I don't mind roller coasters but I'm not a huge fan. Maybe the Bills should have warned me about the ride that has been the first four weeks of the season.
First there was the near miss in week one with New England. Then there was a community party as EJ Manuel led a late game winning drive to beat Carolina. That was followed by a kick to the gut and a life sucking loss to the New York Jets. But the Bills restored faith and hope, knocking off the defending Super Bowl champions to wrap up an eventful 2-2 month.
Having been deflated the week before, this win made me feel rejuvenated. The Bills needed to bounce back quickly from the Jets loss and I thought this matchup with Baltimore would not provide the proper medicine. Quite honestly, I thought the Bills would get clobbered.
But Buffalo set the tone in this game, establishing the run in the first quarter and stuffing the Ravens offense, for the most part, in the first half. The Bills bolted to a 20-7 lead at halftime, churning out 116 yards on the ground and 126 in the air. The defense held a struggling Ravens offense to just 15 yards on the ground and stopped Baltimore on seven of their eight third down plays.
Manuel bouncing back with a win and the Bills running game having a big day were huge story lines but to me it was the defense that made a statement.
When all was said and done, Mike Pettine's group picked off Joe Flacco(the reigning Super Bowl MVP) a career high five times and held him to 50% completions. They sacked Flacco four times and were constantly harassing him and hitting him as he got throws off. Having been stuffed by the Bills, Baltimore basically stopped the running the ball after the first half. In the second half the Ravens had 28 passes and just two runs. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce were limited to a combined 28 yards on nine carries.
Third down defense, which has been a major problem for the Bills, was outstanding on this day as Baltimore converted only 3 of 16 for 19%.
The defense also stiffened in the red zone, holding the Ravens to three field goals out of four trips inside the Bills 20 yard line.
You may have thought(as did I) that the Bills wouldn't hold on to the lead and suffer the latest in a long line of heart breaking defeats but in crunch time the defense came up big. After getting a touchdown with just over seven minutes left in the third quarter, the Ravens had five more offensive possessions. They ended in an interception(Kiko Alonso), punt, field goal, field goal and another Alonso interception.
The defense also closed this one out despite losing another defensive back to an injury as safety turned cornerback Aaron Williams left in the fourth quarter. At that point the Bills corners were Justin Rogers, Nickell Robey and Brandon Burton.
Williams had a tremendous game before being sidelined. He had two interceptions, including an unbelievable leaping grab of a pass intended for Torrey Smith in the end zone. Williams also broke up a bomb down the middle of the field for Smith in the second quarter and a deep sideline pass in the third for Smith.
Alonso is quickly making a name for himself around the league. He had two picks of Flacco and now has an interception in three straight games.
Manny Lawson was all over the field. He ended up with five tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss and two quarterback hits.
Marcell Dareus had a couple of sacks, a pair of tackles for loss and two QB hits too.
By no means were the Bills perfect. They had 11 penalties for 99 yards including some holding calls on the offense that could have been killers had the Bills lost this game. The offense definitely left some plays and points on the field as they managed just one touchdown and three field goals in their four red zone trips.
There was some conservative play calling by Nathaniel Hackett in the second half, especially on the first series of the third quarter which saw the Bills run CJ Spiller up the middle on first and second down and then throw a sideways pass to Stevie Johnson that lost a yard.
Justin Rogers was the victim on both of Flacco's TD passes.
Thanks to the NFL and its incredibly stupid rules about what is or isn't a catch, the Bills lost what would have been a TD pass to Robert Woods which would have given the Bills a 27-14 lead late in the third quarter.
I have no idea how this season will turn out, but for a young team, trying to break free from recent franchise history burdened by more than a decade of losing, this was a huge step in the growth process. Its about a team beginning to believe in itself, that it can handle adversity and find a way to win close games.
Too bad its a short week for the Bills, with a Thursday night game in Cleveland. I wish I had a little more time to enjoy this win.