Sometimes in the world of professional sports the deck is truly stacked against you. The Bills came in to week 3 coming off an anemic offensive showing against a struggling Carolina team, while Denver stomped a mudhole on the Dallas Cowboys like mid 90's Stone Cold Steve Austin. Denver and their up-and-coming quarterback were dominant in September while Buffalo's was being dragged in the media as fans called for Peterman. Cordy Glenn was out against one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. Every expert on every media outlet, yours truly included, didn't give the Bills much of a chance. Yet, in spite of all of this, welcome one and all to Victory Monday.
The Bills shocked the system on Sunday with a complete team effort to the tune of a 26-16 victory over the previously unbeaten Broncos. Trevor Siemian lost his first game ever in the month of September. Denver's last seven drives featured no touchdowns and two interceptions. Up is cat. Black is dog. Chaos abounds, and I love every second of it. Being a Buffalo sports fan has conditioned me to never expect the outcome we got yesterday. I'll admit that I spent the majority of the second half steeling myself for the Denver comeback that never came, waiting to be disappointed. That moment never came. Instead we head into week 4 with a strange feeling I haven't had in this team in years. I've googled the symptoms and came up with "pride." This feels foreign, but also nice. I could get used to this.
The Buffalo offense moved the ball in spite of a struggling run game, which was the one thing anyone who laid out a game plan for how the Bills could pull this game out would have said was the number one key to success. Is it concerning that McCoy only had 21 yards rushing? Maybe a little bit, but this was a Denver team that just held Ezekiel Elliot to a worse average than that embarrassing Dallas's top tier offensive line, so it's not the end of the world. Tyrod did a good job of including him in the passing game to get him into that 20-25 touch range that you should see a player of his caliber get in every game.
I hope a lot of Tyrod haters were eating their words at their post-game meals. Watching that first drive sack by Von Miller had me worried for Tyrod's safety, but the line did a pretty good job at giving him time, all things considered. Four sacks allowed to that defense is a victory in my book. Too often we try to evaluate Tyrod without looking at what he's dealing with. He has the quickest time from snap to release in the NFL for a reason, and I'll give you a hint, it's not because everyone is super open at the snap. It was also refreshing to see a few passes fly for more than 10 yards downfield. Both Kaelin Clay and Nick O'Leary had 25+ yard catches, which I hope sets the tone for this offense moving forward. It felt like they were finally willing to be aggressive and go for it on at least some of their drives yesterday, and it seems to energize the team.
It's refreshing to have a kicker that I feel gives us a chance from 50+. Stephen Hauschka was great yesterday. All of those Dan Carpenter misses (spiked helmets and all) feel like they're firmly in the past now. I'll never grasp why the Seahawks let him go in favor of shank machine Blair Walsh, who has already won a playoff game for the Seahawks...the only issue is that he did so while kicking for Minnesota. Special teams is the facet of the game that no one wants to talk about until it's gone south, but Buffalo football has been sullied more than most by bad special teams play. Looking at you, Carpenter, McKelvin, everyone involved in that kickoff fumble against the Jets last year, etc. He was named a team captain and is already being called a great teammate. Let us enjoy having one of the best in the game.
The story of this team's success continues to be the defense. Siemian looked more like a seventh round pick yesterday than he ever has in the month of September, where he was previously undefeated. He looked rattled by the pass rush at times, and threw high on a number of catchable balls as a result. Shaq Lawson continues to look more and more comfortable out there. Kyle Williams keeps looking five years younger than he is. All of these successes were had against a solid Denver line without our highest paid defender. It's too early to say if that is sustainable, but yesterday was a big step. The best Denver offensive player was Jamaal Charles, whose knees are being held together by rubber bands and a lever and pulley system.
With Darby and Gilmore gone, it was unclear how this secondary would look coming into this season. Three games in, it has been a rousing success. EJ Gaines is doing his best to make the Sammy trade look better each week. Both he and Poyer seem to be very much at home here in this system. White has played like a rookie at times, but he shows flashes of why he was a first round talent. Denver has some elite receivers in Thomas and Sanders, but they never had tons of room to work. In the passing league of today, this is something a successful team will have to be able to do consistently.
Yesterday's game was refreshing for a couple of reasons. First, it's always great to see all the bounces go Buffalo's way. Andre Holmes had no business catching that tip drill touchdown pass, but it counts all the same. Holmes only really has a job because Anquan Boldin retired to work on his humanitarian efforts unless Tom Brady needs a guy and Rod Streeter got hurt, but it's good to see him get in on the action regardless. The drought has brought out statistical anomalies of a number of receivers over the course of it's existence from players who haven't been good for anything once they left here. Be sure to file your Holmes jersey next to Roscoe Parrish, David Nelson, and beloved local media star Donald Jones. I also discovered while writing this question that CJ Spiller is #40 all time in receiving for this franchise. As of the writing of this column, he has been cut by the 3-0 Chiefs more times than the Bills have won.
We still won even with the trademark drive where the other team scores while we commit two personal foul penalties. If you were hoping Jerry hughes had learned a lesson at any point, those hopes were dashed like a dingy in a hurricane when he torpedoed himself into Siemian for a roughing the passer call. Hughes has the cleanest reputation amongst guys who take as many 15 yard penalties as he does. Meanwhile, in New York yesterday, Ndamukong Suh has referees reaching for their flags when he lines up for the snap. No one will remember this flag though, because von Miller got 15 yards for psyching Tyrod with the classic "down low, too slow" hand motion while Taylor looked for help getting up. This is the best penalty caught on camera since Marquette King spiked a penalty flag last year.
Where does the team go from here? It was hard to see a light at the end of week 2, but now the Bills are once again tied for the division lead. If it wasn't for Tom Brady somehow pulling a comeback out of thin air again, we could have the lead outright. None of the teams who were supposed to be top of the league really seem all that good. New England barely beat a Texans team that has a rookie QB. Oakland just got run into the turf by Washington in prime time. The Steelers just lost to the Bears. meanwhile in the AFC East, Miami just got taken apart by the Jets, who are awful at tanking. Suddenly you look at the division, and winning three more games there isn't out of the question. Winning two more in the AFC West doesn't seem ridiculous anymore either. Playing Atlanta on the road is a tough task, but they are one terrible NFL rule away from losing last week to Detroit. Suddenly the whole NFL feels wide open. In a world where Blake Bortles has thrown fewer interceptions through three weeks than Aaron Rodgers, is anything truly impossible. I know I'm setting myself up for disappointment, but maybe, just maybe, the Bills are onto something here.