Estimated reading time: 5 minute(s)
Following two straight fourth-quarter comebacks, the Buffalo Bills are alone atop the AFC East. All by themselves. That has not happened since week 13 of the 1996 NFL season. That is a long time.
We’ve heard the stats. The Bills are off to their fastest start since 1992. Not since that season has a Bills team started 3-0. And this week with the Bills facing the team who is arguably off to the worst start of all 32 NFL teams in 2008, most consider it a foregone conclusion that the Bills will be 4-0.
The last time the Bills started a season 4-0 was also 1992. Go back another year to find the last time a Bills team started the season with a 5-0 record. They lost their sixth game that year – the year after “Wide Right” – but went on to amass a 10-1 record, cruising to the AFC East crown and eventually, the AFC title.
But let’s go back just a couple years. 1988. The Bills were coming out of relative obscurity. Back to back 2-14 seasons, followed by a 4-12 season (which saw the arrival of new – and equally obscure – head coach, Marv Levy) followed by a meager 7-8 season. They had not made the playoffs for six straight seasons, but there seemed to be reason for hope.
A very talented young team was being put together. Largely around stars like Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, and even Andre Reed (from tiny Kutztown State university) and a rookie RB from Oklahoma State, Thurman Thomas. A blockbuster trade had brought LB Cornelius Bennett to town, inspiring more hope from the Buffalo faithful. There was certainly potential…
But it had been so long since there had been a real winner in Buffalo.
All of a sudden though, the wins began coming. 1-0. 2-0. 3-0. People began wondering about this “surprising” team from Buffalo. Robb Riddick kept jumping over the pile for a goal-line TD. Butch Rolle continued to fool everyone as Kelly would fake the handoff and toss the ball to a wide open (little used) TE. (Didn’t they watch the film? If Butch was on the field, he was going to get the TD!) A pretty solid offensive line, a QB who was showing he could will his team to win, a budding receiving star, and a scrappy defense – even a kicker who never missed. (32-33 FGs on the season, including an OT game winner that gave the Bills their first AFC East title in many long years.)
This team came out of nowhere to go 11-1, and grab the AFC East from their other four unsuspecting division rivals. And the rest of the NFL.
Flash forward to 2008.
This young, confident Bills team, being built around a young QB, a scrappy defense, a few solid veteran additions, a talented young RB – and even a kicker who never misses – has gotten out of the gates quickly. 1-0 after a blowout. 2-0 with a tough win on the road against a playoff contender. 3-0 following a sloppy performance, turned gutsy comeback. It looks like the sky is the limit for this young team, and it almost looks like we’re 20 years in the past… ready to do it all again!
And the thing that gives me more confidence about that is watching our QB manage his offense.
If you take a look around our division – which the Bills currently lead by one game – who else would you rather have at QB in the crunch? Now that Tom Brady is gone, the starting four AFC East QBs are: Edwards, Brett Favre, Chad Pennington, and Matt Cassel. Cassel has looked quite pedestrian, Favre has seemed at best out of step, and Pennington is… Pennington.
Edwards on the other hand has been incredibly accurate, completing 67% of his passes – and much higher in the 4th quarters of all three games. In the first game, late in the third quarter, Edwards sealed the victory with a 30 yard bullet to TE Robert Royal to quickly buoy the Bills from a 10 pt lead to a 24 point lead, and victory. In game number two, Edwards rallied a very tired and heat-exhausted Bills team to a 4 point victory from 6 points down on the road against a team who never loses when leading at home heading into the 4th quarter.
And last week, Edwards looked even more determined and capable as the Bills’ field general, picking apart the Raiders secondary in the 4th quarter, leading the Bills to score 17 points – even after the defense gave up a disheartening 84 yard TD catch and run by Johnnie Lee Higgins – giving the Bills the one-point victory at the final whistle.
Folks, what we have in Buffalo is a winning QB.
Cassel is not (yet) a winner. Favre has been, but is not looking like the Favre we have seen the past 16 NFL seasons. Pennington has never been a real winner. Edwards is looking like he is. And he’s only started 12 NFL games! He is now 8-4 as a starter, and perhaps his last three games have been his most impressive.
When Tom Brady went down, I said it was way too early to change your AFC East predictions based solely on the loss of one player. It is a team game. BUT… after Miami’s 38-13 drubbing of the Pats last week, and after two straight 4th quarter come-from-behind victories lead by Edwards, I am reconsidering. It still feels too early, but with a favorable schedule, and a QB who seems to have the confidence and the ability to rally his team to victory (and the apparent lack of that from the rest of the AFC East) I am truly beginning to believe.
I have said it many times actually. I believe this year is going to be much like that 1988 season. The Bills take most of the NFL world by surprise, and just keep winning. All the way to the AFC East title. Maybe – like 20 years ago – all the way to the AFC Championship game.
We can’t know. That is a long way away. It is a long season. But for now, it’s fun to be in this Bills fan time warp. It was a pretty fun 6 years from 1988-1994. Maybe this time around, the Bills can finish it off with a big W. The biggest W this franchise has ever posted.
I don’t think it will happen in 2008… but, you just never know.
Bring on the Rams, and let’s keep this thing rolling!