Two weeks ago, it appeared fans of the Buffalo Bills may be waiting until 2011 or beyond to celebrate a victory. After storming from behind to blow out the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, we’re forgetting what it feels like to lose
The Bills trailed by 24 at halftime but came out of the locker room and hung 35 unanswered points on the Bengals. By the time the it was over, Buffalo whipped Cincinnati, 49-31 for their second straight win to improve to 2-8.
“It would’ve been easy for this team to fold their tent, and they didn’t… they didn’t,” Chan Gailey told the media after the game. “That tells me about the character of this football team.”
Gailey’s right. It would’ve been easy to fold up and go home at halftime. They certainly spent the first 30 minutes playing like it. The offense was terrible and the defense even worse, allowing Carson Palmer and Cedric Benson to take turns carving the Bills up for 31 first half points.
But a funny thing happened on the way to a ninth Bills loss in 10 tries. The team, clearly disgusted with themselves at halftime, came out and beat up, and eventually sucked the life out of a exceedingly disappointing Bengals squad.
Before giving too much credit to Buffalo, it needs to be emphasized that the Bengals are a terrible football team. Marvin Lewis should be fired before Monday is over. It’s obvious to anyone with a set of functioning eyes that his team has officially quit on him. For the life of me, I can’t understand how you can run for 4.9 yards per carry in the first half, run the ball 18 times and come out in the second half and have Palmer slinging the ball all over. They had a completely brutal game plan and it played right into Buffalo’s hands.
In no particular order, here are some things we learned from the Bills come from behind, blowout win over Cincinnati.
This Team Won’t Quit: If Buffalo would’ve ran to the bus down 28-7 and getting laughed out of the stadium in the process, not many would’ve blamed them. That certainly would’ve been the case under the Dick Jauron tenure. But there’s something about Gailey this team must really like, because in victory or defeat they never stop working hard. I know the cliché’ thing is to say all teams and players work hard, but these Buffalo Bills really work hard and days like this saw it rewarded. The Bills flipped a 17 point deficit at halftime and beat a Bengals team… that did indeed quit, by 18 points. As Bills stats guru Mike Haim pointed out, it’s the first time in NFL that’s happened.
Steve Johnson Is Becoming Unstoppable: He’s not just a feel-good story anymore; Steve Johnson is becoming a star and at this pace, it’s merely a matter of time before he’s considered elite. Johnson has eight catches for 137 yards and three touchdowns against the Bengals. He now has nine touchdown grabs on the season, just two away from the Bills single-season record of 11 set by Bill Brooks in 1995. He already has 728 yards on the season and watching him blossom so seemingly out of nowhere, it makes you wonder what the hell Dick Jauron was thinking as Johnson toiled in anonymity during his first two years here.
Ryan Fitzpatrick Is Composed: We can, and probably will go on for several months debating if Ryan Fitzpatrick can make the Bills into a winner or if they need to use their first draft pick on a quarterback. Judging by his play in the first half the answer was universally the latter. Fitzpatrick was brutal over the first 30 minutes, tossing two ugly interceptions and a third that was nullified by a penalty. His interception that Johnathan Joseph returned 21 yards for a touchdown to put Cincinnati up 28-7 could’ve easily sent him into a tailspin. But Fitzpatrick rebounded to have a magical second half, completing 10-of-13 passes for 139 yards and three scores without another turnover. He’s now thrown for 18 touchdowns in just eight starts this season to go with 1,961 passing yards. Folks, Ryan Fitzpatrick is for real— and he has a cool beard.
Too Bad Gailey Didn’t Realize All This Earlier: It’s better late than never, but you can’t help but think about how different this season may have gone had Fitzpatrick been the starter all along and was able to prepare as such through an entire training camp and preseason.
Donte Whitner Had An Excellent Game: I’ve beaten up Mr. Whitner nearly all season and for good reason; He’s been about as complete a non-factor as a top ten draft pick could be. But the truth is Whitner has played much better in recent weeks and Sunday’s game was one of his best. He didn’t have any interceptions nor a forced or recovered fumble, but he was solid in both pass coverage and run support. He made a significant play in the fourth quarter, separating Jordan Shipley from the ball on a long pass over the middle with the Bills up 11 (and by ’separating’ I mean he nearly took his head off on a clean hit) and finished the game with six tackles. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to stop unfairly putting Whitner on a Reed or Polamalu pedestal because of his draft status. He’s not elite by any means, but Whitner is a pretty good football player who can help contribute to a successful rebuilding project.
The Bills Secondary Actually Can Catch a Football: After not having an interception from the secondary for an embarrassing nine-game stretch, the unit picked off a pair of Palmer passes Sunday and the first one was the play of the game. Cincinnati was at the Buffalo five yard line, up three points and facing a third and goal. Palmer threw a pass intended for Terrell Owens in the end zone that George Wilson stepped in front of for an interception and returned it 56 yards. Eight plays later the Bills would have the lead for good. Drayton Florence got another interception near the end of the game to seal Cincinnati’s fate.
Fred Jackson Is Back… Again: Everyone is talking about Fitzpatrick, the touchdowns to Johnson and the big defensive plays. But a huge reason the Bills are winners of two straight is because Fred Jackson is back to his 2009 form. Jackson ran for over 100 yards again for the second straight game, rushing for 116 on 21 carries (5.5 average) and ending the scoring with his third touchdown in two games. If you think it’s just coincidence the Bills offense has kicked things into full gear because of Jackson’s recent play, you’re wrong. He’s a threat in both the running and passing games and he’s starting to play like it… again.
The Offensive Line Is Clearly Improving: Notice anything different about the Bills offense lately? I have. The team has been using a lot of four receiver sets and empty backfield formations to get favorable passing matchups. It’s crystal clear that Gailey has gained confidence in his offensive line to the point he can open up the full playbook. You haven’t been hearing Demetrius Bell’s name much lately and that’s a good thing. He’s getting steadier with each game. Eric Wood (who left with a leg injury) and Andy Levitre are growing into a formidable guard tandem. Offensive line, particularly right tackle will be a high priority for Buddy Nix during the offseason, but it seems they have a solid, young nucleus in place right now.
Unsung Hero Alert: Playing more with Roscoe Parrish out for the season, Donald Jones had a huge game for Buffalo. He caught five passes for 70 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown reception late in the first half for the Bills second score.
On Tap Next: Next week’s game against Pittsburgh will go a long way towards determining whether the Bills are really improving by leaps and bounds, or if they’ve been the beneficiary of playing terrible teams in consecutive weeks. The Steelers are as good as it gets in the NFL and if Fitzpatrick can put up respectable numbers on their defense, I’ll be ultra-impressed.
(Steve Johnson photo from Yahoo Sports)