Before Sunday, the Bills had lost eight straight road contests dating all the way back to September 2011. Facing a team in the Cleveland Browns that were perceived to be beatable in many respects, the Bills needed a strong effort away from the comforts of their home to prove to themselves that they can get the job done.
Buffalo did exactly that, capturing the momentum early on against the Browns on the way to collecting a 24-14 victory. It was a crucial game for the prospects of their season, and now head in to a huge divisional contest with a winning record.
Here are some of my thoughts from the sidelines:
- The Bills came out with one goal atop their list on defense, and that was to stop exciting rookie running back Trent Richardson with a total team effort. Mission accomplished. For the third straight week, the run defense was a source of strength throughout their game. The defensive line, Nick Barnett, Arthur Moats, Kelvin Sheppard, Bryan Scott -- everyone chipped in and limited what the 2012 third-overall pick could do after his breakout game one week prior. The Bills limited the Browns to 33 yards on 13 carries, good for a whopping yards per carry average of 2.5. Of course, the Browns did capture a touchdown on the ground late in the first half, but that was the biggest play Cleveland was able to get going in that facet of their offense. Making the Browns one-dimensional with a somewhat one-dimensional rookie quarterback was atop their list, and they did just that. I continue to say we'll wait to see what they do next week, and I'll use that approach today, but at some point this season we're just going to have to conclude that this run defense has flat out improved -- and in a big way.
- The way the Bills came out on offense and dominated the first part of the game, it looked like we were on the way to another rout much like the one Buffalo put on Kansas City in Week Two. However, when C.J. Spiller went down with his injury, it seemed the life got sucked out of the offense until the fourth quarter. It's hard not to let that happen, but it also paved the way for the spotlight to shine brightly on one of the best units the Bills have going. Their offensive line, after losing their best offensive player, continued to battle their way through and won at the line of scrimmage to help third-string runner Tashard Choice have a big day for the team. Choice had 91 yards on 20 carries, and even Johnny White chipped in a couple of nice gains. The Bills offensive line have gelled together so well that they'd be confident enough to pave the way for just about any player they brought in to get carries. The job they and coach Joe D'Alessandris have done is beyond impressive.
- Individual kudos to Kraig Urbik, who was the biggest reason C.J. Spiller busted out that 32-yard screen play for a touchdown. Urbik made two key blocks a far ways down the field and gave Spiller enough of a lane to sprint along the sidelines for six. A tremendous effort on his part.
- Down a man on offense -- and a very important one at that, Ryan Fitzpatrick came out and had his best showing of 2012. It wasn't a game in which he took over, but he was able to read the defense and take advantage of a weak secondary to help his team to victory. There were times he was a bit off on the touch of his passes and left his receivers out to dry, but there were also examples of him zinging the ball in to a spot to keep the chains moving. There's a chance the Bills head in to their most important game of the season without their two best playmakers on offense (Spiller and Fred Jackson), so Fitzpatrick needs to have his A-game. The New England Patriots are on deck.
- Hats off to the free agent defensive ends for taking control of things in some key situations when the game was in question. Mario Williams got on the stat-sheet, showing the ability to take advantage of a struggling rookie in right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Williams bull-rushed his way for his first solo sack, and then jumped in on the fun again sharing a sack with Marcell Dareus. It was a good chance for Williams to make an impact for the Bills defense, and he didn't disappoint. Neither did Mark Anderson, who shot himself out of a cannon to get to Brandon Weeden for his quarterback takedown. Having the threat of a pair of edge-rushers that can get to the backfield will do wonders for this defense, and it was apparent Sunday.
- While for the most part the Bills were good against the Browns, rookie Stephon Gilmore was in a glass case of confusion (Yes, I'm aware the quote is "glass case of emotion,") ahead of the Browns only passing score of the day. Gilmore kept looking over to his teammates for instruction while he was lined up in front of Travis Benjamin. Gilmore backed way off and as the ball was snapped, he was still in the process of talking with Justin Rogers. The rookie cornerback wasn't totally clear on the play, got turned around and allowed a wide open throw to Benjamin for six points. The Chiefs game was a step forward, that play during the Browns game was a step back for the rookie cornerback.
- It wasn't a terrible game for Brandon Weeden by any stretch, but the Bills turned film study in to late game turnovers that helped seal the victory. Weeden is prone to look for his first-read almost exclusively and then dump it down if that look isn't open. The final interception of the game for the Bills by Bryan Scott was excellent execution on his part. Playing in a zone look, Scott squatted in his territory and kept his eyes squarely on Weeden's. The rookie quarterback didn't look off the veteran Scott, and the linebacker stepped in front for an almost pick-six. Jairus Byrd did the same thing earlier in the game for a would-be interception that was lost due to an illegal contact penalty on Aaron Williams. The first time the Bills intercepted the ball, it was more of a 'Look what I found!' than a play to add to Leodis McKelvin's merits. Rushed out on the field for Aaron Williams (who was getting checked on by a trainer during that play), McKelvin got himself turned around and was beaten by the intended receiver. Lucky for him and the Bills, Weeden overthrew his target and it hit McKelvin squarely in the numbers. Nonetheless, it was still a good job by McKelvin to convert on the opportunity. That play was a gift, though. There isn't any doubt about that.
- One detail of the Bills' victory that was a little off-putting was the way Stevie Johnson reacted to an incompletion that was intended for him. Johnson came free on a slant from the left side toward the inside and had a step on his man. Fitzpatrick was either late on delivering the pass or it was a tad too high, and the defender was able to break up the play. When the ball dropped to the ground, Johnson's body language signaled frustration. He then went to the huddle and started saying something in Fitzpatrick's direction. The quarterback did not respond, however. The two later hooked up for Fitzpatrick's third touchdown pass of the game -- so whatever Johnson was feeling at the previous moment proved to be inconsequential. I just thought it was fairly interesting, considering the two have commented how they've been attached at the hip dating back to both of their rises to the starting lineup.
- With the way that Kyle Williams gets off the line of scrimmage and times the snap, I'd be willing to bet most fans of the team would give him a pass for getting flagged for two five-yard encroachment penalties. Once again, Williams knifed through the offensive line all game long to stir up trouble in the backfield. In his efforts, Williams tallied yet another sack this season and had an additional tackle for loss as well. At this point, he is playing at a Pro Bowl level and has to be one of the most disruptive on-the-field players at his position.
- Rian Lindell is finally on the board! The Bills kicker started the season by not having to attempt a field goal through the first 154:22 of playing time. As fate would have it, that streak was snapped in the third quarter to give the Bills a ten-point lead. His stats so far this season? 1-for-1 on field goals, 12-for-12 on point after attempts. Not a shabby way to earn a living.
- Rookie wide receiver T.J. Graham found his way in to the end zone for his first career touchdown pass. It very well might be one of the easiest he'll ever get. As Scott Chandler drew both defenders with him on an out route, Graham flashed over the middle of the field without a man near him. All he had to do was catch the ball, and catch it he did. Even more impressive was his conversion on a 3rd-and-9 in the fourth quarter on a wide receiver screen. He read his blocks well and picked up a key first down. From inactive, to one catch, to three catches and a touchdown, Graham is certainly progressing.
MVP: Run defense - Limited Trent Richardson to 27 yards on 12 carries, 2.3 YPC
LVP: Stephon Gilmore - Had the worst Buffalo play of the day losing track of Travis Benjamin for a touchdown.
Up Next: The 2-1 Bills welcome in the New England Patriots to Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, September 30 at 1 pm.
With the type of teams that make up the next three weeks of the Bills' schedule, they had to have this one. Now they head back to Ralph Wilson Stadium with a winning record and some confidence against a team they beat at home in 2011. Two straight games in which the Bills have looked impressive on both sides of the ball has fans on the way back to an overwhelmingly optimistic viewpoint. Now, it's all about staying afloat and getting to the latter portion of the schedule -- when we really find out if this is a playoff time.