By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore
Right up front, a Bills "home game" in Toronto, no matter how many years they continue the marriage, will never be even close to the atmosphere of a Bills true home game at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park. It isn't Toronto's fault at all; the Bills are not "their" team at all, no matter who promotes what in that regard.
To be fair though, the Bills dominating 23-0 win over the disheartened Washington Redskins at the Rogers Centre was the first time football fans up the QEW have seen a decent product coming from Western New York. Why WOULD fans up there cheer the Bills?
The atmosphere Sunday, as we've mentioned, was not at all like a game at the Ralph, but this time it wasn't like a pre-season or neutral site game either. In other words, while Bills fans used to watching their home games in Orchard Park may never like the arrangement, it is something they will be able to live with IF the Bills are a decent football team.
They are now a decent football team, and just how decent we'll find out in the next several weeks. Seven games in, who could ask for better from the Bills' point of view, with a 5-2 record that ties the Bills for first place in the AFC East with New England, with the head to head tie-breaker in the Bills' favor with the win over the Patriots.
What did we learn from the game against the Redskins? We already knew Fred Jackson was good, and his 120 yards rushing on 26 carries and 74 yards receiving on three catches continue to make him every Fantasy League player's dream guy. Ryan Fitzpatrick, even with a couple human mistakes like a botched snap - the Bills' only lost fumble all season long - and an end zone pick that was partly Stevie Johnson's fault, Fitz looked like his new $59 million dollar contract is a better investment than any stock you can name. Fitzpatrick, hitting 21-27 for 262 yards, two td's and the int, was clearly large and in charge against the Skins.
But the real thing that should be pointed out about Fitz, and the reason gm Buddy Nix was able to convince Ralph Wilson the bearded one is Buffalo's franchise qb, is that Fitz has the mental and physical toughness required to play the game's most important position. A leader's words don't mean much if the leader doesn't "walk the walk", but Fitzparick might be not only the smartest guy on the team but the toughest.
Fitz took a huge shot to the ribs from former Bills lb London Fletcher in the second quarter, and didn't miss a snap. When Fitz shows he's hurting, that means something because he virtually never shows it when he's feeling pain, and there's not a qb alive that doesn't feel pain at some point during any game.
The Bills are still looking for a talented young qb through the draft, and they should be for many reasons, but settling on Fitz as "the guy" has really solidified this team.
Maybe that even extends to the defense, which doubled its sack total of the entire season against the Redskins, who may be one of the few teams in the NFL missing more starters due to injury than the Bills. The Redskins are a shell of the team they were at the start of the season, but that doesn't diminish the Bills dominance in this game as they near the first half of an exciting season.
We've mentioned this before, but it's worth mentioning again; Chan Gaily is the best head coach the Bills have hired since the Marv Levy days, and if Nix and his scouting staff continue drafting quality players, it's no longer a pipe dream to think the Bills can eventually play with the Patriots and Jets and other big boys in the AFC. Heck, they may be there now.
While playing a game in Toronto may not be what the players or fans want in future seasons, I remain firmly convinced that the arrangement is far more beneficial to the Bills long range hopes of keeping their team in Buffalo, and if the Bills continue to play good football, we'll see the love from Toronto continue to grow, and the long term trade off will be well worth it.