Within minutes of me pressing the send key on the email containing my thoughts about the Fitz-tragic Bills loss to the Jets in week two, they fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman – which is what you usually do when your defense plays poorly. I panned this move as the rough equivalent of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, and it seemed like a desperation move by whoever made the call (don't you tell Rex he didn't get the final say) to try and salvage something out of the season following an 0-2 start with losses to the Ravens (who followed with a struggle with the Browns) and Mr. Six Picks and co.
But just when it looked like the wheels were about to fall off of the Rex Express, the Cardinals came to town, and the Bills wake up from their Greg Roman-induced coma to send them back to the west coast with their tail feathers between their legs.
It feels so refreshing waking up on a Monday and not having to deal with the harsh reality that being a Buffalo sports fan is likely taking years off of my life. The sun shines a little brighter, the birds sing a little louder, and the fact that the Patriots routed a playoff team on the road with their third quarterback in three weeks seems a little less bitter.
When Anthony Lynn took over as offensive coordinator this week, it was met by a cacophonic chorus of "who is this jabroni?” from the general public. Early returns, however, were pretty promising. The running game struggled mightily in the first two games, but made a huge impact yesterday. McCoy almost matched his rushing total from the first two games combined, and looked much more comfortable in his blocking and decision making out there. Tyrod reverted back to T-mobile in his own right and racked up some good carries himself. It looked like Lynn knew his personnel well from his work as the running backs coach and applied that knowledge to the game plan. Running with that efficiency would be a huge plus to this team moving forward.
The passing game struggled for the most part, but there were a couple of mitigating factors that cause me not to worry too much. First off, the Cardinals have the best secondary in the NFL, as was partially evidenced by that incredible Patrick Peterson interception. No other team out there tracks the ball as well as they do. Secondly, Sammy Watkins and his foot (also the name of a fanfiction saved to Rex's office computer) were absent from the field, and Walter Powell isn't going to be able to replace that level of talent by himself. That being said, the Bills are 1-0 in games following someone stepping on Sammy's foot in practice. I smell a new pre-game tradition.
The biggest shift in the team from the week before came on the defensive end, where they came out of the locker room and forced five straight three-and-outs to start the game, and ended with four picks of gunslinger Carson Palmer. As bad as the secondary was against Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick, they were that much better this week. This Cardinals receiving squad is no joke, led by a surefire Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald. He was held to 60 yards and kept out of the endzone, which is a definite win for anyone lining up across from him. For the most part that was Cory White – in for the injured Darby – and he deserves all the credit he'll get in the film room for his performance.
Other than the Jerry Hughes personal foul (tm), the front seven held their own as well. They got to Palmer six times and kept David Johnson contained for the most part. Part of this success came in the 1-3-7 formation that seemed to confuse the Arizona's pass protection. I'll be interested to see how that formation works with Marcell Dareus up front, when he returns from his spiritual quest through the Amazon, or whatever he's doing with his free time since he can't keep his nose clean long enough to play football. I'm not bitter.
It always seems that the bounces in a Bills game go to the opponent, especially in key situations. Maybe the football gods deemed we'd paid our dues, because this week, everything that could have gone wrong and undone the team's success…didn't. There was the fumble on the bad snap from the injured long snapper to the injured holder that Aaron Williams took to the house. There was the Robert Woods catch that was definitely not a catch that Bruce Arians did not challenge, quickly followed by a Bills touchdown. Perhaps most glaringly, there was Tyrann Matthieu kicking a fumble, if not a touchdown, out of bounds with plenty of time in the fourth quarter. It felt vindicating to have luck on the home side for once.
The biggest concern watching that fourth quarter was the inability to put the game away. The Bills held a two score lead for the entire final frame, but they couldn't convert third downs to kill the clock, and the Cardinals kept getting the ball back with a good amount of time left. While they couldn't make up for Palmer forcing a few too many passes against a very game Buffalo secondary, there are teams out there that will make you pay for letting them hang around.
Speaking of such teams, it's New England week. There is always an uneasy feeling as a Bills fan leading up to the trip to Foxboro, given recent events. And by recent I mean the entire lifespan of someone who can legally drive.
The Patriots are one bad step in the turf from whoever starts at quarterback to putting Julian Edelman behind center this week. Part of me wants to see that, because it would be a ton of fun to watch him try and recreate his Kent State over UB magic. The other part of me realizes it is a lose-lose for the Bills. You either beat a team with their fourth string QB and impress no one, or you lose and it goes down as the most recent in an ever growing list of Bills gaffes. Deep down, I think Belichek wants to be forced to start Edelman, just for the challenge. He placed some bets in his secret millionaires’ dark cabal that he could pull it off and wants to collect.
The way the Bills played yesterday is exactly the way they're going to have to play for a full sixty minutes if they want to hand the Pats their first loss of the season. We'll just have to wait and see if they can use this week as the catalyst to something even better.