Just when you think you have the “new” Buffalo Bills figured out, they prove to you they’re trying not to be the same team we’ve known for the past 13 years. Take Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens. This was a game everyone short of Doug Marrone’s mother thought the Bills would lose, and yet they came out with a win.
The Ravens game had all the trappings of a victory squandered into defeat – something we’ve seen so many times in the past. It started early – on the first defensive series the Ravens had 2 consecutive penalties to start the game and soon found themselves in a 3rd and 13 situation. In a move that should shock nobody, the Ravens converted their first down by throwing a 14 yard pass that moved the chains – yep, another one of those games.
The Ravens drive stalled and the Bills took over and took 11 plays to move the ball 64 yards to the Ravens 7 yard line. The drive stalled and the Bills had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown – yep, another one of those games.
The Bills forced a turnover on the Ravens second drive and got the ball at the Ravens 25 yard line. Once again the Bills had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown – yep, another one of those games.
The first play of the second quarter saw E.J. Manuel get the ball knocked away by a pass rusher he never saw, and in a move sure to make the next iteration of NFL Films Football Follies, Cordy Glenn couldn’t manage to fall on it (I still don’t know how he did that, but he did) – queue the calliope music. The Ravens completed 2 passes and found themselves in the end zone – showing the Bills how to score and going up by a single point – yep, another one of those games.
Surprisingly, the Bills finished the second quarter strong. Manuel had a beautiful strike to Robert Woods for a 42 yard touchdown and Fred Jackson scampered 16 yards for another score to put the Bills up by 13 points. By the time the Bills went to the locker room at halftime they maintained their 20-7 lead and the thought started to enter my head – hey, they could actually win this game.
The second half started with a new Bills team – one that looked pretty bad. The Bills first 3 possessions of the second half were 3 and out drives. Buffalo kept its lead alive via an interception by Aaron Williams, but then the penalties started. Before you knew it, Baltimore had marched down the field and punched in another score making it 20-14.
I knew it had been too early to think about the Bills possibly winning the game – as punishment I was about to be subjected to another game where they blew it. The setup was perfect – another Ravens touchdown and extra point would put them ahead by a point – punishment for the Bills inability to get into the end zone and having to settle for field goals. Yep – another one of those games.
As I prepared myself to walk away from another Bills loss, another coulda, shoulda, woulda game I thought about all the moral victory arguments I’d be hearing. Just like the loss to the Pats, it would upbeat folks claiming that the Bills played a great game and we should be happy that they hung around until the very end with a team everybody knew was going to beat them. I’d hear people make excuses for the Bills and point to a decimated secondary, and abundance of youth and a new coaching staff. I would have had to grit my teeth and keep myself from smashing my radio listing to all of that garbage – seriously, where have these people been for the past 13 years? If you’re still happy with moral victories you’re either way too optimistic for me (you probably spring out of bed in the morning and sing while you make breakfast), or you’re not old enough to be tired of all of this already.
But a strange thing happened Sunday – the Bills didn’t lose! They didn’t have to stage a dramatic last drive to score the winning touchdown, but they did have to hold off a decent Baltimore offense from even getting into field goal range – with the way things were going I’m almost certain that the Ravens would have prevailed had the game gone into overtime.
This time it was time for the Bills defense to shine, and that’s exactly what they did. With the score a tenuous 23-20, Marcell Dareus sacked Joe Flacco but the defense allowed Baltimore to convert a 3rd and 18 to keep their game tying/game winning drive alive. Enter rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso who iced the game with his second interception of the game and his third consecutive game with a pick. Some kneel downs and a boneheaded penalty by Terrell Suggs later and the Bills emerged victorious. It was NOT another one of those games!
So a quarter of the way through the season we’ve learned that the new Bills can win close games by scoring on a late drive or holding on and making big defensive plays. We’ve learned that the 2013 draft class looks to hold some amazing promise. We’ve also learned that the Bills can lose the way they’ve always done – close one to teams like New England and getting manhandled by a team like the Jets who look terrific against the Bills one week and look like a division II college squad the next. I guess this is the inconsistency of youth we’ve heard so much about.
This week is a short week as the Bills travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns. It’s a road game on national TV against a team they probably really should beat. The Bills are banged up, but with luck they’ll have some guys healthy enough to play running back and defensive back. The defense played well and gets to face Brian Hoyer and a stable of mediocre running backs. I want to have a good feeling about Thursday’s game, but I’m afraid it could turn out to be another one of those games…