By Sal Maiorana Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
ORCHARD PARK – Being a pessimist, as I admittedly usually am in my evaluation of the playoff-starved Bills, had nothing to do with my feeling that Denver was going to be able to come into New Era Field Sunday afternoon and take care of business against Buffalo.
It was more being a realist and believing in the Broncos’ talent more than the Bills. When you lined up these two teams nose to nose, in so many ways the matchups in this game pointed in the direction of the Broncos. Then, when you factored in what Denver did to Dallas last week, and how poorly Buffalo’s offense played in Carolina, it was tough to envision Sean McDermott beating Vance Joseph in a battle of rookie NFL head coaches.
Of course, the final was 26-16 Buffalo. Of course it was.
Look around the league; this type of thing happened all day. The Saints routed the Panthers, the Jaguars crushed the Ravens, the Jets — yes, the Jets — embarrassed the Dolphins, the Bears beat the Steelers, and the Texans very nearly shocked the Patriots before falling in the dying seconds to that guy named Tom Brady who is just never going to go away.
This is how it is in the NFL, so I guess there’s no reason to be surprised by what happened in front of 68,865 sun-burned patrons at the Cap.
“I like our football team,” McDermott said in his typically understated way after becoming the first Bills coach in team history to win his first two home games. “These guys play together, they work hard during the week, and there’s no mistake for the results that they got. You earn it. That’s how you win in this league, you have to earn it and those guys earned it.”
Did they ever. The Bills fell behind early, took the lead, then lost it within 75 seconds, only to battle back again to get even by the half. And over the final two quarters, they outscored Denver 13-3 as their offense made some critical plays, and their defense continued to do what it has done all season — play unrelentingly fierce. It was a gritty performance in every aspect, and the Bills are now 2-1 and tied with New England for the top spot in the AFC East.
“It’s about guts, and the makeup of guys around here,” said defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who has suffered through more misery in the Buffalo locker room than any player. “You can talk about what we may or may not be, but I know what a lot of guys in here are made of and I’m glad to be a part of it. Guys in here have a lot heart and a lot of resilience and I love playing with them.”
Here are some other thoughts I had about the victory:
Tyrod Taylor, do more of that
It wasn’t exactly bombs away for the Bills quarterback, but at least he showed a willingness to look downfield to make plays in the passing game, something that was sorely lacking the first two weeks. Taylor had a career-high 76.9 completion percentage and three of the completions went for 28 yards or longer to three different targets — WRs Jordan Matthews and Kaelin Clay, and TE Nick O’Leary.
The Bills are having a terribly tough time getting LeSean McCoy going, so they have to be able to get chunk plays through the air and they found some against a very good Denver defense. One of the keys was Taylor rolling out of the pocket and using his greatest attribute as a dual threat to his advantage.
All three of the big gainers came on plays where he rolled out, and his TD pass to Charles Clay was made possible when he rolled right, sold the keeper, then flicked the ball to Clay once the defense committed to him.
Tre’Davious White showed some mettle
The rookie first-round pick had a tough start as the Broncos clearly targeted him early in the game. Emmanuel Sanders (a whopping 15 targets in the game) had his way a few times, and it would have been worse had he not dropped a 44-yard pass after roasting White. However, White showed why the Bills like him so much with a terrific second half during which he made an interception that killed a potential tying touchdown drive by the Broncos with 10:44 left to play.
“I wouldn’t say they were picking on me,” White said. “Every pass I was pretty much there. You’re going to have your ups and downs, but it’s all about how you respond.”
It was quite a response, and veteran safety Micah Hyde was impressed. “He’s one of the most humble rookies I’ve ever played with,” Hyde said. “He’s beyond his years when it comes to football knowledge and football savvy. I don’t know if it’s him playing in the SEC — I’m a Big Ten guy so I can’t stand the SEC — but obviously it must have gotten him ready.”
Best drive of the season
Although it didn’t end with a touchdown, Buffalo’s fourth-quarter, game-clinching drive that ended with Steven Hauschka’s fourth field goal was a thing of beauty. It was a one-score game when White got the Bills the ball back on his pick. From there, Taylor put together a 16-play, 53-yard march that ate up 7:30 off the clock and essentially put the game away.
Along the way, the Bills converted four third downs. Taylor scrambled to convert a third-and-5; the Bills caught a break when Von Miller’s silly penalty for faking to help Taylor off the ground cost Denver 15 yards after they’d held on third-and-6; LeSean McCoy made a great cut to gain seven yards on a short pass to pick up third-and-6; and McCoy gained two yards on third-and-2.
By the way, the penalty on Miller was a little silly. Both he and Taylor were laughing on the field, but the No Fun League official who was standing there deemed it unsportsmanlike conduct. Come on.
Anyway, by the time Denver got the ball back, now down 10, there was only 3:09 left and quarterback Trevor Siemian had no timeouts in the bank.
-- Play of the game: Andre Holmes’ lucky TD catch that gave the Bills a 7-3 lead. The pass was intended for Zay Jones, but it went right through his hands and caromed directly to Holmes. Without that break, who knows what happens, but that was an indication that this was going to be Buffalo’s day.
-- Player of the game: Taylor. This was a nice performance for the Bills quarterback. He had a few of those Taylor specials where you wonder how could he have misfired so badly, but the bottom line is that 20 of 26 for 213 yards and two TDs with no turnovers is a good day’s work against a very tough defense.
-- Unsung hero: LT Dion Dawkins. The rookie made his first NFL start and he did a good enough job against Von Miller that the pass rushing star had only one sack, and that was early in the game.
-- Key stat: 0 – Receptions by Jones. The rookie is struggling big time. Jones had only one other target after he failed to catch the TD pass, and Taylor overthrew him over the middle when he was wide open. Through three games, the second-round pick has only three catches for 39 yards.
-- Injuries: LT Cordy Glenn was inactive due to an ankle injury, as was Marcell Dareus. Otherwise, no other injuries were reported after the game.