The football whistled through the Western New York air for what felt like an hour. A mamoth heave by Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell, trying to pull one more devastating trick from his hat. Pleading, begging and emploring anybody in red and blue to knock down the Hail Mary attempt, my prayers fell on deaf ears and shortly after a world of uneasyness began to set in. Bills rookie safety Da’ Norris Searcy snatched the football out of the air for the interception, came down and somehow was able to fend off and outmuscle Raiders receiver and thorn-in-the-side-of-the-Bills Denarius Moore for the football.
But it didn’t end there. The officials went to the replay booth for nearly 10 minutes and the call was upheld. Referee Mike Carey announced in front of a then half empty Ralph Wilson Stadium that the call was upheld, it was indeed an interception and the game was over, Bills win.
This was one that we’ll all remember for a long time. Depending on how the remainder of the season shakes out, a few months from now we’ll look back at this game, this comeback as the turning point for this group. Down 21-3 at halftime, it was evident that the Oakland Raiders weren’t fazed about playing withouth their top three wide receivers and their starting tight end. They weren’t feeling sorry for themselves about having to travel all the way across the country on a short week after playing on Monday night. Their first two drives ended in Shane Lechler punts, but their final three possessions in the first half ended in touchdowns. The Raiders came to play football and it was very unclear what exactly the Bills’ intentions were in their home opener.
Fans were booing, demanding better at home after relying on the television set a week ago to witness the Bills’ 41-7 drubbing of the Chiefs in Kansas City. The Bills had three points, a turnover, a defense that couldn’t make a big play or get off the field and just for good measure a blocked field goal attempt as time expired at the end of the first half. If the fans had skunks handy, I imagine they would’ve been waving them frantically as the Bills headed for the locker room after the first 30 minutes.
And then, the character and the resiliency of this Bills group stampeded to the forefront. Coming out of the locker room, I don’t think there was anyone who could’ve anticipated what happened. Buffalo erased an 18-point halftime deficit, scored 35 points in the second half and pulled out an improbable victory over Oakland 38-35.
Feel free to take a happy stroll with me down memory lane for a moment. If you’re curious when the last time the Bills scored 35 points at home in the second half of a game, it was in January 1993 against the Houston Oilers. Yes, those Houston Oilers and yes it was that game when the Bills turned a 35-3 butt kicking into the most unforgettable and perhaps the most memorable comeback victory not just in the playoffs but the entire history of the NFL.
Armed with a collection of seventh-rounders, unknowns and undrafted free agents, suddenly Buffalo’s offense is beginning to put up numbers and generate excitement that would make the Greatest Show on Turf jealous. The Bills set a team record with 34 first downs. They’re the first team since Pittsburgh in 2007 to score on every possession in the second half of a game. They racked up 481 yards of total offense. Think they like playing against AFC West teams? In two weeks, the Bills have scored 79 points against Kansas City and Oakland. When was the last time the Bills were tops in the league in points scored? Probably around that same time that whole comeback in ’93 took place.
The truth is that this is somewhat difficult to take in. From where this team was a year ago to how far they’ve come in just two games into the season is as different as night is to day. Last year, their rally would’ve went one of two ways: it would have either fallen just short or it would’ve had the makings of a crushing loss in the final moments of overtime. But the Bills opted to edit the previous script and re-write a better ending. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that they were getting their lunch handed to them in Cincinnati last year falling behind 28-7 early and ultimately trailed 31-14 at halftime. And all the Bills did that day was regroup, get after it and outscore the Bengals 35-0 in the second half to win 49-31. After starting 0-8 last year that was the signature moment for Buffalo in 2010, a character building victory yet a small building block on the road back to restoring lost glory.
The usual suspects were leading the way. It’s likely there will never be another trio in Buffalo that rivals Jim Kelly-Thurman Thomas-Andre Reed and the days of the K-Gun offense. But the current trio of Ryan Fitzpatrick-Fred Jackson-Steve Johnson is beginning to make their own mark in Western New York. Fitzpatrick threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday. Jackson ran for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns. Johnson led the Bills with eight catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. Two seventh rounders and a kid from Coe College are allowing Bills fans alike to fall in love with offense once again.
It was Jackson who provided the big spark. His 43-yard touchdown scamper, eluding defenders and outhustling three Raiders to the house woke up the team and fans inside the Ralph. Johnson’s touchdown reception brought the Bills to within one possession. Fitzpatrick finished off the hectic day in style, converting two fourth downs on the Bills’ final drive and throwing the eventual game-winning 6-yard touchdown to David Nelson sending his teammates and the crowd into hysteria.
You have to be impressed with how in sync Fitzpatrick and head coach Chan Gailey were in the game. It wasn’t the most perfect rhythm or perfect play calling, but it was oh so close. Buffalo scored four touchdowns in the last 18:46 of the game and Oakland was at a loss. The more the Raiders tried to blitz, the more they tried to get after him the better Fitzpatrick got hitting open receivers with precision and accuracy while making big throw after big throw. Credit goes to the offensive line, as the group once again kept Fitzpatrick upright and allowed him all day to make his throws. This unit has answered the call and proved to be a strength rather than the perceived weakness many (including me) thought they would be.
Two weeks doesn’t gurantee anything in the NFL. It only means that the Bills have found two ways to pass two tests so far. We still have a long way to go and it’s still too early to really tell how good the Bills are. It wasn’t all picture perfect for the Bills on Sunday. This won’t exactly be looked upon as a great defensive effort. They allowed 454 yards of total offense and 35 points to the Raiders who were missing their top four receiving targets. Buffalo made Jason Campbell look like Jim Plunkett (Campbell threw for 323 yards and 2 TDs) and rookie wide out Denarius Moore looked like Tim Brown. Moore had five catches for 146 yards including a 50-yard touchdown bomb between two Bills defenders. Leodis McKelvin looked terrible against Moore all game long. Buffalo didn’t generate much of anything in the pass rushing department as it was a quiet day for the likes of Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Shawne Merriman. In two games, Merriman has just four tackles.
But winning is a great deoderant and while the Bills are far from a finished product and we shouldn’t rush out for Super Bowl tickets just yet, football is fun once again in Buffalo. The Bills are getting a lot of talk around the national media outlets and suddenly, one game at a time and one victory at a time the Bills are beginning to develop a winning mentality.
At 2-0, we’ve only just begun and like always in the NFL once you pass one test another is waiting for you seven days later. Perhaps there will be no bigger barometer for Buffalo than next Sunday when they host Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
For now, folks break up the Bills! Savor this one and circle the wagons!