The same thought has been stuck in everyone’s head once they got their brain to start working again sometime Monday afternoon after the Bills filleted the Fish: “Is this team really different?” Obviously, the sale to the Pegulas is exciting beyond comprehension (I’m still not 100% convinced it happened), but are they really getting better or is there simply a fresher coat of paint?
After all the years of disappointment, I wouldn’t blame any fan for taking this 2-0 start with a grain of salt. Since the Bills’ last playoff appearance, they have started a season 2-0 four times. Every coach over that span, except Gregg Williams, had a season that began with two wins.
In 2000, Rob Johnson won his first two home games en route to an 8-8 season, our second best record since the “Music City Mir-AH-MAKE-THE-MEMORY-STOP!”
Drew Bledsoe went 2-0 in 2003 to begin his career in Buffalo. This included one of our few wins over Brady & Belichick. The Bills finished 6-10.
Dick Jauron’s second season (2008) started with wins against the Seahawks (final record: 4-12) and the Jaguars (5-11). I won’t type that season’s ultimate record, because I like my computer and I try to avoid the urge to throw it out the window.
Most recently, Fitzmagic went 2-0, then 5-2, then… lost 7 in a row. Dear God, we’ve watched some terrible football in our time.
Unless you’re 12 years old, you lived through those years. So I don’t blame you if want to take this season’s start with a grain of salt.
Mike Pettine, Jairus Byrd, and Kiko Alonso aren’t walking through that door. Have you noticed their absence on defense? E.J. still looks inaccurate, but did you know we’ve scored more points than 25 other teams in the league? Doug Marrone was a questionable hire from a questionable football program. Anyone still question his decision to have C.J. return kickoffs?
I’m not saying it’s time to change the oil on the bandwagon just yet, but you can’t tell me that you felt like you were watching the “same old Bills” the last couple weeks. The same old version of this squad would have crumbled in Chicago and gagged on a 9-point lead that should’ve been 21 at halftime against the Dolphins. This team stopped a good offense on the road in overtime and embarrassed a division rival the week after they had beaten the Patriots.
The result could very well wind up being the same this season. But how can you not feel optimistic right now? How could the Bills have played any better to open this season? A 60-point win over the Dolphins? Kyle Williams jump-kicking Cutler in the face, like Antonio Brown? Admittedly that would’ve been amazing, but seriously folks, how could this get any better?
THREE THINGS TO BE EXCITED ABOUT:
1) The 12th Man
On this website and elsewhere, the point has been raised again and again that true fans have been driven out of the lower sections of the stadium by high ticket prices and sharing the area with people who insist on never standing for anything, ever. That may have changed last weekend at One Bills Drive. For the first time in a long time, the fans had an undeniable impact on the outcome of the game. Not just for one moment, but for the entire game.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a Bills offense asking the crowd to quiet down in the red zone. The TV announcers practically had to shout to be heard over the din of the crowd. The Dolphins got called for a delay of game with Tannehill flailing for his center’s attention. Mind you, the score was 9-0, 5 minutes into the second quarter. Clearly, the Bills fed off that energy. You could see it after every completion and every tackle that this team was realizing just how big an impact the people of Buffalo can have on Sundays.
There’s no way to sustain that particular feeling we shared this past weekend. The Pegulas are only going to buy the team once, so not every home game will have that same electricity. But hopefully Bills fans who prefer to watch from the comfort of their plastic chair were reminded how much fun games can be when you’re not sitting on your hands and waiting for it to be ok to get a jump on traffic. And considering the Chargers are used to playing in front of a crowd that rarely gets below hum, the 12th Man's impact could be just as important this Sunday as it was last week.
The Dolphins didn’t cross mid-field until the 3rd quarter. Let me type that again. The Miami Dolphins didn’t run a single play within 50 yards of the goal line until the second half of the game. I don’t care how good or bad these Fins are, that’s amazing.
As I mentioned in my preview of Week 1, one of my biggest concerns going into this season was Jim Schwartz. The defense made big strides last year. Would his hiring stunt their growth or help them reach the next level? After two games, it's nearly impossible to argue they haven't improved. As I said before, this defense is missing its two biggest playmakers from a year ago, and yet, how could you tell from their performances? We’re not blitzing often, but when we do, it’s effective. Our tackling is the best we’ve seen in a long time. The law offices of Williams, Williams, & Dareus dominated the Bears’ & Fins’ offensive lines in ways we haven’t seen Bruce & Biscuit lined up opposite sides. The secondary has been clutch when they've needed to be. And so far, they're 6th in points allowed. YES, I KNOW IT'S ONLY TWO GAMES, WHO FUCKING CARES!?
You don’t see defenses like the 2000 Ravens or even the 2006 Bears anymore. Thanks to officiating changes that treat quarterbacks and passing plays like Bluth family prison visits (if you don’t get that reference, GET OUT OF HERE! GET OUT OF HERE NOW!), defenses simply have no choice but to just focus on stopping big plays. Sure you still want interceptions and sacks, but just look at last year’s Bills. They were near the top in turnovers and sacks all year and yet finished 20th in points against. Not the bottom of the barrel, but not world-beaters either. After 120 minutes of football, the Bills have only allowed one run longer than 10 yards and one reception longer than 20. And before you cynics out there scoff at that stat, consider that they've been juggling linebackers and were missing their starting cornerback on Opening Day.
3) Sammy "The Glen" Watkins
If people were worried about the lack of Watkins' involvement in the offense in Week 1, those fears were dismissed in Week 2. Of the 200 yards Manuel threw for, 117 of them belonged to our number 1 draft pick. Right out of the gate, they connected on a big 3-and-8 at midfield to set up the Bills opening score. After the Dolphins cut the lead to 6 on a spectacular catch from Mike Wallace, the Bills marched down the field and scored when E.J. found Sammy on a well-executed crossing route. This is why Doug Whaley & Co. gave up extra draft picks to get him. This is what fans want to see for years to come. Watkins got the majority of the targets and he should expect to see that every week.
THREE THINGS TO BE TERRIFIED OF:
1) Philip Rivers
Can you believe Rivers has been in the NFL for 10 years? Seriously. Where has the time gone? When the Chargers drafted him out of North Carolina State… wait, I’m sorry. When Eli Manning said, “FUCK no I don’t want to play in San Diego” and the Chargers were stuck with Rivers, Dubya was elected to his second term, a little show called “Lost” was about to premiere, and Hoobastank was a thing that was happening.
2) Antonio Gates
This one really needs no explanation. The worst kept secret around Buffalo the last few years is that we have absolutely, positively NO idea how to cover a quality tight end. No offense to Martellus Bennett and Charles Clay, but half of you are about to Google their names to figure out who I’m talking about and no one was nervous about stopping them. Gates needs no introduction and even at the age of 34, he’s still able to pull off performances like he did against Seattle last weekend (ICYMI: 7-96-3 … wowzers).
Right now the Bills’ linebacker situation is a little murky in terms of coverage. They’ve yet to face anyone as skilled as Gates, so it’s hard to say how they’ll respond. Will it be one man’s role to stop him or will it be a committee? Whatever the plan, Gates is a 12-year veteran. There’s nothing he hasn’t seen before and he’ll adjust to whatever the Bills bring. The defense has been very effective at getting off the field on 3rd downs, but Gates has made a career out of moving the chains on those downs. This will be the match-up to watch.
The common factor in all of those previous 2-0 starts I mentioned earlier was the illusion of a franchise quarterback. Whether it was Johnson, Bledsoe, Edwards, or Fitzpatrick, we were all at one time convinced that we had finally found "our guy." I want to believe SO badly that E.J. will be the one to make us forget all the others, but it's simply too early to say.
He's done exactly what's been asked of him, so far. He has limited his mistakes (see: not throwing it directly at the opposing team), shown improvement running the read option (see: not getting hit for no reason), and made the big throw when called upon. But if I asked you to, I'm sure you could think of more than a few plays where his accuracy was alarming. After the kind of start our defense had against the Dolphins, the Bills really should have entered halftime up at least 13-0. One of those 3 scoring drives should've wound up in the endzone, particularly the almost touchdown he missed when Watkins broke away up the middle in the second quarter. The play-calling has been conservative at times, but it's hard to blame the coaches when E.J. has been consistently inconsistent. With the weapons the Bills have surrounded him with, we should start to see progress from E.J. this season, but so far, it's too close to call whether he has. So until he shows steady improvement, it's hard not to be nervous about how he'll perform.
WHY YOU SHOULD HATE THEM:
It's sorta hard to find a reason to really dislike the Chargers. Sure, Philip Rivers seems like a MASSIVE tool, but that will only get you so far. Since the teams first squared off back in the AFL days, our record against the Chargers is 12-22-2. But do you really care? Not really, no. There's gotta be something though. I feel like I'm missing something though. Something the Chargers gave the world that, without which, this would be a better place to live...
Did I mention he'll appear at your place of business to motivate your employees?
From his website: "Throughout the year, San Diego Chargers Hall of Famer Dan Fouts may be available to deliver a keynote speech to your customers, clients or employees. Many corporations have recently hired Dan to speak about football, teamwork, motivation and leadership. One of the greatest passers of all time, Dan has displayed leadership throughout his career and speaks about what it takes to get to the top."
First of all, you didn't get to the top. You didn't even get a chance to play for the top spot. You were Dan Marino before Dan Marino, but then Dan Marino happened and everyone forgot all about you. Second, why in God's name would I want you to speak to my customers? You're an idiot.
So it's with that I say, fuck you, San Diego. Thanks for giving us this idiot, assholes.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Exclusive footage from the NFL Front Office...
They're missing their best running back, Rivers is due for a temper tantrum, and the Ralph is gonna be rockin. My optimism can't stop. Won't stop.
Chargers 24, Bills 35