Contrary to Donald Trump’s tweets, there’s still plenty of NFL fans around the country tuning in to football. The bulk of them may not be “Billievers” quite yet, but the Buffalo Bills categorically put the rest of the league on notice Sunday. They’re a team to be reckoned with following the disposing of the Denver Broncos, 26-16—-the same Denver squad that dismantled and embarrassed Dallas just one week prior.
I won’t elaborate on personal feelings concerning player protests during the anthem prior to the game. I have plenty to say and will, but that’s another column for another time. For the sake of sanity I’m sticking to football.
Having said that and with no particular order, here’s some random thoughts following the Bills winning for a second time in three games:
♦ The Bills DBs have been magnificent through three games, with Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde and especially Jordan Poyer deservedly getting plenty of hype. It’s time to show E.J. Gaines some love as well. Maybe I’m overshooting and All-22 review Tuesday morning will change my mind, but the eye test showed me Gaines was sensational on Sunday. He had an interception, broke up three passes, made seven tackles and was a menace to Denver all over the field. He’s the piece of the Sammy Watkins trade no one talks about, but if he has more games like this that’ll soon have to change.
♦ It’s like the Bills DBs take turns each week having a big impact on the outcome. Obvious credit goes to Sean McDermott but also to secondary coach Gil Byrd, who’s done a stellar job coaching up this unit.
♦ Buffalo Wins on Twitter pointed out this is the first time since the NFL merger that the Bills haven’t allowed a passing touchdown through their first three games. Well, there you go.
♦ White’s play was dreadful in the first half. I love the kid and think he has a bright future, but Emanuel Sanders took him to the woodshed in the first half. I wasn’t overly concerned—shit like that happens when you’re a rookie thrust into the starting lineup. As bad as he was through 30 minutes, I’m tremendously impressed with is how well he bounced back in the second half, including nabbing his first NFL interception. It’s testament to the rookie’s mindset to shake off a disastrous half in the locker room and find ways to help his team win. It’s a good sign going forward. As good as Stephon Gilmore was at times, it seemed like a bad play or two would see the wheels fall off. Ditto for Ronald Darby.
♦ It won’t show up on the cliff notes version of the stat sheet, but Eddie Yarbrough pressured Trevor Siemian into getting rid of the ball before he was set, leading to White’s easy interception in the fourth quarter. Yarbrough’s rise from training camp fodder to vital contributor has been captivating to see.
♦ Tyrod Taylor’s stat line was nice; 20-of-26 for 213 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. However, it’s not his numbers that impressed me, for there’s one play in particular that for me stood out that as his best of the season—a decision I wish he’d make (far) more often. Facing a second down and three from the Denver 31 midway through the third quarter, Taylor dropped back to pass. You could see on TV and surely Taylor could physically feel a Denver defender barreling in on him. Rather than scramble like he usually does Taylor stood tall and waited until the last moment to hit an opening Jordan Matthews in stride perfectly as he took a hit while delivering. The connection went for 25 yards to the Denver six and one play later Taylor found Charles Clay alone in the end zone for a touchdown. Taylor’s throw to Matthews while under duress demonstrated brilliant pocket presence. Hopefully he starts hanging in the pocket with more regularity.
♦ Kyle Williams with the ho-hum four tackles and a sack rock solid outing again. He’s going on the Wall someday. He’s everything we all wish Marcell Dareus would be.
♦ I doubt game film will show Jordan Mills playing particularly well, but props for him not getting Tyrod Taylor killed by Von Miller.
♦ On the whole (including Mills) the offensive line was terrible and far-and-away has been the team’s weakest unit early in the season. The running backs averaged just 1.5 yards per carry, Taylor was sacked four times and it would’ve been more were it not for his escapability that’s rivaled by few. This is two consecutive weeks the Bills look like they’re slamming into a cement wall trying to move the ball on the ground. It’s concerning to say the least.
♦ The win will ease a little of his frustration but I can’t imagine Lesean McCoy is thrilled after managing just 21 yards on 14 carries—fresh off his nine yards on 12 carry effort in Carolina last week. It’s certainly not Shady’s fault. It’s not like he’s lost his legs or ability to break tackles. There’s simply no space to run through. He did add a team-high seven receptions for 48 yards in the air against Denver to keep his fantasy stock from completely plummeting. It’s easier said than done but the Bills got to find some holes for their best player to run through.
♦ Jack Nicklaus’ grandson made a remarkable catch near the left sideline in the third quarter to pick up 31 yards. It didn’t go unrewarded as the Bills scored a touchdown three plays later to take the lead for good, 20-16. I’ve been waiting for Nick O’Leary to do something this season and his first big play came at an opportune time.
♦ Charles Clay isn’t pilling up receiving yards, but his 13 receptions and two touchdowns through three games is ideal for offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. Clay’s only had seven touchdown receptions in his first two years in Buffalo. If he can stay in the lineup he may reach that before the midway point in 2017.
♦ Zay Jones had another drop Sunday that could’ve been big, but the ball careened directly to Andre Holmes, who hauled it in for a touchdown. Jones reminds me of a talented young baseball player who dominated minor league pitching but isn’t ready for the show quite yet.
♦ Jordan Matthews is the 2017 Robert Woods. That’s fine by me.
♦ Andre Holmes is the 2017 Justin Hunter. That’s fine by me as well.
♦ The problem is there’s no 2016 Sammy Watkins or anything that resembles it. Because of that Taylor doesn’t complete more passes to wide receivers. They caught a combined six passes Sunday while backs/tight ends had 14.
♦ Let’s not undervalue the positive impact Stephen Hauschka had with his three long field goals made (plus a chip shot). He drilled 49, 55 and 53-yarders and all were big, particularly the kick from 53 yards early in the fourth to give Buffalo a touchdown lead after Deon Lacey made a big stop on a Denver fake punt attempt. It’s deflating when handed a golden opportunity for points and coming away empty, which Hauschka made sure didn’t happen, twice. Dan Carpenter he is not.
♦ The Bills are getting shitty luck when it comes to outside help with their 2018 NFL draft pick positioning. They own Kansas City’s first-rounder next year but the Chiefs are 3-0. They also own the second-rounder next year for St. Louis and a third from Philadelphia, but both teams are off to 2-1 starts. #BecauseItsBuffalo
♦ Jordan Poyer didn’t have an interception. Hell, he didn’t even have a sack. This guy sucks.
♦ Lastly, I’m not quite all-in with him yet, but I’m on the verge with McDermott as a head coach. His clock management skills leave something to be desired (it was bad again this week near the end of the half) but come on—this guy has many turning their heads towards Buffalo for the right reasons. He’s a bore on the stick during pressers but who cares—- the defense is so markedly better than it was under Rex Ryan it’s ridiculous. Furthermore you can see an enthusiasm and hunger in the players that’s contagious. Maybe I’m overly emotional following a win I didn’t see coming, but I get the sense something special is getting ready to start with this team, even if it doesn’t really come to fruition this year.
Summary: Buffalo’s a Taylor-to-Jones connected pass away from 3-0 right now. Three weeks ago that sounded crazy yet it’s true. I deliberated winning in Carolina last week daunting but doable, but honestly gave Buffalo zero chance of beating Denver. I figured with their dominant defense and manner in which the Broncos manhandled Dallas last week, Buffalo would be under-talented and overwhelmed. Clearly I was wrong. McDermott has this team laser focused.
The Bills are at Atlanta next week; a game on paper they have no chance of winning. A loss next week won’t change the fact this football is much better than many anticipated, none so more than yours truly. I had the Bills winning 4-5 games in 2017 as of a month ago. Now they have a look of a team that’ll be around that .500 mark all year and with a break or two along the way, who knows.
They sure look like they’ll be competitive against anyone.