The Atlanta Falcons entered Sunday averaging an absurd 37 points over their last 10 home games while being held under 30 just once during the streak.
That’s so over. So is Atlanta’s quest for a perfect season. That’s because the underdog Buffalo Bills came to town and handed the defending NFC champions their first loss, 23-17 in a game that literally came down to the final minute.
When the Bills beat the New York Jets opening week hardly anyone outside of Buffalo noticed. A near win in Carolina and two stunning victories over Denver and Atlanta later, the buzz is undeniable and rightfully growing.
I take pride in having the propensity to call myself out for idiotic takes, but I’m pushing the limits of my own embarrassment by confessing something to ya’ll. When the Bills beat the Jets I was confident it was solely because the Jets are laughable, so much so I told anyone who’d listen when Buffalo/Jets rematch came seven weeks later they’d be doing so with the Bills on the heels of a six-game losing streak and 1-6 record.
I didn’t think the Bills would win a game in between meetings with the Jets. I’ve had some freezing cold takes before, but that’s my dumbest yet. To my credit, at least I’m man enough to admit it.
Anywhere, here’s some random thoughts on the Bills stunning win over the Falcons. Since I’ve been listening to 80s music all weekend with no desire to stop, I’ve incorporate some songs of the decade into this post because—why the hell not.
SURVIVOR (THE SEARCH IS OVER): Sean McDermott was the right guy for the Bills head coaching job. One month into his first season I no longer think it’s even debatable. After Terry Pegula went the big-name route last time with Rex Ryan and failed, the Bills owner knew what he wanted this time around and it’s paying off. Sure, McDermott’s clock management and a couple of game decisions (not going for it on fourth down from the goal line Sunday) leave something to be desired but here’s what not— the Bills are an ambitious, well prepared, hungry and enthusiastic bunch on the field and it’s a direct reflection of their head coach, who looks like he he’d rather be playing defense than coaching it on the sideline. No one knows if the Bills will keep up this level of play or if ultimately a lack of proven talent has them come back to earth but man — I’m 100% sold all-in with this guy. The search for a quality coach has seemingly been on since Wade Phillips. It looks like that finally may be over.
ROBERT TEPPER (NO EASY WAY OUT): If nothing else the Bills are no easy out, and it doesn’t matter who they’re playing. I gave them almost no chance to beat Denver last week and I literally gave them zero chance to beat Atlanta on the road. I was so confident of Atlanta winning; I took them in my survivor pool. We’ve been teased by good Buffalo Bills starts to the season before but this feels different. Denver at worst is a legitimate playoff contender in the AFC while Atlanta was undefeated and the defending NFC champions. Let’s not forget Buffalo was a Taylor/Jones connection away from winning in Carolina—the same Panthers team that went into Foxboro and beat the Patriots Sunday. The Bills possess a defense capable of playing with anyone. I don’t need to tell you — you’re seeing it with your own eyes. This is the defense fans expected when Rex Ryan became head coach in 2015. Buffalo will be a hard out against anyone when they’re playing like this.
REO SPEEDWAGON (ROLL WITH THE CHANGES): So many times, more than we count through these last 18 years this is a game the Bills find a way to lose. Whether it’s self-inflicted, unlucky bounces, controversial calls or a combination of all, the Bills find a way to walk off the field losers of close games against quality opposition. Maybe times are finally changing, and if so the Bills will gladly roll with them. The Jerry Hughes play where he forced the ball to ever-so-slightly leave Matt Ryan’s grip that resulted in a fumble and touchdown return by Tre’Davious White typically doesn’t stand up for Buffalo. This time it did. Micah Hyde made a fantastic diving interception in the fourth quarter where it looked plausible that replay would determine he didn’t possess the ball as it touched the ground. Again, a break that stood after replay to go Buffalo’s way. These are simply plays that never seem to work out for the Bills.
PRINCE (BABY I’M A STAR): In both 2015 and 2016 the Bills hoped Charles Clay would make their hefty investment in him feel worth it. It hadn’t, and that’s putting it mildly. It was easy to not expect much from Clay this time around after two lackluster campaigns and a training camp that saw him hampered by a bad knee. Four games into the 2017 season and Clay’s finally become the star Buffalo hoped for when signing a five-year, $38-million deal. In fact, he’s probably been the offensive MVP so far. Clay caught five passes Sunday for 112 yards, his most-ever as a Bill. He made athletic plays all over the field including making DB’s miss after catching the ball. He’s become the go-to receiver for Tyrod Taylor. Clay has 18 catches for 227 yards through four games and is on an early pace to set career-highs in both categories. With Buffalo getting very little from their wide receivers, Clay picked the perfect time to start playing like a star.
DENICE WILLIAMS (LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE BOY): For the second week in a row the Bills kicker played a vital role in a victory. Stephen Hauschka taking over for Dan Carpenter has been every bit as important to the Bills success as the revamped secondary or the offense not turning the ball over. One week after booting a pair of field goals from beyond 50 yards Hauschka was back at it again in Atlanta—nailing kicks from 56 and 55 yards in what amounted to the winning points. What a luxury to be so locked in that your head coach can trust you to make painstakingly long kicks when the consequence of a miss gives a trailing Atlanta the ball close to midfield. The Bills made some under the radar signings that’ve paid off early on and the performance of Hauschka is right there at the top. If this guy keeps it up he’ll approach Brian Moorman popularity among fans—appearing in shitty local commercials and all. What a great addition he’s been.
RICHARD MARX (SHOULD’VE KNOWN BETTER): After watching the All-22 last Tuesday from the Denver game I pointed out how ineffective Adolphus Washington (as was Cedric Thornton) was in place of an injured Marcell Dareus. McDermott must’ve agreed, as Washington was a healthy scratch Sunday. The third-rounder has been a huge disappointment. With Kyle Williams likely retiring after this season and God only knows with Dareus, defensive tackle is going to be a huge offseason priority next winter. Washington came to the Bills amidst several red flags from Ohio State and he’s proved the skeptics right. Former general manager Doug Whaley should’ve known better. Clearly Washington isn’t the answer. Conversely, I really liked what I saw from Jerel Worthy. He probably earned himself more snaps going forward.
JANET JACKSON (LET’S WAIT AWHILE): Tyrod Taylor is starting to add an element to his game that’s making him a more well-rounded quarterback…. patience. I’m well aware there’s a sizable portion of Bills fans that want Taylor gone sooner than later as the Bills starting quarterback, whether it’s Nathan Peterman now or a rookie next April. It will remain the case no matter how well he plays because most don’t think the Bills can be contenders with Taylor. I’m not the biggest Tyrod guy myself but I’ve been willing to give him a clean slate, and in my opinion he’s starting to play very well. Taylor’s always made plays with his legs, but it’s his patience that has me raving the past two weeks. Against Denver I wrote glowingly of a play where Taylor waited in the pocket to find Jordan Matthews for a big play. It happened again in Atlanta. One snap after hitting Clay on the run for 44 yards on what was arguably the best pass of Taylor’s career, Buffalo had a first and goal from the Atlanta nine. Taylor dropped back to pass and looked like he was going to prematurely take off running. However, he stayed in the pocket and showed great patience while waiting for Matthews to break open on a perfectly thrown scoring pass. Taylor’s starting to make better decisions with the ball on a more consistent basis and the results have been positive.
PUBLIC ENEMY (DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE): We were told ad nauseam as he came out of college Zay Jones catches everything. Buffalo moved up in the second round to draft him and at least in small part Buffalo’s confidence in him influenced their decision to trade Sammy Watkins. We’re at the quarter-mark of 2017 and Jones has been more hype than substance. He and Taylor have zero chemistry and it’s increasingly becoming Jones’ fault. He dropped two passes on one drive late in the second quarter, including a long pass down the right sideline that was inexcusably couldn’t handle. To his credit Jones did make a nice catch (while wide open) for 18 yards in the second half. I like the kid, a lot and maybe that catch gets his head right. I hope so, because while he the talent is undeniably there he clearly doesn’t look like a NFL starter who can be relied on right now.
BON JOVI (I’ll BE THERE FOR YOU): The first two games saw Jordan Poyer be the hero in the secondary. Last week in the win over Denver it was Tre’Davious White and E.J. Gaines sharing honors. This week in Atlanta it was Micah Hyde making the game-changing impact plays. Hyde had two critically big interceptions off Matt Ryan and for good measure had a touchdown saving tackle on Tevin Coleman. My favorite thing about the secondary so far is the guys are taking turns stepping up to make big plays, being there for their teammates when it’s needed most. I know four games only makes for a sample size, but it’s been a while since the Bills have gotten better play from their secondary for this long of a stretch.
JOURNEY (OPEN ARMS): Who knows if the Bills are actually legitimate playoff contenders, but wins over Denver and Atlanta in consecutive weeks tell us it’s now a conversation worth having. Barring key injuries nothing I’ve seen this season tells me the Bills defense isn’t authentically good enough to compare favorably with anyone. The offense only needs to be efficient for Buffalo to remain competitive and that’s clearly not lost on McDermott and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. The Bills are mostly conservative on offense, as they’ve now gone 15 consecutive quarters without a turnover—a franchise record. Basically the offense’s job right now is to not screw things up. It’s a sound strategy. This defense has been amazing this first month, and mind you it’s done it mostly without Marcell Dareus. I didn’t see the official snap counts and don’t care to. I know Dareus didn’t play much and had zero impact when he did. Who cares? Either he’s hurt or McDermott is serving him a plate full of humility. whatever it is —this defense doesn’t need him.
You can sense fans starting to embrace this cast of underdogs with open arms. The Bills are on the verge of making this season fun if nothing else.
Buffalo stays on the road next Sunday to take on Cincinnati before embarking on their bye week. Based on the last three weeks we know for certain it’s a winnable game.
They all are when playing defense like this and the offense not giving away points.