I’m not going to lie, I could get used to this victory Monday thing. The Buffalo Bills stay at the top of the AFC East rankings for another week after their heart-pounding, hyperventilation-inducing 23-17 victory on the road at the new home of the Atlanta Falcons.
Having sufficiently recovered from what was an absorbing game, I’ll go through some of my thoughts on the game and cover some of the bigger talking points from Sunday’s action.
The first thing I need to do is to give a quick nod of appreciation toward offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. A lot of coaches are headstrong, the good ones can adapt. ‘Rico’ changed his plan up quite a bit in Week 4 and it paid off in a couple of key ways. The play calling later in the game wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but, after some criticism in the past couple of weeks, Mr. Dennison gets a thumbs up from this guy.
Last week, I said I want consistency from Tyrod Taylor. Fingers crossed but it might actually be happening. I don’t really want to dwell on the negatives after a win but Tyrod knows that there’s a couple of throws in that game that he’d like back.
Try as I might, I can’t stay mad at him for those. Tyrod was almost picture perfect off play action. The deep ball is starting to be integrated into the offense and he threw 3 of them with pinpoint precision. There was even a bomb to a covered receiver that he threw under pressure. Dare I dream that, even without a fantastic supporting cast, that the Bills might actually have a quarterback? If he keeps it up, he’ll make a believer out of me.
As far as that supporting cast goes, it’s going to get worse. Jordan Matthews needs surgery on his thumb and seems set to miss at least the next three games. Watching the Taylor-Matthews connection grow has been fun, it’s a shame that it’s being derailed.
That may thrust rookie Zay Jones into a more prominent role and that worries me. The biggest selling point on Jones was his hands. He was a football magnet at East Carolina. If his hands continue to desert him, in my eyes, he’s just a guy. The positives are that in the space of three plays, he got open twice against a fantastic corner in Desmond Trufant. Just got to do his job and finish the plays.
On the subject of making plays, how about Charles Clay? He beat his own ‘since the drought’ record for receiving yards in a game by a Bills tight end on Sunday. Only the third 100-yard game by a TE since 2000. If Clay can stay healthy and provide a consistent downfield target, the offense could eventually start to flourish.
Any offensive recap wouldn’t be complete without the big guys up front. After generating no push against two stout defensive lines, Week 4 saw a glimpse of what this team is capable of. It wasn’t pretty a lot of the time but holes did develop. A couple of plays came back because of stupid, avoidable penalties. On the 11 minute, 20 second drive spanning the 3rd and 4th quarters, it was a war of attrition. It was brutal, soul destroying. It was beautiful.
I’ll also include fullback Patrick DiMarco in this section. I thought he had a really impressive day as a lead blocker. His second career carry wasn’t a resounding success but it’s one more yard than Reggie Bush ended up with last season.
Outside of a couple of plays, including using a tight end to block Brooks Reed 1-on-1, the pass protection held up well. Jordan Mills is still a liability but there’s literally nobody else at the moment. Dion Dawkins fared better than in Week 3 and had a heads-up play recovering Mike Tolbert’s fumble. The best OL play of the game was the 3rd & long screen to LeSean McCoy. Eric Wood and John Miller got downfield and wiped a pair of defenders right out of their shoes.
It’s not every day that you get given a gift in the NFL. Not having to face much of Julio Jones is like Easter, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa all at once. It doesn’t diminish the play of the defense but it was game-altering for the Falcons. Context is key.
There’s one great equalizer in the NFL and that’s pressure. There’s not a single quarterback in the league that likes getting hit. That pressure didn’t get home a great deal but it definitely threw Matt Ryan out of rhythm. Keeping ‘Matty Ice’ to under six yards per attempt was a team effort.
Jerry Hughes is still a maniac and I love him. He got credit for the only sack of the day but it was a big one. He’s generating significant disruption on a weekly basis and looks back to his best. Even without the injured Shaq Lawson, the Bills managed to press the pocket a few times and forced Ryan into premature decisions.
It’s great to have Jerel Worthy back from a concussion too. He didn’t play a great deal but his burst off the snap proved tough to handle for Atlanta’s interior line. Once he returns to full game shape after a month off, he’ll be fighting for the start.
Linebacker took a hit in Week 4 with the news that Ramon Humber suffered a broken hand. It’s anticipated that he’ll miss some time. Humber had another solid outing prior to the injury. His place in the lineup was taken by fifth-round rookie Matt Milano and the downgrade in performance was fairly easy to spot, especially against the run. Milano will need to clean up his eye discipline but he performed like you’d anticipate a late round rookie would. Expect a few bumps in the road if he gets the start against the Bengals.
If there was an issue with the linebacker group in general, it was in coverage against the talented Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. After some hiccups against Christian McCaffrey two weeks ago, speed caused the likes of Lorenzo Alexander some problems. As well as Lorenzo has played the run and rushing the passer, some assignments are proving tough for him.
This secondary is already boring me. I’ve almost forgotten how to watch football without the weekly pantomime villain blowing a coverage assignment. Undoubtedly, the superstar of the group was safety Micah Hyde. His pair of interceptions were paramount to the Bills’ victory. The high-point interception against Taylor Gabriel had me wondering if he could be a two-way player in Jordan Matthews’ absence. It was a fabulous effort.
If there was any play you could pick to show the vast difference in preparation and football IQ between this roster and the teams of the past couple of years, it was Tre’Davious White’s fumble recovery. The rookie didn’t second-guess anything, picked it up and ran with it. Credit to White for the play and the officials for not blowing it dead straight away. I still think they got it horribly wrong upon review of the play.
This offseason, I wanted Greg Zuerlein to replace Dan Carpenter. Stephen Hauschka was a consolation prize in my eyes. Whoever was responsible for the recruiting of this behemoth of a place kicker, thanks for not appeasing me (although I still love Greg The Leg). Two more vital conversions from beyond 50 yards gave the Bills the platform to bend and not break.
Also, a shout out to Taiwan Jones. Without the slightly obsessive Joe Saeli, my irrepressible colleague from BillsWire, I might’ve forgotten that he was on the roster but he did a good thing on Sunday. Downing the punt at the goal line was an underrated play, especially for a team that wants to skew field position in their favor as much as the Bills do.
Julio was missing. As were Vic Beasley, Mohamed Sanu, Ryan Schraeder. The calls, including the biggest one, kinda went in the Bills’ favor. Am I trying to rain on the parade? Maybe a little bit. Injuries happen and the Bills had their own health issues to contend with. You can only beat what’s put in front of you.
I didn’t expect a win but I hoped that they would be in the game. They managed to turn the contest into their kind of game and set a physical tone on both sides of the ball. I think that’s the most pleasing aspect of Sunday, more so than actually winning it. There are times when sustaining long drives will be needed to close games out. Being battle-tested can only be a good thing.
The 2017 Buffalo Bills are overachieving at the moment, they’re already 2 games ahead of where I anticipated them being. The schedule looks less daunting than it did a month ago. Someone is going to need to take advantage of the NFL being weird this season. If the team can ride the injury blows suffered in Week 4 – Why not us?
Editor’s babble: Thanks to Stephen Culley for his comprehensive and stellar contributions to our blog. You can follow Stephen on Twitter @StephenCulley.