Once is an accident. Two is a trend. And there seems to be a big trend going on in Buffalo right now. The Bills have two different ways to win two games and get the 2011 season off on a winning note, showing the rest of the NFL that this is not last year’s close-but-no-cigar bunch. Thanks to some big plays, determination and perseverence, the Bills are 2-0 for the first time since 2008.
Let’s take a look back at the Bills’ 38-35 shoot out win over the Oakland Raiders in Week 2.
* 79 points and 845 total yards in two games? Yup, that’s a nasty recipe for starting 2-0. Not many dump offs or short check downs with this offense.
* The home opener had just about every emotion you could ever want in a football game: excitement, anger, frustration, bewilderment, joy, angst, nervousness and elation.
* Three words come to mind about this victory: Huge character win. They were flat and sluggish in the first half and the Raiders jumped all over them to the tune of a 21-3 halftime lead. But credit Chan Gailey, his staff and the players. The regrouped, refocused and picked themselves up off the turf and put on a stunning show in the second half. Five touchdowns on all five of their possessions. Buffalo could’ve closed shop coming out of the tunnel or patted themselves on the back for their valiant try after the Raiders re-took the lead 35-31 with under four minutes to play. But they didn’t. They found ways to win the game instead of inventing new ways to lose. They’re starting to figure out how to win.
* To Da’Norris Searcy: KNOCK IT DOWN!
* Well, hello C.J. Spiller. Four rushes for 63 yards and he looked good doing it. Spiller ran with with Fred Jackson-like purpose, shed tacklers and burst through the hole. His talent isn’t a question; his consistency is. Games like Sunday are the only way Spiller is going to take carries away from Jackson.
* Speaking of Fred Jackson, the way he’s running it would be hard for Adrian Peterson to take touches away from him right now. Two consecutive weeks he’s rushed for over 100 yards and the Bills have two victories. Coincidence? I think not. He’s churning out the tough yards and making big runs that energize not just the offense, but the whole. If he doesn’t score that 43-yard touchdown to get the Bills back in the game in the third quarter, I’m not sure there in position at the end of the game to win it. Jackson has ran like a top running back in the NFL through two weeks and as the season goes on, the more important he becomes and the more dependant the Bills will be on Jackson. His stats on Sunday: 15 carries, 117 yards, two touchdowns and a 7.8 yards per carry average.
* Ryan Fitzpatrick is giving the Bills every reason why he might very be their quarterback going forward. He’s tied with Detroit’s Matthew Stafford for the league lead with seven touchdowns. It’s finally his show and he’s showing what he’s capable of as the lead actor. His decision making has been awesome. His toughness has been unquestioned. His determination is a huge factor why the Bills are 2-0. Suddenly, with Fitzpatrick at the helm, the Bills are getting touchdowns instead of field goals. In a short time frame, he’s become a fan favorite. On the game winning drive, he was able to convert two fourth downs including the go-ahead 6-yard touchdown pass to David Nelson. Fitzpatrick is quickly validating Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix’s decision to pass on a quarterback in last April’s draft.
* If I were the Bills, I wouldn’t make a habit of not showing up ready to play in the first half. They gave up three touchdowns on Oakland’s last three possessions in the first half and dug themselves a big hole 21-3 at the half. With Oakland coming off a short week after playing on Monday night the week before and having to travel all the way East, there’s no reason why the Bills shouldn’t have been more prepared and more focused in the first 30 minutes.
* That was a gutsy effort by Steve Johnson. Dealing with a groin injury that’s been lingering for about a month and cramping towards the end of the game, Johnson was held together with duct tape by the end and he still gutted it out and was able to somehow get on the field for the Bills’ final drive of the game. Johnson finished with eight catches, 96 yards and a touchdown. There was some question as to whether who would step up and take on the leadership role at wide receiver once the Bills traded Lee Evans. That question now longer needs an answer. It’s Steve Johnson.
* The biggest play of the game that no one will remember? Donald Jones swatting a sure-fire interception away from Raiders CB Chris Johnson. For a second-year player, that was a terrific heads-up play Jones made to turn into a defensive back and bail out his quarterback. Without Jones making that play, the Bills don’t win the game.
* Have a day David Nelson. 10 catches for 83 yards and the game-winning touchdown catch. There’s no prima donnas, no high-end draft picks in this bunch of receivers. Just no-names, late round selections and undrafted free agents. And all they’re doing is making big plays, coming up with big catches and bringing new dimensions to a once cap-gun offense.
* Leodis McKelvin. Yikes. Could he have had a worse day? He was smoked by Raiders rookie fifth-round wide receiver Denarius Moore. Moore had a career-day with five catches for 146 yards including a 50-yard touchdown bomb he went up and grabbed between McKelvin and Bills safety George Wilson. I seriously question at this point if McKelvin will ever be a factor the Bills envisioned when they drafted the cornerback eighth overall in the 2008 draft. It’s pretty clear the Bills would’ve been better off with Dominque-Rodgers Cromartie or Aqib Talib. He’s failed to nail down a starting corner spot in four seasons now and there’s simply not much time left for him to figure things out.
* It wasn’t a memorable day for the defense. They didn’t generate a pass rush. They allowed the Raiders to convert 8-of-12 on third down. The secondary got torched by Jason Campbell who threw for 323 2 TDs and ran for another. The Raiders ran up 35 points without their top three starting wide receivers and starting tight end. Safe to say, they need a bounce back effort this coming Sunday.
* Buffalo’s run defense held Raiders RB Darren McFadden to under 100 yards rushing (76 yards). That was good. But the Bills’ defense against screens? Not so good. The screen quickly became a staple for the Raiders on Sunday. McFadden had seven receptions via screens for 71 yards and a touchdown, and the Bills were pretty much helpless against it even when they knew it was coming. You better believe that will show up on the game film and Buffalo’s opponents will look to exploit that weakness.
* Hello, Shawne Merriman? Are you out there? Another extremely quiet, ineffective week for Merriman. He had just three tackles and I can’t remember any of them. Merriman was virtually a spectator on Sunday and he’s registered just four tackles in two games. I can only hope he’s monster effort against the Bears in the preseason wasn’t the pinnacle for him in 2011.
* Buffalo’s defensive short comings don’t fall just at the feet of Merriman and McKelvin. Right now, I don’t like what the Bills’ defense looks like particularly against the pass. For me, it’s just too vanilla. Maybe they need to dial up more blitzes and get more creative with their defensive looks. They’re not going to be successful much longer if they don’t start getting to the quarterback. That was just way too damn easy for Jason Campbell. He had all morning, noon and night to make throws. The pass rush has been just as big an achilles heel for Buffalo as their run defense over the past few years. Good teams that make a habit of winning can rush the passer.
* It was another successful day for the Bills’ offensive line. As much credit for this victory goes to them as any other unit. Against a big and nasty front seven, they gave Fitzpatrick time to throw and make some big plays and opened up holes in the running game for Jackson and Spiller. For the second straight week, they kept Fitzpatrick’s jersey clean, kept him upright and answered the bell.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick – He threw for 264 yards and all three of his touchdowns came in the second half. Converted two fourth downs on the Bills’ final drive of the game and delivered the eventual game-winner, a 6-yard touchdown strike to David Nelson
- Fred Jackson – His second straight 100-yard effort. Finished with 117 yards and two rushing touchdowns on 15 carries with a 7.8 yards per carry average.
- David Nelson – set a career high with 10 catches for 83 yards and hauled in the game winner. When the ball is going his way, Nelson is making the most of his chances. With Roscoe Parrish done for the season, expect to see Nelson’s role on offense increased.
- Offensive Line – two weeks in a row this group has impressed. Aside from a sack in Week 1, it’s been relatively uneventful for Fitzpatrick in the pocket. Opened holes in running game. Protected very well in the passing game. More challenges lie ahead. Next week, they’ll play New England and they’ll be without RG Kraig Urbik for 2-4 weeks.
- Nick Barnett – He’s the real deal and he’s been a factor since he arrived in the offseason. Caused a game-changing fumble on Darren McFadden. Finished with seven tackles and a forced fumble.
- Steve Johnson – Nagging groin issue and cramping couldn’t stop Buffalo’s top wide out. Put up a couragous peformance with eight catches, 96 yards and one touchdowns.
Next Sunday, we’ll begin to find out if the Bills are for real or if they just beat a bad football and an average football team. They welcome in New England for a big game between two, 2-0 teams. Buffalo gets a chance to measure where they’re at, how far they’ve come and where they’re headed against one of the measuring sticks in the NFL. Over the next four weeks, the Bills will play New England, Philadelphia and the New York Giants.