ORCHARD PARK – I’m raising my hand, and I’m admitting right now, here on the last weekend of October: These Buffalo Bills are for real.
I’m not kidding.
Would it surprise me if, on Thursday night, they lay an egg in New York and lose to the surprisingly competitive Jets? My standard answer for that question, throughout almost all of the 17-year playoff drought, would be a resounding no. Of course it wouldn’t surprise me.
That’s not my answer today.
After watching the Bills win five of their first seven games, the latest an ultra-impressive 34-14 butt-kicking of the not so big-and-bad Oakland Raiders, I’m all in. Yes, losing to the Jets would surprise me because this team, led by Sean McDermott, just seems to have a different constitution than every other Bills team that has come up short since the new millennium began.
“Well, I understand that,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said when asked about the trepidation some fans may have about believing in this team given the gruesome history. “That’s the biggest thing from being a fan to being a part of the team internally because everybody hasn’t been a part of that.”
He reeled off the few names who have endured the most agony, such as Kyle Williams and Eric Wood, then pointed out that most everyone else in the locker room is immune to the past follies in Buffalo. “This team is totally different and we don’t hold on to that, that whole 17 years isn’t on us.”
LeSean McCoy, who keyed the offense with 151 yards rushing, said, “I think this is the strongest-willed team I've ever been on. We'll fight you to the end.”
That’s perhaps the most redeeming quality of this bunch. The Bills lack for star power, and who knows, maybe that will catch up to them in the second half of the season when they play the Patriots twice, and Kansas City on the road, but for right now, let’s enjoy the ride. Halloween is Tuesday, and that’s been a far-too-often demarcation line for the Bills in relation to their playoff chances. Usually, it’s trick and not treat for the Bills.
Maybe trading Cordy Glenn isn’t a good idea
His name has been on the trade rumor circuit for a few weeks now, ever since it came to light that the Seahawks reportedly called the Bills to inquire about the left tackle. Glenn missed a couple games with foot and ankle injuries, and while he was out, the Buffalo running game sputtered. Now he’s been back on the field the last two weeks, and the Bills have been tremendous on the ground.
They followed a 173-yard output against Tampa Bay last week with a 166-yard pounding of the Raiders. The passing game is not going to be dynamic, probably at any point this season, not with the receiving corps made up, as it is, of mostly also-ran players. The Bills have to be able to run effectively, and it’s clear that when Glenn is on the field, they run it better than when he’s not in there.
Matt Milano should start from now on
I know Ramon Humber was leading the Bills in tackles when he got hurt. But Humber made zero big-impact plays as he had one tackle among his 37 for lost yardage, and had one pass breakup. Milano has stepped in and had an interception last week along with two tackles for loss, and Sunday he had a game-changing 40-yard fumble return for a touchdown. “Yeah, it got some momentum going for us,” said McDermott.
Milano also forced a fumble on the punt coverage team. McDermott said early last week that Humber was the starter when he was ready to return. He might want to give that a second thought.
The Andre Holmes revenge game
The ex-Raider stuck it to his old teammates pretty good. No, he didn’t have a huge day, but he did catch a 6-yard touchdown pass from Tyrod Taylor, and he made a beautiful catch of a 36-yard pass that converted a key third-and-13 late in the third quarter. His three catches went for a team-high 51 yards, and it came against the Raiders who had employed him the previous four years.
Holmes has been a non-factor to date in Buffalo. He came into the game with just eight catches for 46 yards. You don’t need me to point out that he had more yards Sunday than he had all year. Oops, I guess I just did that. Holmes was supposed to provide some veteran guile for the passing game, but the entire passing game has struggled without the presence of a true No. 1 receiver. Maybe this is a game that breaks Holmes out of his funk.
Speaking of breaking out
The same can be said for rookie Zay Jones. The first pass of the game went his way, he caught it, and you could almost feel the sigh of relief that he felt. He finished with only three catches for 32 yards including a season-best 22-yarder. I say only, but that’s a new single-game high for him, as was his yardage total.
I asked him about that first play, and he said, “It’s always good to contribute early, whether that’s catching the first pass or springing someone for the big run. For me, it’s just going out and playing and enjoying it.” Like Holmes, maybe he’s starting to emerge from the fog that was the first six games.
Did anyone miss Marcell?
Marcell Dareus is gone, and one game into his absence, he’s mostly forgotten. The Bills held the Raiders to 54 yards rushing, and the rotation of Adolphus Washington, Jerel Worthy, Cedric Thornton, and regular starter Williams seemed to hold up just fine.
“I think we responded well,” Williams said of the trade. “We can do it without any of us. That’s the great thing about us, we’re a team.”
The one issue to keep an eye on, though, is push up the middle. If there was one thing Dareus gave the Bills besides agita, it was the ability to push the pocket, which in turn helped the edge rushers get home. Derek Carr was not sacked, and the Bills were credited with just one QB hit.
► Play of the game: Milano’s 40-yard fumble return late in the second quarter. At that point, the game was tied 7-7 and the Raiders had the ball with a chance to score some points at the end of the first half. Instead, Leonard Johnson crunched DeAndre Washington after the Raiders back caught a pass over the middle, the ball flew out and went right to Milano who scampered to the end zone to put the Bills in the lead for good.
► Player of the game: McCoy had a big day. Before he padded his numbers with a 48-yard touchdown run with 3:12 left, he’d already surpassed 100 yards for the day. His ability to get some tough yards and gash the Raiders was critical in allowing the Buffalo offense to eat. When he’s running like that, the Bills have a chance to win every week.
► Unsung hero: Trae Elston. There was a lot of worry this week when it became obvious that safety Jordan Poyer wouldn’t play. Poyer has been one of the Bills’ best defensive players this season, and Elston had never started an NFL game. Carr threw for 313 yards, but Elston held up well as Carr’s longest pass was a 40-yarder, and he had only two other completions of at least 20 yards. Elston made a game-high 11 tackles and capped his day with a late interception.
► Key stat: The Bills held the ball for 20 minutes in the second half, due in large part to the running of McCoy behind an offensive line that won more than its share of battles up front. Khalil Mack? Did he even play?
► Injuries: Poyer (knee) and cornerback E.J. Gaines (hamstring) were among the inactives, but during the game, the Bills came out pretty clean. Wide receiver Deonte Thompson missed some time with a hand injury, but he was able to return.