Wow – that was fun – most fun I’ve had in a long time. It’s been such a long time since I could kick back and watch a Bills game knowing that they were playing well and were in full control.
Kick back with some wings and favorite beverages and you have a great afternoon. Better than watching a good movie. Better than having a decent meal. Better than reading a good book. Better than an evening at Dave and Busters with a bunch of your best buds.
OK – so the whole Jets night out at Dave and Busters has been hyped to death – in reality it probably had negligible impact on the game. It is interesting that a Rex Ryan-lead team, the day before a game, is allowed to lose focus on the game and go out for an evening of R&R. It is especially interesting if this isn’t the normal routine the night before a game – does Rex let his team do this every Saturday night, or just before facing the Bills? It does provide some bulletin board material, something you think Ryan would want to limit. Perhaps things would have been different if they’d stuck to the original plan of going out to Buffalo Podiatry – I bet more guys would have passed and stayed at the hotel to study.
The game did not start well. Per usual, the Bills kicked off to their opponent by virtue of winning the toss and deferring. To be fair, wind was a factor so kicking off and selecting a goal to defend was probably a smart move. New York converted 2 first downs on their initial drive and the Bills failed to corral a Geno Smith fumble – missed opportunities. Luckily the drive stalled at the Buffalo 41 and the Jets had to punt.
Buffalo started their day with the ball by committing a penalty on the return and then going on a drive that went 3 and out. Sure seemed like it was going to be another one of those game – dead offense, failure to capitalize on opponents mistakes.
On the second Jets possession Geno Smith hit Santonio Holmes for 33 yards in front of Stephon Gilmore who seemed to just stand there and watch it happen. Oh brother, not again – not like last weekend. The drive ended with a field goal attempt that seemed to be smacked down by Mother Nature herself – no way was that one going through the uprights.
Another drive by Buffalo, another penalty, another punt. Jets get the ball back and go 3 and out – this game is becoming a yawner – time for another beverage. As the second quarter begins the Bills still have the ball but can only go as far as the New York 22 yard line – time for a 40 yard field goal try. Ball straight through the uprights – THAT’S how you kick a 40 yarder in windy conditions in Orchard Park.
Jets go 3 and out again – the Bills are starting to play solid defense, but if the offense can’t score, will it matter? Luckily the offense woke up on the next drive, going 68 yards in 13 plays. EJ Manuel converts a 4th down with a QB sneak and 3 plays later he hits T.J. Graham for a 34 yard touchdown – Bills are now up by 2 scores and playing good defense – I like our chances.
Fourteen ticks of the clock later Smith fumbles again, only this time Manny Lawson grabs the lose ball at the New York 4 yard line. Two plays later Frank Summers goes up the middle for his first NFL touchdown – Bills are now up by 3 scores. Although the momentum has shifted to Buffalo I’ve seen them blow far bigger games than this. Another 43 ticks of the clock and the Bills have the ball back again thanks to a Geno Smith interception by Jairus Byrd – after a 42 yard field goal the Bills are now up 20 to 0 – I’m liking this!
Halftime is here and the stats are all Bills. Buffalo has held the ball almost 4 minutes more than New York and has outgained them 141-57. Manuel has passed for 114 yards and a score – Smith has passed for 17 yards and had turned the ball over twice.
The first drive of the second half seemed like the turning point in the game. The Bills took the kickoff and drove 23 yards before having to punt. Brain Moorman takes a bad snap and drops the ball, aborts his punt, scrambles to his right and soccer kicks the ball – just like all those NFL Films Football Follies videos. Yep – here it comes – a crushing 2nd half where the Bills squander their lead and find a way to end up with fewer points than their opponent by the final gun – ugh.
And the game changes. The Jets get on the board with a 7 play 40 yard drive ending in a touchdown. Buffalo answers with a 3 and out. Jets go 3 and out, then comes the best drive to watch as a Bills fan since the game winner against the Panthers. The drive starts at the Buffalo 17 and Manuel finds Graham on the sideline for 40 yards. On the very next play Manuel goes deep again and hits a streaking Marquis Goodwin in stride for a 43 yard touchdown. Goodwin simply takes off at the snap and runs right by Antonio Cromartie – speed kills. I erupt in a tremendous “Yes!” – man, is anything is pretty as that? Back up by 20, the offense is clicking, the defense is playing well and the Bills are in command – this is what you live for as a Bills fan.
The next 2 Jets possessions end with Smith throwing interceptions to Byrd and Da’Norris Searcy – the latter taking his to the house to put the Bills up 34-7 – good times.
The Jets pull Smith and his replacement, Matt Simms leads his team down for another touchdown, but it’s too little, too late. Buffalo completes the scoring with another wind-blown field goal, showing the visitors how to kick in the winds of western New York.
A win – and a satisfying win at that. Defense looked very solid. Manuel rebounded hugely from his terrible game a week before. Despite having the top two receivers out of the lineup, two young speedsters stepped up and showed their promise. The Bills actually took advantage of opportunities and didn’t beat themselves – these are the games you want to see.
That’s not to say everything went well. The running game was stymied all day long and C.J. Spiller looks like a baseball closer who’s hit a string of blown saves and is stuck in a mental tar pit - the harder he tries to get out, the worse it becomes.
Penalties are still an issue, particularly on returns – the Bills have some talented returners capable of taking it all the way, but they’ll never get there if returns are called back by penalties.
I don’t bring up the negatives to be a downer, only to try and put this win into some perspective. It’s easy to get giddy with a satisfying win like this, but remember that this team is still only 4-7 – let’s not get carried away.
Last week was Jim Mora week – the point at which the playoffs are really no longer a reality – I stand by that. To listen to fans talk today you hear that “p-word” a lot today. Lots of fans saying the Bills are going to run the table and saying that if they do the Bills have a 70% chance of making the post season.
Let’s look at this playoff talk. Running the table at this point is a huge if – tremendous. Lest anyone forget, of the 5 games remaining, only 1 is at home in Orchard Park. There’s the game in Toronto where the Bills have yet to play well, and 2 road games in Jacksonville and Tampa – show me where the Bills have played well on the road in recent years, even against lesser opponents. Then there’s a week 17 tilt in New England against the Patriots – the team that has beaten the Bills 24 out of the last 27 meetings. The Bills have not won at Gillette Stadium – ever. They last won at the old stadium more than 13 years ago. Sure, it’ll be the final week of the season and the Patriots will have the division wrapped up by then, but the Patriots almost never rest their top players at any point – expect Tom Brady to be under center.
OK, so even if the Bills do win out (they won’t), the crazy 70% chance you see is if you randomize every other game on a computer for every week and look at all the possible scenarios, no matter how improbable (i.e. – 1 scenario would be New England losing the rest of the games and Jacksonville winning all of theirs). If you find a bookmaker anywhere willing to make action on that 70% please let me know – he doesn’t exist.
So enjoy a good win, think about the future, dream of what can be if the Bills grow into some consistency. But don’t get carried away and set yourself up for playoff heartbreak. Watching progress by the Bills should make for some fun afternoons – almost as fun as a trip out to Dave and Busters.