When youíre a Buffalo Bills fan at least one thing is certain Ė itís never boring. Just as I prepared myself for a potential 4 win season, the Bills pull a sizeable upset on Sunday over Denver and sit at 2-1 after three weeks of the 2017 season. It was a great win, and maybe itís just me, but it also frustrates me.
This was supposed to be a pretty easy game to predict, and chances looked pretty good that the home team was not going to have a good day in Orchard Park. The Bills had come off a week 2 loss in Carolina at the hands of a Panthers team that looked decidedly mediocre, while Denver came into the game after shutting down a very solid Dallas Cowboys team the previous week. When I say shut down I mean it Ė in week 2 the Broncos defense looked incredible completely stopping a running game featuring a very talented running back and one of the best offensive lines in the league.
To be sure, the Bills have a special running back in LeSean McCoy Ė heís a true playmaker and threat every single time he touches the ball, but he canít do it himself. Against Carolina the offensive line failed to open many running lanes for McCoy and he ended up with one of the worst full game stat lines of his career. I donít think itís a stretch to say that the Dallas offensive line is a better unit than the Billsí, so the threat of having the running game completely shut down by Denver was very real. Iím no NFL coordinator or Xs and Os guru, but it was pretty plain to see that the Broncos game plan on Sunday would to take McCoy and the running game out and force the Bills to beat you with Tyrod Taylor and the passing game.
On Thursday the Bills task to win the game became tougher with the announcement that offensive tackle Cordy Glenn and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus would not play on Sunday due to injury. While Dareus is arguably the best talent on the defensive line, the McDermott system of frequent rotation on the line has demonstrated that the unit can be effective without Marcell on the field for nearly every play. Left tackle, on the other hand, is a critical position without a clear backup, and one that would surely be tested by a top notch defensive front. Yes sir, this had all the makings of transforming an unlikely victory to a potentially ugly loss.
Strangely enough, the game was not a blowout from the get-go Ė the Bills held their own in what turned out to be a pretty boring start. The first quarter was nearly complete as both teams punted on their first two possessions until Denver finally kicked a field goal. Each team was effective at shutting down the run, but the Broncos were able to complete two passes of greater than 20 yards and pick up a pass interference on their scoring drive. Buffalo answered right back on the next drive, scoring a touchdown on a 10 play 74 yard drive with 2 passes going for 28 yards each. By halftime the teams went to the locker room tied at 13.
Statistically, Buffalo and Denver were fairly even at the half, something I did not expect to see as it is something we donít usually see. In a tie game like this the second half is going to win it and historically the Bills have been very bad at making halftime adjustments that lead them to victory.
The second half is where things got interesting Ė this was not the same Bills teams Iíve been watching week after week. The running game still wasnít going anywhere, but the Bills still managed to move the ball effectively thanks to solid play from the offensive line, Taylor and the receiving corps. None of these are going to be mistaken for all-pros, but as a team they did what they had to do to keep the chains moving and the scoreboard changing. Buffalo went up 20-16 a 4 play 69 yard drive that took less than 90 seconds. Taylor made connections with Nick OíLeary for 31 yards (great job by the big man to get his knee down) and Jordan Matthews for 25 yards Ė itís been quite some time since Iíd seen Tyrod move the ball like that.
Denver, on the other hand, fell victim to self-inflicted wounds by making a number of mistakes. Quarterback Trevor Siemian threw two bad interceptions and the Broncos were caught in a terrible situation when the Bills sniffed out a fake punt deep in their own end. Amazingly, the Bills only managed to put up two field goals on these mistakes, otherwise the final score might have been even more lopsided. When the final gun sounded the Bills delighted in a 26-16 victory over a stunned Broncos team.
Hereís why Buffaloís win over Denver bothers me. Donít get me wrong Ė I was happier than anybody that the Bills won on Sunday, but it also got me thinking. Thinking about how a win like this was supposed to happen LAST season Ė you know, when the team was trying to rebuild AND win. Buffaloís been trying to rebuild and win at the same time for 17+ years and we all know how thatís worked out Ė it hasnít. As I wrote in my first article this season, this is supposed to be a rebuilding year and itís something Iíve prepared for. My thought was that the Bills would probably be a 4 or 5 win team this season but that pain would be repaid at draft time. Instead, with this improbable win over Denver they look like theyíre on yet another relentless march to about 8 wins (stop me of youíve seen this before).
The Denver win was supposed to be the type of win the Bills had last season, before they jettisoned so much talent. Last year I would have gone into a Denver game thinking that they could beat such a team and that if they did they might squeak into the playoffs. In fact, if the Bills had played and won a couple games like Sundayís Denver contest last season they would have likely made the playoffs. Think about it Ė if the defense had played as well as the Bills played on Sunday and if Taylor had moved the ball through the air when the defense keyed on the running game we might have been talking about a 10 win team. With better defensive and passing game performances happening this year I think it may make Buffalo a 6 or 8 win team Ė once again out of the playoffs and drafting worse than they may need to really rebuild.
Again, I loved Sundayís win and wouldnít trade it for a loss Ė I always love it when the Bills win. Iím just wondering where this team was last year and whether offseason changes leave the team with any shot at all of doing something this year. Being a natural pessimist I have my doubts that Buffalo can make the playoffs this year Ė as I previously wrote, Iím OK with that after some difficult soul-searching. If I was truly cynical Iíd think that the Bills canít do anything right, including committing to being bad enough rebuild properly but my heart isnít that hardened (yet). For now I guess Iíll be happy that the Bills may not be as irrelevant as many believe they will be, and Iíll enjoy watching some exciting football and winning Ė Monday are always much better after a win.
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