Merry Christmas, Bills fans. As I enjoy a week off from work and grab a cozy spot on the couch to enjoy a moment of peace, I have a sense of satisfaction and warmth running through me.
This is an incredibly hectic time of year – so much to do to prepare for Christmas and the end of the year – shopping, cleaning, attending events, finishing work that needs to be done by the turn of the year. It’s all I can do to carve out a few hours on a Sunday afternoon to watch the Bills.
As usual, games these days aren’t about this season – they’re about seasons on the future – the what if, not the what is. I’m usually torn by the desire to see the Bills win and the desire to see the Bills get the best draft choice , but this season I’m firmly in the camp of wanting to see wins, draft position be damned.
Like many Bills fans, I want to see what this young team is capable of. We’ve seen some glimpses this season, but they’ve been obscured by maddeningly inconsistency – greatness negated by some mind-boggling bad and stupid play.
For the first time this season, the Bills gave me a game with which I was completely satisfied – what I saw was what I wanted to see pretty much across the board.
There are wins and there are satisfying wins - anytime you pitch a shutout over a team to whom you were supposed to lose, it’s a satisfying win. From the start the Bills not only looked like they came to play, they looked like they were out to make a statement – don’t forget us and don’t write us off again.
The defense was smothering – I can’t really find a better term to describe it. Instead of giving up third down conversions, the Bills had drive-ending sacks the first two times Miami saw third down. In so many games this year the Bills got sacks on first or second down only to see opponents convert the third down and negating the good defensive play. On Sunday the Bills not only got the sacks, they made them stick.
It wasn’t only sacks – it was the constant pressure the Bills were able to dial up on their south Florida rivals. Ryan Tannehill was a quarterback under siege – he had someone in his face all afternoon and when he could get rid of the ball he often had to do it much sooner than he wanted with predictably poor results.
On the limited times where Tannehill could make a pass, the Bills pass coverage was solid all afternoon, save for a 50 yard completion where Stephon Gilmore was beaten badly. Normally such a mistake would have killed the Bills, but not on Sunday – they played well enough to overcome a single play that covered half the field – that’s satisfying.
The run defense was equally as stingy. In the first half the Dolphins rushed 9 times for 9 yards – not hard to do the math on that one. Miami ran 30 plays in the first half, converted a single third down and gained a whopping 56 yards. Buffalo had only 5 more plays, but had racked up 205 yards by the break. Miami punted 7 times in the first half.
Offensively the Bills moved the ball fairly well, especially when you consider they were starting their backup quarterback and missing their veteran receiver in Stevie Johnson. Marcus Goodwin went out early with an injury and Robert Woods was ejected in the 3rd quarter after an altercation when he lost his cool. In the first half the Bills only put up 10 points, yet they always seemed to be in control.
Normally when the Bills lead at the half and haven’t been scoring points in droves it makes me nervous - too many times the halftime lead has been squandered and the Bills come up short in the end. On Sunday I actually felt good about being up by the thinnest of 2-score margins.
The defensive domination by the Bills continued in the second half. Despite on putting up only 3 second half field goals, it never appeared that the lack of touchdowns would come back to haunt Buffalo. It seems that often times teams figure out how to adjust to the Bills, but Miami certainly did not – they continued to have absolutely no answers for the Buffalo defense.
The final tally was fantastic if you’re a Bills fan. The Bills posted 390 yards of offense – over 200 of those yards coming on the ground. Despite converting only a third of their 3rd downs, the Bills still managed 18 first downs, 3 times as many as Miami. The Bills held the ball 13 minutes longer than their opponents. With statistics like this it’s hard to believe the Bills only put up 4 field goals and a touchdown.
Defensively the Bills held the Dolphins to 103 total yards – 14 yards on the ground and 89 through the air (remember – 50 of those yard came on a single play). The Bills sacked Tannehill 7 times and forced him into throwing 2 interceptions.
And so I’m satisfied looking at what Buffalo has on defense – they showed that they can have a dominating unit. The defensive line can be a tremendous force and they have some young talent at linebacker and safety. I still think they can improve at linebacker and I’m not sold at all with the cornerbacks (way too inconsistent). If the Bills could play with more consistency as a defensive unit I think they would position the team well to take the next step. We know what they can do – they just need to do it without making the plays that undo it.
Offensively it was hard to be excited about the future because EJ Manuel was on the bench and Johnson was absent as well. I like Thad Lewis, but he doesn’t have the accuracy to be a starter – he’s a nice backup who can get the job done but he’s not the full time answer. I like Johnson, but I’m not convinced he’s a true #1 receiver in the NFL, nor am I convinced that the Bills need him to get to the playoffs. The Bills need consistency in offensive line play (they were superb on Sunday) – I’m not sure they have the talent to play that well a majority of the time. Fred Jackson has proven that he is a key part to the success of the team. C.J. Spiller is very talented, but it appears that he’s not completely healthy – it’s hard to know what he can contribute next season.
And so I sit, ready for Christmas and ready for the future. I feel very good about the possibilities for this team if they can play up to their capabilities. I’m actually excited to see what they do next week in New England – it could well set the tone for 2014. At the same time it makes me a bit sad to think what could have been with this season, but having just seen Mark Pysyk’s bizarre “pants” goal for a Sabres win, maybe luck has changed for Buffalo – a Christmas miracle?