– Evan Sally
The game meant something to New England, so it is sure as hell OK if it means something to us.
Another week, another win and damn does it feel good. Allow me to list the things Bills fans feel good about today:
The Bills beat the Patriots for the 4th time in 15 years.
The Bills beat the Patriots in Gillette Stadium for the second time ever, and for the first time in a game the Patriots wanted as badly as the Bills did.
The Bills shut out the Patriots, the first time they’ve been shut out in 10 years and the first time they have been shut out at home since 1993.
These statements are unabashedly true and are cause for celebration. We all know the extenuating circumstances surrounding this game, we all know who was missing and that it will be a much different situation next time around when Brady is back. But those circumstances should have no effect on the way Sunday felt. I think as fans we all know that. We know the satisfaction we felt seeing the Patriots look utterly impotent offensively, or the pure glee collectively felt by Bills fans as Bill Belichick threw a tablet away in disgust. However there seem to be quite a few out there, Patriots fans and media alike, keen on trying to ruin that feeling for us. Before I start with taking a look at the game I’d like to address that briefly.
Prior to the game, conventional wisdom said the Bills would get thrashed by the Patriots; that the Bills had no chance even if Brady wasn’t playing because well, it’s the Bills playing the Patriots and that’s just the way it is. I’m willing to bet quite a few Bills fans felt the same way, a feeling that has been well earned. Prominent media voices seemed to agree. Whether it was Pardon The Interruption’s Michael Wilbon saying the “Patriots would mop the floor” with the Bills, or Stephen A Smith of ESPN being so disrespectful of the Bills’ chances that it prompted a defense of the Bills by former Patriots player and current ESPN talking head Damien Woody, the Patriots seemed like an easy pick Sunday. However it wasn’t just the bombastic media personalities leading this charge, it was EVERYBODY buying into the idea of the Bills getting demolished, a statement proven by paying a visit to NFLPickWatch.com, a website that tracks NFL expert predictions from around the Internet. Only 4 out of 120 experts picked the Bills. I say all of this because if that many people, allegedly objective people and NFL experts, picked against the Bills knowing New England was starting a 2nd or a 3rd string quarterback, then we get to celebrate like mad men when the Bills prove them wrong. I beg of all of you do not let a single Patriots fan or media talking head try to sully this win for you. It’s ok to be defiant, the Bills had our backs on Sunday.
A Passing Game Emerges
Tyrod Taylor needed to be the best quarterback on the field on Sunday, a mission he accomplished with ruthless efficiency. Admittedly this was a bit of a low bar to hurdle considering the struggles New England had with their passing game. With the way Jacoby Brissett was playing it seemed like Tyrod was the only quarterback on the field at certain points of the game. However in a weird way this only further compliments the game Tyrod had. Yes he didn’t have to do much to be better than Jacoby Brissett. And yet he came out and had one of his best, and most professional performances as a Bill. Tyrod was aggressive and decisive from the outset. He had confidence in the play calls and confidence in his receivers to run those routes with precision, which the combination of those two things led to the ball getting out quickly and for the first time in quite sometime, maybe ever, Tyrod attacking the center of the field with vigor. Last week in this column I mentioned how I was done being obsessed with if he would ever be able to be a proficient quarterback at throwing down the middle and how I would be totally OK if he figured out a way to succeed working around it. What a difference a week makes, and what a difference having a passing game that attacks all areas of the field makes.
Tyrod took all of the fears about what we saw from him the first 3 weeks of the season and gave us a glimpse of what he could be, perhaps most importantly shown on his proficiency picking up first downs and keeping the Bills on the field. 15 of the Bills 24 first downs came via the pass and the Bills were a stellar 7-15 on 3rd down, a level of efficiency that I find incredibly exciting. He just looked sharp and confident, both of which you have to attribute a lot of to new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. Whatever Lynn is preaching Tyrod is buying in. However I would tell Lynn and Tyrod to beware going forward; we now all know what Tyrod is capable of. The standards of what fans expect will change and not the pressure is on to live up to new expectations, a challenge I hope Tyrod relishes.
It wasn’t just Tyrod that looked great Sunday, it was the offense as a whole. A lot goes into a passing game besides just what the quarterback is doing and every facet worked well together. Aside from a few tough penalties on Richie Incognito, the offensive line had a near perfect day. Whether it was one of the 20 times the Patriots brought blitzes or just their base pass rush Taylor had so much time to throw it was noticeable. Even when pressure did break through, Tyrod was usually given enough time to recognize and evade it. I was also impressed with the Bills receivers. With the loss of Sammy Watkins for presumably the year who wasn’t concerned with the state of the Bills pass catchers? Going up against Bill Belichick and his highly touted secondary appeared to be a tough matchup, and yet Robert Woods, Charles Clay, LeSean McCoy and even the emerging Walt Powell were all able to create space for Tyrod to get them the ball. I’d also be remiss in not mentioning LeSean McCoy and how effective he is as the hub to an offense. His 108 total yards on 26 touches don’t seem that impressive, but it’s how those yards come that makes McCoy one of the league’s best. Handing the ball to him will keep an offense on schedule and help prevent 3rd and long situations, and throwing him the ball when they’re nothing else down the field turns a safe dump off pass into the potential to be a game changing play. How many times did we see him turn a 3 yard loss into a 5 yard gain on Sunday alone? Just the mere threat of LeSean McCoy getting the ball helps the Bills create space in other areas of the field, something that was a concern with Sammy Watkins being out. There‘s still is an elite player on this offense and getting the ball in his hands as much as possible is still a winning choice.
Another week, another smothering defensive performance
How good did it feel to see the Patriots coach scared? How satisfying is it to see the team and the coach that have been the bane of our existence run the ball on 3rd and long multiple times because they knew there was nothing they could do against the Bills defense but punt and try again? As much as it was refreshing to see the Bills offense perform the way they did against the Patriots it may have been more satisfying to watch New England’s offense stumble around like it was drunk for 4 quarters. Yes the defensive performance must be taken with a grain of salt; it became apparent very quickly that Jacoby Brissett wasn’t good enough or prepared enough to spark the New England offense, In fact it was kind of funny for the game to start and have all those feelings of doubt about the Bills playing the Patriots melt away as the Patriots threw the ball only 3 times in the first half. It was this moment of crystal clear realization that “Oh yeah the Bills are facing a 3rd string quarterback, this makes sense.” However what the Bills did yesterday defensively cannot be dismissed. Only 10 days earlier the Houston Texans showed up in New England and got absolutely throttled. They faced that same 3rd string quarterback and gave up 27 points and more importantly allowed New England dictate to them what they wanted to do. The Bills never gave the Patriots that opportunity.
They were physical from the outset. Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams were unblockable again. The secondary never gave Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola any room to operate. But the stars of the show were the linebacking corp, a group that most Bills fans feared may be the worst position group on the team following the injury of Reggie Ragland in the preseason. Preston Brown looks to be back to his old self, dynamic and cleaning up messes around the field. And newcomer Zach Brown appears to be a revelation. He’s been touted as the fastest linebacker in the NFL. It’s hard to believe that there’s another linebacker in the league that can match his 4.45 40 yard dash time and he looked like a man that deserved the distinction Sunday. He had an astounding 18 tackles, a pair of forced fumbles, three tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and a sack, a stat line you can only accumulate if you are everywhere. And it certainly felt that way. It seemed like on almost every play someone would be making a tackle and out of nowhere somebody with the last name of Brown would be there to clean things up. Zach Brown’s 18 tackles Sunday gets him to 52 on the season, a number that leads the league. Whaley may have unearthed another gem in Zach Brown, a guy he picked up off the scrap heap in Tennessee.
The most exciting thing about Sunday is that it continues a trend. 3 out of 4 games the Bills defense has been outstanding. That one outlier still looms very large without question, but as each game passes the more the Jets game looks like just a blip on the radar. If this Bills defense is legitimate, and it should only get better with the addition of Marcell Dareus this week from suspension, then the Bills have a chance at being something special. I know the offense has questions, and still has a ton to prove. But Rex Ryan’s defenses are known for destroying bad quarterbacks, and a quick look at the Bills schedule shows there are quite a few of those to be played. The Bills face, in order:
Cody Kessler/Josh McCown
By my count I see 6 objectively bad quarterbacks, 1 of which the Bills play twice in Ryan Tannehill, 3 very good quarterbacks and two toss ups in Derek Carr and Andy Dalton. What does this mean? It means that if the Bills defense is what it could be, they will provide a floor to the season regardless of what’s happening offensively. There’s at least 6 wins on the schedule that should be likely, and if the offense can do anything, there’s a possibility that this could be a special season. The Bills biggest problem has been their inability to handle business against teams that seem worse than they are. This defense could give them something to rely on when the chips are down and everything else is failing. This is essentially why the Bills brought in Rex Ryan, to create this paradigm. However we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. As we look ahead to next week 5, what appeared to be a game against a bad team on the road now looks to be pretty tough. The Rams are 3-1 with a defense that’s playing very well and the Bills are going to an environment that could be difficult to play in. But it’s Case Keenum. Step 1 on the mission to finding out if the Bills are legit is to handle Case Keenum and make him look like the bad quarterback that he is. It’s time for the Bills to handle business.
– Evan Sally (Twitter)