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The question that seems to come up following yesterday’s exciting one-point, come-from-behind victory over the visiting Oakland Raiders seems to be, “Are the Bills for real, or did they just barely beat a really bad team?”
I can see both sides of this.
On the one hand, the Bills were heavily favored against the 1-1 Raiders. The Raiders were blown out by the Broncos in week one, but followed up with an impressive win over their even more hapless division foe, the Chiefs. Rolling up more than 300 yards rushing against any NFL team is nothing to sneeze at. However, the Bills were a fairly impressive 2-0, and figured to win big against a team in turmoil who had to travel all the way across the country to play this early game for them.
Much seemed to be against the 9-point underdog Raiders.
But, often being a clear underdog is more than sufficient motivation for an NFL team. The Raiders were confident following their win in KC, and they felt they could come into Buffalo and dictate the flow of the game with their strong defense and running game. They were pumped up by the notion that Buffalo – who has not been in the playoffs this millennium – were such heavy favorites.
They knew they could win, and they were going to.
From the start, the game couldn’t have been scripted better by the Raiders. The first kick was returned 69 yards to the Buffalo 30. Next play, Bills are called for a neutral zone infraction, giving the Raiders 1st and 5 at the 25. You can’t have a better start to a road game, especially against a heavy favorite.
The Raiders kept the field position advantage thanks to sloppy play by the Bills on offense and special teams. It started (but did not end) with that 69-yard return. Buffalo continued to have trouble covering punts and kicks. On offense, receivers were dropping passes (even Marshawn Lynch), players were fumbling (even Lee Evans), the offensive line was not blocking (Edwards was sacked 3 times in the first half), and committing drive-killing penalties.
In the second half the Bills improved their pass blocking, but the follies continued. Lee Evans was called for offensive pass interference (which he did not need to do to make the catch) and perhaps the most bone-headed play of the game, Roscoe Parrish fielded a punt inside his own endzone! He was tackled at the one yard line, and that led to a third-down interception of a Trent Edwards pass intended for Evans. There was some dispute (and an official review) of the call, but in the end, Oakland got the ball at the Buffalo 13, and scored their first TD of the day.
Only the defense performed admirably (even with the bad field position) only allowing Oakland ten total first downs, and holding them to 2 of 12 third down conversion attempts. The Raiders were in the red zone four times on Sunday, only scoring a TD once (when they got the ball at the 13). The Bills defense held the Raiders rushing attack to just 98 total yards, and one TD scored by QB JaMarcus Russell from the 1 yard line. Through the air, Oakland got 84 of its 149 yards on one play, which was about one-inch from being knocked down by LB Paul Posluszny.
This Team Knows How To Win
Facing a fourth quarter deficit for the second straight week, Trent Edwards (and the #5 defense in the NFL) rallied the team and looked determined to win. Despite sloppy play for the previous three quarters, Edwards and his receivers began carving up the Raiders defense. Josh Reed finished the day with 6 catches for 72 yards. Reed is now the third different leading receiver through three weeks for the Bills. And none of them are Lee Evans! Marshawn Lynch looked equally determined, running over opponents, lowering his head at the end of runs to add the exclamation point.
After the offense moved the ball down the field fairly easily to get within two points of the Raiders at 16-14, the defense figured they would continue the success they had been having against the Raiders offense. And for two plays, they did. The crowd was roaring, and the defense looked as determined as Lynch and Edwards to close out this game and post the “W”.
But on third down, Russell threaded the microscopic needle, and the speedy WR Johnnie Lee Higgins split the safeties and cruised for the TD, putting the Raiders very much back in control, leading by 9 points with 6:23 to go.
Interestingly, on that play, Donte Whitner showed his own determination by taking a penalty for his team. Whitner was trailing Higgins on the play, and when Higgins slowed down to “coast” into the end zone for the last 30 yards, he took exception and tackled Higgins 5 yards deep in the end zone. Higgins was flagged for taunting, and Whitner for unsportsmanlike conduct. However, the end result of the play may have been continued (furthered?) determination by the Bills to pull out the win.
Edwards and Co. took the field once more, and again moved the ball (seemingly) with ease. Edwards was on fire, and the Bills took only 2:20 to score on a great pass to Roscoe Parrish. The quarterback was hit hard and knocked down on the play by several Raiders, but delivered the ball perfectly for the TD.
The inspired defense this time forced a three-and-out, and the Bills offense showing poise, talent, determination and confidence marched down the field – even running out the last 30 seconds of the game – to kick the winning field goal on the last play of the game.
Many question why Raiders’ coach, Lane Kiffin, did not call either of his two remaining time outs in the final minute. Perhaps he was counting on Lindell missing his second FG attempt of the day? Perhaps he forgot how much time was left?
Perhaps he is trying to get fired?
For whatever reason, the end result was the Bills took complete control (except for the one play resulting in the long TD to Higgins) in the fourth quarter, and won the game.
Good Teams Win…
So far, through three weeks, the Bills have won three different ways. They beat the Seahawks by “going for the jugular” with a fake FG that started a quick 14-point surge in the third quarter of that game. They blew out a decent opponent. In week two, playing a hungry, talented Jacksonville team in their home-opener (in ridiculous heat) the Bills pulled off an impressive come-from-behind win. They won a tight game, on the road, against a good team. On Sunday, the Bills played a sloppy game against a team that was playing well, and lost in almost every category except on the score board. They won a game where they didn’t play their best.
Those are the marks of a good team.
Sunday proved to me that this Bills team is indeed for real. They have the talent. They have a good scheme/game plan. They have good coaches. And most of all, they are learning how to be winners, and they have the determination and the confidence to go out and get it done.
This week against an 0-3 team which has been outscored 38-3, 41-13, and 37-13 through three weeks, the Bills will need to stay focused as they could easily think that they could cruise to a big victory. This week may have helped refine that focus. Winners don’t often lose focus, and don’t often lose games.
And from what I have seen so far, this team is full of winners.