happier place than I was a week ago. While I am not booking a hotel for a home playoff game just yet, I am pleased to see the Bills win in a commanding fashion and showing strength where they should.
The game started a bit slowly, but it was great to see the defense make a few stops for losses and actually forced a punt, something they didn’t do until garbage time in week 1. The offense took over and went 3 and out after a terrible Ryan Fitzpatrick play where he rolled out and waited way too long to find a wide open Chris Chandler, then skipped the ball to him when he finally threw it. From the comy confines of my living room I could hear the fans boo – Fitz had blown an easy one and they were not happy (and I was glad my kids weren’t around to hear me).
The Bills performed better on their second defensive and offensive appearances. They held the Chiefs to 3 and out and then started a drive at their own 16. The drive featured a 19 yard run and catch by C.J. Spiller, a 20 yard scramble by Fitzpatrick to convert a third down, and was capped off by a beautiful 17 yard scamper by Spiller to paydirt.
Another 3 an out by KC – the defense was able to get some more rest – always nice to have some relatively fresh guys for later in the game so early stops are critical. The Bills took the ensuing possession down the field in 7 plays featuring a pretty 38 yard run by Spiller and punched it in for another 6 points (Spiller’s second touchdown).
Being up by 2 touchdowns, you start to relax and enjoy the game a bit more don’t you? The Bills defense didn’t relax, though – on the net KC drive Marcell Dareus sacked Matt Cassel to notch Buffalo’s first of the season on the 86th defensive play of the season – a bit later than most of us had expected.
By halftime the Bills were up by 3 touchdowns, had racked up 2 sacks and held the Chiefs 2 headed running attack of Jamaal Charles and Payton Hillis to just 47 yards on the ground. They had also recovered 2 fumbles and had shutout KC – a world of difference from the previous week.
The rout was on in the second half – 2 more touchdowns including a punt return by Leodis McKelvin. At the peak the Bills were up by 32 points and they never looked back – one of the few games you can, as a fan, kick back and just enjoy without getting an ulcer.
For a team that started out just about as badly as you can start a season, the win was more than just a win – it was redemption and a chance to show that the team is relevant. The Bills had a lot of pre-season hype from the national media – playoffs were predicted by many – but that disappeared faster than the media ripped Mario Williams after being dismantled by the Jets.
The defensive line played a very solid game. Kyle Williams was a beast, at one point literally running right over a fullback and making the sack. Dareus showed why he was drafted so highly and could be a fixture for years to come. Mark Anderson was quick and had some plays in the backfield and Mario was the Mario we were looking for – collapsing the pocket and recovering a fumble.
Not to be outdone in the trenches, the Bills offensive line played a great game keeping Fitzpatrick clean and making some great run blocks.
The defensive secondary, destroyed last week, played a fairly solid game – Buffalo’s young corners could certainly use some more seasoning – they have the talent but need the experience. Even the linebackers played a decent game – it’s amazing how much better they are when the defensive line is stopping the play from getting past the line of scrimmage.
The best performance has to go to Spiller – what a superb day he had racking up 123 yards and 2 scores on the ground and adding another 47 yards in the air – 170 yards on just 18 touches. Spiller is definitely a talented back, but he’s playing with the confidence he’s lacked up until now – all you need to do is look at his decision making and see how he’s running with authority to know that the 2012 model Spiller seems much improved over the 2011 model.
On the down side, Fitzpatrick had another shaky game. Granted he didn’t turn the ball over and had made some plays with his feet, but he was not sharp at all when throwing the ball. Fitzpatrick finished the game with a passer rating of 120.1, showing you just how misleading that number could be. Most of his yardage came after the catch – there were no successful shots down the field and several incompletes were way off target.
If you’ve watch Fitzpatrick you know he’s inconsistent. It is quite possible that he has a very solid game next week, but it’s also quite possible we could be calling for the Jackson era to start ASAP next week – you just don’t know what you’re going to get.
Don’t get me wrong – I like Fitzpatrick – I really do. He brings leadership and intelligence to the game. From what I’ve read he’s a really fantastic guy personally and is well liked by his teammates. But make no mistake about it – if the Bills manage to live up to the pre-season hype and do something this season it’s likely that it will be in spite of Fitzpatrick, not because of him. Going on 2 decades after Jim Kelly and the Bills still need a good to great quarterback to get them to the next level, and I don’t see Fitzpatrick as that guy. For that reason I was surprised that the Bills did not draft a quarterback to start to develop – perhaps they felt that player didn’t exist in April.
If they Bills stick to what they do best they’ll become a run first team, a relative rarity in a pass-happy NFL these days. Fitzpatrick will need to manage the games – make smart plays, don’t try to be a hero, make plays with your feet. The defense will need to continue to put pressure on opponents, especially while a young secondary learns to come into their own.
The Bills need to get on a roll and gain some momentum – having a winning record by beating Cleveland next week will be a must if they hope to weather the storm of back to back games against New England and San Francisco in weeks 4 and 5. It is very possible the Bills could lose to those two tough opponents and being 1-4 after week 5 will absolutely kill the Bills – at a minimum they need to be 2-3 and have played competitively against the Patriots and Niners if they are going to be in consideration at the end of the season.
So, which team will show up in Cleveland on Sunday? Which Cleveland team will show up? I’m hoping for another Kansas City – it’s so much more fun and so much less painful.