For the better part of the past two decades, the Buffalo Bills have been a team synonymous with frequent losing, awful coaching, and dreadfully bad personnel. Since Jim Kelly retired after the 1996 season, we haven’t had a team that this blue-collar, hard-working town could really identify with or connect to. Sure, there’s been those few sparse moments in history, the scattered players that fit the bill, but as a whole this franchise has lacked the fight that keeps fans going – the ability to keep other teams on their heels. It’s long since been a foregone conclusion that if Buffalo was in a tight game, they’d make the big mistake – if they were battling a formidable foe, they’d lay down – and if they had a game in hand, it was far too good to be true.
Because of that, can you really blame Bills faithful for hanging their heads yesterday, as myself and thousands like me did? As much as I liked last week’s victory, I didn’t get worked up into thinking that we had a powerhouse on our hands. After all, it was just Kansas City (now being outscored 89-10 in these first two weeks), and I never bought into the hype. Still, many parlayed that winning feeling, that unfamiliar swagger associated with blasting another team, into an overconfidence for when Oakland came to town in week two. I figured on a close game, a scrappy fight between two teams on the rise – knowing that nothing was definite, certainly not a win.
Down 21-3 at the halfway mark, I felt disgusted with my team. “Same old Bills” was the call, and I couldn’t wait to get out of the stadium. From the dropped passes to the injuries sustained – the awful defense and the ridiculous playcalling – I felt like we could have been watching any one of the lurid iterations of garbage that this front office has fielded since the glory days ended. A half-assed feeling in the air during the ceremony for an uninspired Wall-of-Fame selection at the break (love Phil Hansen, but there’s a half-dozen former Bills that should have received that recognition before him.) really gave me the notions that I’ve spent my life watching a joke. The flim flam presentation of things by this team will never get me to feel otherwise, bad game or great, but sometimes the podunk feeling I get from this multi-million dollar club warms me inside and reminds me of home.
Regardless, something sparked this team in the locker room, because they came out in the second half ready to fight. Early in the third, Fred Jackson ripped off an angry 43 yard scamper to begin closing the gap – the defense woke up and Fitzpatrick connected with Johnson before the end of the quarter for another score. “Okay, you’ve got my attention again. This is a football game.” I thought, and before we knew it we were down by just four heading into the final period. Jackson continued the dominance as the crowd awoke and he rumbled down the field to set up another score, putting the team ahead less than a minute into the fourth.
This is where these two teams reached out and grabbed America’s attention. With Kansas City (remember them?) strung up on the whipping post in Detroit, CBS switched their National coverage over to the street fight in Orchard Park and those loyal (or stubborn) enough to still be in the stands weren’t going anywhere. In the ten minutes following that go-ahead run from Jackson, the lead changed twice, sending the crowd into emotional fits – keeping them loud, getting the players riled up. Buffalo, however, drove down a little too fast, left a little too much time on the clock, and gave Oakland a little too big a chance to take the game back over. With a quick drive capped by a 50 yard bomb to rookie unheard-of Denarius Moore who was ‘covered’ (if you can call it that) by Leodis McKelvin and George Wilson, the Raiders took the lead over with three and a half to play. Was that it? After the fight, the adjustments, and the unification that this team went through in the second half – was that really going to be the shot in the heart that did them in?
Not if Ryan Fitzpatrick and his cast of unknowns could help it, it wasn’t.
For the next three minutes, the team pushed harder than any Bills team I’ve seen in years to make it to the red zone. They had to fight through a few fourth down conversions, deal with a couple of penalties, and compensate for earlier injuries (both Parrish and Urbik went down earlier in the game) against the strong Raiders defensive staff just to get into scoring range. Down four, the field goal wasn’t an option, and on fourth down from the six yard line – fourteen seconds to go, the time was now for this team to change the country’s mind about who they were. Tell them you can finish a game. Show them you can persevere.
On the next play, Ryan Fitzpatrick hit a wide open David Nelson in the middle of the endzone to put the Bills back on top and make the crowd, home bench, and fans of neither team at home explode out of their seats in excitement. That’s what quality teams do. THAT is what a clutch quarterback does. With Oakland’s final ‘drive’ in the closing seconds, they completed a lengthy pass and had another intercepted in the endzone by rookie Bills defender Da’Norris Searcy and suddenly, spirits were up in Orchard Park. Not a body in blue and red was left unaccompanied by a face coated in an ear-to-ear grin. With that drive – with that fourth quarter, even – this team did something that we have rarely seen as Bills fans in this generation and won a game when adversity was in their face. Ryan Fitzpatrick looked calm, like he owned that field. His linemen, even backup guard Chad Rinehart, held up well all game and kept their general clean and upright. The backs ran hard, the receivers looked like stars.
Folks will look at that game, and for years may only remember Fitzpatrick’s game-winning throw to Nelson, but everyone played their part on that last drive. Steve Johnson came up lame in the fourth after playing the entire game with a strained groin and though the pain level was high, he asked to be put back in to finish the game which surely drew coverage and showed the guts and wherewithal to help his team win. Donald Jones made a crucial grab on fourth down that kept the drive and game alive, and on the same drive knocked an interception out of the hands of Oakland cornerback Chris Johnson in the endzone that would have ended the game. Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller not only ran well, but blocked and caught the ball to keep the chains moving. Everyone was spot-on on offense when it was needed. It was a great thing to see.
The defense, for the most part, was a joke in this game. They played much better in the second half, but couldn’t find an answer for the Oakland tailbacks, with Darren McFadden going for 143 yards and two scores, seemingly unstoppable by Bills defenders. With starting corner Terrence McGee out for the time being, Leodis McKelvin got the call on the outside, most of his time against backup Raiders wideout Denarious Moore, playing only because of injuries, with safety George Wilson shading over top. Moore made 21 and 37 look like jokes, going for 146 yards and a score on five grabs. It’s something to think about with Tom Brady coming to town next week – I honestly expect him to throw for over five hundred yards in this contest. Before I get into the next game, I’ll let you go. Thanks for reading, I’ll see you all soon. Time for game balls –
GAME BALL #1 – HB FRED JACKSON
Jackson carried the ball 15 times for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns and added in two grabs for 23 yards, averaging close to eight yards per carry on the ground. He was running angry, breaking tackles and attacking defenders all while keeping the defense honest and keeping drives alive. He even laid a few solid blocks that helped to spring CJ Spiller to the biggest game of his career (5 touches, 69 yards).
GAME BALL #2 – WR DAVID NELSON
Besides the obvious play, Nelson emerged in this game to have a career performance – catching ten balls for 83 yards and a score and making big time catches in traffic, over the middle, and while well covered. He is becoming a reliable inside target for Ryan Fitzpatrick and has the height and awareness to make a bad pass look great. Really did his part to spread the field and help the offense take leaps towards the endzone.
GAME BALL #3 – ILB NICK BARNETT
Barnett had one hell of a game, putting together 14 tackles, 7 for a loss, with a forced fumble on top of that. He seemed to be all over the field, and that rangy play – going sideline to sideline, getting up in the middle to stop the runners, and blasting into the backfield to get after the quarterback – did a lot in slowing down the Oakland offense that at times seemed primed to roll all over the Bills. He was calling in adjustments and getting the crowd into it, and when plays broke down he took over. Barnett has quietly become one of the best acquisitions of this regime in just two short games.