There are two men I know, two Rochester natives, that have been Bills season ticket holders for over a decade. These men swear, they drink, they work hard, and they have problematic home lives. They paint the picture of the blue-collar Western New Yorker that everyone loves to talk about, the common everyman that makes this fanbase as hearty as it is. No matter how hard life gets, though – no matter what issues may come their way – they never bring it to the stadium. They come out to Orchard Park, like thousands of us do, to escape the world. For them, records are of no concern – opponents are meaningless. Thick and thin, good and bad, they support their team because they’re always there for them. Never swaying, never faltering – the Buffalo Bills may lose a game, but they will never leave you. It may be hard at times (and for us, it definitely has been), but sustaining loyalty eventually pays off.
I’ve had the privilege of sitting next to these men, two stoic and reserved gentlemen, for the past six years. Outside of scoring plays (and we all know how infrequent those have been throughout this span), I’ve never seen emotion out of them – a high-five, a head nod, and back to the game. It keeps them clear, it keeps life away. Until this past Sunday.
As the clock wound down on the final drive, two minutes seemed like two hours. We’re not used to being able to kneel – not used to the impending victory. We all kept saying it wasn’t over until the clock was drained. Something could happen – something would happen. It’s us, it’s the Bills, and they’ll find a way to lose. We all kept saying that until time had expired and Rian Lindell’s 28 yard kick sloshed through the safety net, falling through to the turf. All at once, the 68,174 in attendance went from biting their nails to screaming in joy. I turned to a lifelong friend and fellow season ticket holder, bypassed the customary high-five and gave him a hug that would make most of my exes jealous. It was shocking to me, in that moment, that I was so drawn by the game and excited over the victory that I went so far out of character. Didn’t think anything could surprise me more until I turned around, looking for the usual hand slaps and cheers from the surrounding regulars and saw the unbelievable. The two stone-faced, emotionless men that I’ve shared my falls and winters with since high school were locked in an embrace, tears pouring down their faces as they smiled and stared at the scoreboard, taking it all in and making sure it was real. For once, the dedication paid off – the loyalty was just.
It’s a memory that will never leave my mind as long as I live, and for me, it’s moments like that which come to mind when Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy’s famous line (referenced in this article’s title) is uttered. To watch a team that has spent eight years getting worked over – not once, but twice a season – by a division rival come back from a 21-0 hole to overcome the odds and achieve victory was breathtaking. It’s one of those moments that, twenty years from now, those of us lucky enough to have been in attendance will be calling radio shows to chime in about when on the topic of greatest Bills games ever.
As good as the ending felt, there was still sixty minutes of football played – not all of it good. The defense once again started out horrendously, allowing two quick touchdowns in the first nine minutes and a third with very little resistance in the second quarter. Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski combined for over 300 yards and four scores against a Buffalo secondary that has no idea how to tackle, outside of Jairus Byrd. I don’t care who you are, what caliber of player you are facing – that’s disgusting. Brady was having a field day, continuing to put on his season-long passing clinic to the tune of close to 400 yards and the aforementioned touchdowns. Late in the first half, the heroics kicked in and the turnovers started – Bryan Scott, George Wilson, Leodis McKelvin, and Drayton Florence each picked off the vaunted quarterback in this one, the lattermost going for a touchdown. Barnett had another solid game, pulling in 11 tackles but committing a couple of stupid penalties that really worked to set us back – something he’s already owned up to and vows to fix.
On offense, Donald Jones may have solidified how Bills fans will remember him whenever he’s done donning the blue and red – streaky. He had a terrible first half – dropped three wide open passes, made terrible plays on two more easy grabs in coverage, and looked absolutely lost when receiving the ball on a reverse. Looked to be the worst player on the field throughout that span. The rest of the game, you’d have thought a whole new player suited up in #19 at half. Jones finished the day with five catches and over 100 yards on 10 targets, including a deep catch on the final drive that played an integral role in locking the game up for the toast of the first three weeks. It’s not favorable, and maybe he’ll grow out of it, but imagine how much better they would have looked if his head was in the game early on. Another big problem that is hidden by the statline (including the biggest stat of all – in the win column), comes from under center. Ryan Fitzpatrick, looking like a potential MVP candidate through three games, has a complete inability to process and go through his progressions. It’s good to have confidence in your guys, but when he’s been figured out, slipped his route, or just flat-out is locked in coverage, you’ve got to be able to look past him to the open guys around the field. On most of 14’s incompletions Sunday the intended receiver was blanketed while someone else was wearing flashing beacons and hanging out in their own unoccupied chunk of the field waiting for the ball. Or at least it seemed that way.
I’ve already caught flak from delusional fans who seem to think that him leaving his guys out to dry is a non-issue as long as we’re winning games. I’m sure that this will draw some criticism soon, as well, but look at it subjectively. It may not seem that big a deal now when everything is rolling smoothly and Jackson is bailing him out when called on, but what happens if, unfortunately, someone gets hurt or things simply slow down? If you’ve suffered this team in the past you know that as soon as a game ends and we’ve lost, the quarterback better have thick skin because he’s the scapegoat, no matter the true reason for the loss. Once losing begins, everyone pays attention to the players’ follies, and mark my words, there will be a stretch of that this year. In that stretch, you’ll hear writers far more established than myself describe Ryan’s deficiencies. They’ll say “Fitzpatrick throws too high…Fitzpatrick needs to look past his first target when the play’s not there”, and when they do, you’ll kick yourself trying to think of why that sounds so familiar. You’ll want to kick him for not nipping it in the bud. I don’t want to knock the guy, but these will become serious problems if they aren’t addressed at some point.
Overall, though, the team really played well again… in the second half. Not liking the ‘only playing 30 minutes of a 60 minute game’approach, but if they played the whole game the way that the second half has gone for the past two weeks then they’d be making every team look like the Chiefs. They continue making strides and – oh yeah – 14 stayed clean again. The line was phenomenal for the third straight game – through these first few weeks, Ryan Fitzpatrick is the least sacked quarterback in the league, meeting the turf one time against Oakland. Still want to wait until the bye week before we crown these guys, but things are looking much better and we’re coming off of the biggest win in a decade to face a team that hasn’t beat us since the eighties. No win will ever top the emotions, sights, and sounds of this last one, but let’s keep it rolling. Let’s replace some of the pages of heartbreak in the team scrapbook with memories like mine from Sunday. If winning is contagious, the city of Buffalo is infected.Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?