Hey! I said don’t look.
Now they know we’re talking about them.
Even though they are only 2-8 on the season at this point, this Buffalo Bills team has taken on a new look, feel and attitude following their week six bye. After losing their first five games, and allowing a league-high 161 points throughout that stretch, the team clearly lacked leadership, role players, drive, and determination. Something had to be done – veteran players organized a usually unheard-of players-only meeting on the first day of their week off, stressing the importance of playing for something, for a city, for oneanother.
The meeting must have done the trick – since then, this team has had more fight and more drive than any of recent memory. They went on a road kick to start the return from rest – taking Kansas City and Baltimore to the brink in overtime and dropping a heartbreaking loss to Chicago in the waning seconds at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. Then, they came home to their loyal fans to take on the Detroit Lions. The game was not a sell out, and roughly 30,000 of the stadium’s 73,000 seats went empty. Still, for a die hard corps of fans who had not been able to see their team for 35 days, they got loud, they rocked the stadium, and the Bills pulled off their first win of the 2010 season, a 14-12 nailbiter, in front of their home crowd.
Hearing the player interviews following the game, you would have thought that this young group of guys had just won the Super Bowl. Everyone was thrilled to have done this for themselves – their fans – their teammates – their city. The following week, they traveled to Cincinnati and were counted out from the jump, and did nothing to prove otherwise early on as they dropped to 28-7 early in the second quarter. The Bills went to the locker room, down 31-14, after a half of football filled with frustration, mistakes, bad play, and bad calls. Instead of conceding defeat, the lockerroom stalwarts got fired up and under each and every player’s skin – forcing a winning mentality into their heads. Buffalo came out of the locker room in that second half and not only scored 35 points, but shut out the Cincinnati offense, culminating in an impressive 49-31 victory for the young team.
It’s only two games – but it’s a clear culture change for this team. It’s two in a row, it’s momentum, it’s swagger – something these guys have lacked for years. On a team void of big names; big hearts, talent, and teamwork prevail. With four former first round picks (Spiller, Maybin, McCargo, and Merriman) inactive on gameday, unlikely stars emerge. 7th round selections Ryan Fitzpatrick, Steve Johnson, and Demetrius Bell are helping to develop this offense into a legitimate threat along with undrafted players like Fred Jackson, Corey McIntyre, David Nelson, Donald Jones, and Cordaro Howard. Following the bye, this has been one of the most exciting Bills offenses to watch in recent memory (first in red zone scoring percentage in the NFL) – though the defense is still porous, they are coming along finally in defensive coordinator George Edwards’ 3-4 hybrid scheme. The special teams units (save Rian Lindell) have progressed wonderfully, especially the coverage units, over the past few weeks as well. Losing star returners Roscoe Parrish and CJ Spiller has hurt in the return game, but McKelvin has performed admirably in spot duty until Spiller returns from injury.
It’s definitely felt like we have been fielding a different team these past few weeks, and shows that the men leading this team were not happy with the distinction of worst in the league. A point worth complaining over for only the most ignorant of fans, Buffalo is now likely out of the race for Stanford’s sensational quarterback Andrew Luck, who seems almost a virtual lock at this point to become a Carolina Panther in April. As much as it would be nice to be able to take that blue-chip once-in-a-decade type of player, remember that we also ‘missed out’ on Ryan Leaf, David Carr, Joey Harrington, Alex Smith, and JaMarcus Russell – all touted in that same mold. Now, I’m not trying to discredit Luck’s abilities or anything that he has done, but missing out on one player is not the end of the world. My early choices if we don’t go after Luck? Clemson linebacker Da’Quan Bowers or Iowa defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn. Both big, strong, nasty players that could step right in and start on this weak defensive unit and immediately provide an upgrade in both the run defense and pass rush. There will be an influx of decent-to-good athletic, smart quarterbacks to come in the second and third rounds this year that Buffalo could groom for a year behind Fitzpatrick. Auburn’s Cameron Newton, Washington’s Jake Locker, and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, for example, would be able to fit into coach Chan Gailey’s athletic gunslinger mold that he has worked with so well in the past (Kordell Stewart, Tyler Thigpen).
April is a long way away, however – and this week, the focus is on our return to Buffalo to take on the 7-3 Pittsburgh Steelers. To stay alive in this game, Fitzpatrick needs to control the ball much better than he did in the first half this past week, and we have to be able to stop the run. Pittsburgh’s record does not show the true caliber of team that they are this season – they are still very good, however, and will give us fits. Should be a good game that will come down to a controversial call (that will no doubt go in Pittsburgh’s favor) and will show people that Buffalo is ready to play ball.
That’s going to be it for this time – keep an eye out in case I get back to doing this on a more consistent basis – and don’t forget to make your Pro-Bowl selections at NFL.com. For the first time in years, we have true candidates for Pro-Bowl contention on this team in Fitzpatrick, Steve Johnson, and defensive surprises Kyle Williams and Paul Posluszny. Get those votes in and get loud this Sunday – can we make it a three pack to round out November? Until next time…