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A nice win, but the Bills - and Taylor - have a long way to go

Before the game, when it became apparent that Anthony Lynn would make his debut as an NFL offensive coordinator against mighty Arizona without Sammy Watkins or Greg Salas, this is what flashed through the head Bills coach Rex Ryan:

"Here we go, A. Lynn, you're missing two of your wideouts, first game against one of the best defenses in the league. Good luck to you!"

Lynn was tossed into a seemingly harrowing situation against the Cardinals, facing one of the most formidable defenses in the NFL after replacing Greg Roman as coordinator just nine days earlier. Playing without left tackle Cordy Glenn wouldn't help matters, either.

But if this what happens when the Bills fire the offensive coordinator, maybe they should do it more often.

After the stunning events at New Era Field (Anthony Lynn Era?) on Sunday, exultant Bills fans might concede that getting rid of Greg Roman was the correct move after all, not a scapegoating but a necessary change that could revive the offense and save the season.

I'm not ready to go there. I've learned over many years that one game rarely alters the long-term course of an NFL season. Teams in all sports tend to react with an emotionally charged win after a sudden coaching change. I'll judge this one over the long haul.

But Buffalo's 33-18 victory was an encouraging beginning for anyone who believed that firing Roman after two games would lift the Bills and get their playmakers more involved in the offense. Whatever the reason, they played an inspired game in front of an aroused home crowd, moving to 1-2 and back from the precipice -- for a week, anyway.

With Lynn using a more streamlined playbook and running plays at a swifter tempo -- mixing in some no-huddle -- the Bills got their running game going, rushing for 208 yards (at 6.5 a pop) and three touchdowns against an Arizona defense that had held Tampa Bay to seven points a week earlier and hadn't allowed more than 164 yards on the ground since 2014.

At times, it was reminiscent of last year, when the Bills led the league in rushing and set the tempo in some of the team's more forceful triumphs.

"You know, it felt that way," said guard Richie Incognito. "It felt like we were being physical and running the ball effectively. When you get in a rhythm in a game like that, it's nice to be able to run the football."

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor and tailback LeSean McCoy were on the spot, having stuck their necks out by voicing their displeasure with Roman to owner Terry Pegula. They responded in a big way, combining for 186 rushing yards and three TDs against a Cardinals defense missing three members of its front seven rotation due to injury.

McCoy, who did little in the opening two losses, ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns -- with 88 of those and both TDs coming in the first half. Taylor had 76 yards on nine carries, including a team-record 49-yard option run that led to the Bills' opening field goal and 20-yard TD scramble early in the second half.

Taylor and McCoy both said Lynn's modifications made a difference. McCoy said playing at a fast tempo provided the offense with more rhythm. Taylor agreed and said Lynn did a good job of getting the play calls in faster than normal from his perch in the coaches' box.

"The guys up front blocked extremely well," McCoy said. "Something different is we got the ball back to the backs deeper. More 'I' formation running game. Some different direction plays. It's a lot to defend. I think it's best when we get the ball deep. I'm not the biggest guy, but I can pick up if I want to go inside or outside."

This wasn't some profound offensive innovation. But it was clearly something the playmakers wanted. The question is whether these changes could have been made without jettisoning Roman two games in -- or in fact, during the offseason.

The Bills' defense was fantastic Sunday, dominating the line of scrimmage for much of the afternoon and making Carson Palmer look like a circus clown, 10 days after getting lit up by Ryan Fitzpatrick. And to think, they performed a radical turnaround from one week to the next without firing a single defensive coach!

Ryan said the offensive was more "creative" under Lynn, a clear shot at Roman. Never mind that Roman was creative enough last year for the Bills to lead in the NFL rushing, and for Taylor to post a 99.4 quarterback rating (second in team history to Jim Kelly) that made for a handy negotiating chip for a new contract.

"Defenses, they get paid too," McCoy said. "So they have a whole year to scout and see what's going on. I remember my first year, the Chip Kelly era, we were running fast plays, non-stop and the next year it was a lot harder. That's because teams had a year to prepare for it."

So the company line is that Roman didn't adjust from year to year. It certainly didn't look good in the first two games. Maybe if Ryan had a mind for offense, he would have urged him to try some new wrinkles. Did any of the star players, the ones who complained to the owner when things got off to a bad start, making suggestions during the offseason?

To me, it was all about Taylor, and finding ways to compensate for his continued inability to function as a pocket passer. Everyone was gushing about his two big runs, and the need to let him free as a runner. Taylor is an electric player, there's no doubt, but it's his evolution as a passer, not a scrambler, that was supposed to be the key to the season.

Taylor wasn't as effective with his arm Sunday. He completed 14 of 25 passes for 119 yards, a mere 4.8 yards an attempt. He completed two passes of more than 10 yards to wide receivers. He won, but it was another unconvincing effort if you're looking for Taylor to prove himself as a pocket passer worthy of a $90 million contract extension.

The Bills had 88 net yards passing. It was the fourth time since the start of the 2013 NFL season that a team has finished with 88 yards or less through the air and won. Taylor has been involved in two of the four. One was the Bills' win at Tennessee last year.

If that's the model for a franchise quarterback, good luck to Lynn and Co. McCoy referred to Taylor as a running back playing quarterback, which is not generally a good thing. It's a nice concept if the guy is Cam Newton, a 6-5, 240-pound athletic freak who can make all the throws. To me, Taylor is a faster version of J.P. Losman.

The running quarterback has become a discredited idea in recent years. Everyone agreed that the Bills needed Taylor to stay in the pocket and not run as much, to become a more conventional QB.  Suddenly, Lynn is a genius for having him run the option?

OK, they won. It was a dream game for Ryan. People were writing his team off. He had his second terrific defensive game out of three, which reminds you that he knows a thing or two about defense. It was a victory right out of the old school handbook -- run and stop the run, get after the opposing quarterback and play good special teams.

However they did it, it got them to 1-2 and made it a season again. But there's a lot of season ahead. If they lose in New England next week to a third-string quarterback or worse, that neutralizes this win. Time will tell if the Bills can sustain this effort, or if Taylor can prove himself as a franchise quarterback.

Remember, Taylor's growth as a pocket passer is the main issue on offense, no matter the coordinator. It's important to keep your eye on the target, and from what I can see, Tyrod still isn't hitting it.

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