Not since 2003 have the Buffalo Bills looked this good to start the season. That year, the Bills blew out the Patriots with Drew Bledsoe as quarterback. It was the last time they would actually beat New England, (the current longest winless streak against any team in the league at 15 games).
With low expectations coming in after a 4-12 campaign last season, the Bills have proved they are a team with purpose and heart. After shellacking the Kansas City Chiefs 41-7 in last week’s opener, Buffalo took on the formidable Oakland Raiders at home- winning a shootout, 38-35. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick found wide receiver David Nelson wide open in the endzone with just :14 seconds left on the clock to secure the comeback victory. Nelson caught 10 balls on the day for 83 yards.
The Bills came from 18 down at the half to score 21 unanswered points to start the second half, transforming to put together a comprehensive, great play-calling scheme to expose the Raiders secondary and linebacking unit. It worked, as Fitzpatrick spread the ball around to his receivers all over the field- scoring touchdowns on their last five possessions of the game.
Fitzpatrick proved that he can run this offense with precision- going 28 of 46 for 264 yards, three touchdowns and a lone interception to Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt in the first half. The Raiders Jason Campbell was just as good, going 23 of 33 for 323 yards and two touchdowns in the loss.
Wide receiver Stevie Johnson made plays every time the Bills needed to move the chains, catching eight receptions for 96 yards and a critical touchdown to help mount the comeback. Johnson has become the leader of this receiving corp, after Lee Evans’ departure to Baltimore. Johnson should build on his nine touchdowns of a year ago, where he passed the 1,000 yard mark and caught 82 balls. A groin injury is bothering Johnson, but you wouldn’t know it after his performance versus Oakland Sunday.
Running back Fred Jackson had a monster game as well, carrying 15 times for 117 yards, one of which was a 43 yard romp to the endzone, scoring twice on the day. Jackson is a threat in the backfield and as a receiver, and punishes defenders that attempt to arm tackle him. The Raiders secondary got a bruising from Jackson all game long.
C.J. Spiller, last year’s ninth pick in the draft played a key role in the win Sunday, rushing four times for 63 yards. He provides a much needed change of pace to Jackson’s bruising running style- Spiller is quick and shifty and has the ability to break big runs from anywhere on the field. The Bills finally have a balanced offensive attack with the right pieces for the first time since early last decade.
One of the biggest surprises this season so far has been Buffalo’s tight end Scott Chandler. After catching two touchdowns against Kansas City, Chandler caught the go ahead touchdown through Oakland safety Tyvon Branch’s hands with just over six minutes to play. Chandler will be an integral part of this team’s success.
The Raiders still had a shot with a hail mary at the end, but rookie wide receiver Denarius Moore couldn’t come up with it as Bills’ safety Da’Norris Searcy intercepted the ball. With Oakland’s top three receivers out with injury, Moore stepped up and showed that he is a legitimate star in the making- snagging balls over Bills cornerback Leodus McKelvin at-will to finish with five catches for 146 yards and a touchdown.
The most impressive was the 50-yard touchdown from Campbell to Moore in which he went up over two Bills defenders and came down with it in the endzone for a TD. Aside from Moore’s great performance and another standout game from running back Darren McFadden (72 yards rushing, 71 yards receiving and two TD’s), the Raiders defense was abused in the second half, causing serious concern in the east bay as to who will shore up the secondary and linebacking corps. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain had several missed tackles and a critical penalty on third down to give Buffalo a first down and keep the drive alive which eventually resulted in a touchdown.
In the first half, it looked the Raiders were going to dominate the rest of the game, pounding the run game and airing the ball out to Moore. After Buffalo kicker Ryan Lindell missed a field goal at the half, the Raiders went into the tunnel up 21-3 with all the momentum. That same momentum shifted quickly to start the second half, and while the Bills defense allowed 35 points and couldn’t stop the Raiders, the offense made up for it, playing a perfect second half of football.
While the Raiders are a quality opponent, the Bills will have their work cut out for them in the AFC east. The Patriots and Jets are both 2-0, and to beat them will take a much better effort defensively to stop the high powered passing attack from both teams.
The run defense wasn’t much better, and it will have to be shored up if the Bills have a shot at finishing the season with a winning record, or possibly making the playoffs. The Bills haven’t had a winning season in six years, and haven’t made the playoffs since 1999, when they lost to the Titans in the “Music City Miracle”.
Next week is the biggest test, when New England comes to Orchard Park to see if they can extend their 15 game win streak over Buffalo. If the Bills can somehow slow down Tom Brady and the Pats, they could legitimately be 4-0 after facing Cincinnati the following week. Week five will be another huge test, as the Bills take on Philadelphia and Michael Vick at home.
The Bills are definitely a competitive, never say die team- but the real tests will come in the following weeks to judge whether they are a bona fide playoff contender.