It’s only been one game, but the Buffalo Bills appear ready to turn the proverbial corner.
For 15 years the Buffalo Bills have been, for a lack of a better phrase, the laughing stock of the National Football League.
Sure, the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders haven’t been the best teams on or off the field lately, but at least they’ve made the postseason this century. The Bills? Well, they haven’t made the playoffs since the infamous Music City Miracle in the 1999 postseason. But Bills fans probably don’t need to be told about that.
The team has seen players come and go, some great like Pat Williams and London Fletcher; some not so great like Mike Williams and Aaron Maybin. Quarterbacks like J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards have guided the franchise to mediocre finish after mediocre finish. Coaches like Dick Jauron and Doug Marrone had their respective teams programmed to play not to lose rather than playing to win.
After just one week of the 2015 season, it seems like that losing aura is all but in the past for the organization and its fans.
With Rex Ryan making his official debut as the 18th head coach in Buffalo Bills history, the atmosphere surrounding Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday was something that hadn’t been felt since the days of Doug Flutie. There was excitement, anticipation and, most importantly, hope.
Hope that the 15 year playoff drought is coming to an end; hope that the team has finally found a good, let alone competent, quarterback; hope that the team will finally be relevant again.
Over 70,000 rabid fans packed the Ralph to watch the Bills come out flying and jump out to a 24-0 lead over the visiting Indianapolis Colts before defeating the AFC’s prohibitive favorites, 27-14.
Ryan’s defense manhandled Andrew Luck and the Colts in every facet of the game. They were in the Pro Bowl QB’s face seemingly all afternoon, pressuring misplaced throws, poor decisions and key turnovers. In addition to forcing two Luck interceptions, the defense held the Colts’ running backs to just 44 yards rushing. It was a performance that no one really expected even despite it not being all that surprising based on the talent the Bills’ roster possesses.
And don’t forget, they did all of this without the man who can be considered the team’s all-around best player, Marcell Dareus. Imagine what that front seven will be like when the two-time Pro Bowl lineman is back on the field next Sunday against New England?
Tyrod Taylor, who was taking his first snaps as a number one QB, proved that his preseason wasn’t a fluke. He made plays with both his arm and legs, and, most importantly, took care of the football at all costs. At one point, he even made sure to bat down a deflected pass to ensure it wouldn’t be intercepted by the Colts. That’s the type of awareness fans in Western New York haven’t seen from under center since the aforementioned Flutie days.
The running backs and receivers showed up when they needed to and made the plays expected of a dangerous unit. It was a bit weird to see things go according to a coach’s plan.
Now, Bills fans have seen this song and dance in various ways before. Whether it be the 5-1 start in 2008 or the 5-2 start of 2011, it’s understandable for fans to be a bit skeptical of everything.
But something about this just feels different. Something feels like it isn’t the “same ol’ Bills.” Consider this one stat: Ryan is the first coach in franchise history to win his debut game. That’s right, up until Sunday, Bills coaches were 0-17 in their first game on the sideline.
There is a bravado coming from the players that hasn’t been seen before. They are feeding off the energy that Ryan and his staff bring. It shows with the emotion on the field. Even the rookies, namely Ronald Darby and Karlos Williams, are showing flashes of confidence and aggressiveness that have long been missed.
Just look at years’ past. With Marrone as coach, this team took on the “punting is always okay” philosophy that seemed to be entrenched in the minds of the entire coaching staff. This new group clearly has the “we should score every time” mindset.
Going back to the film, Taylor’s run of 31 yards during Buffalo’s second touchdown drive showed how tightly knit and committed this team was to getting the job done. Taylor was in command. A simple point sent receiver Robert Woods where he was needed in order to help Taylor pick up the needed yards to put Buffalo deep into Colts territory.
Would the team have done that with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center? What about Matt Cassel? Hard to say, but one could venture a guess of no.
Now, don’t start making AFC East champion shirts and hats just yet. After all, it has only been one game. Still, to put it on the AFC runner ups the way Buffalo did shows that this team is much different than the past. They have talent that can play to a higher level, as opposed to lesser players overachieving before falling back to earth.
The Bills teams of old would take care of business against the Jaguars and Raiders, but couldn’t hold a candle to the Colts or Packers. Those days are gone, and that’s not being said on a whim. This is a team ready to show the league that they won’t be considered a joke any longer. Ryan wanted to build a bully, and the players appear poised to scrap to become an AFC playoff contender.
The Bills welcome AFC East rival New England Patriots to town next week. And if you thought the press box-shaking ruckus in Orchard Park was something against the Colts, you haven’t seen anything yet.
As the saying goes, get your popcorn ready.
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