A few weeks back, when it appeared yet another Bills season was headed for the incinerator, they could always count on San Francisco. The Niners were the one opponent circled on the schedule as a guaranteed Buffalo win, but you never know in the National Football League.
Look at what happened with the Bills, who knocked off supposed NFC powerhouse Arizona for their first win, drilled a shorthanded Patriots team and shut out the Patriots at home and answered lingering doubts last week in Los Angeles. The game Sunday looked like a gimme.
For better or worse, you’re never quite sure what to expect.
Finally, the Bills stuck to the script in a 45-16 blowout over a bad 49ers team before 70,003 at New Era Field. The Bills have won four straight games for the first time since 2008, when they opened the season with four consecutive wins before falling apart and missing the playoffs. This team looks less susceptible to a collapse.
The Bills stayed in the AFC East race with New England, which visits Buffalo in two weeks – with Tom Brady, by the way – for an important showdown. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Buffalo travels to Miami next week. The Dolphins were in shambles before hammering Pittsburgh, 30-15, on Sunday.
You never really know what’s going to happen on any given week given the parity in the NFL. Not even the #BillsMafia don would have placed wagers on the Bills winning four straight after their 0-2 start. But here they are, looking like the team fans had longed for when Rex Ryan became the head coach.
Rex might as well have packed his bags after losing his first two games and firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman five days into the season. Anthony Lynn took over for Roman and helped the offense gain traction. Dennis Thurman took over the play-calling on defense. The two are complementing one another.
Ryan should be complimented, too, for pushing his ego aside and understanding changes were in order if he wanted to change the trajectory of the season. In four weeks, he helped transform a team going nowhere to one of relevance through the first six games. The Bills need to keep it going for the final 10.
And maybe, just maybe, they can end their 16-year playoff drought.
If that happens, LeSean McCoy likely will be the one carrying the offense. He was terrific again Sunday while gaining 140 yards rushing and scoring three touchdowns. He has gained 470 yards rushing during the winning streak, including 290 yards on the ground in his last two games. The Bills abused the Niners for 312 yards on the grounds, their highest total since they ran for 315 on Nov. 22, 1992, against Atlanta.
Any doubt about the outcome after the Bills took a 31-16 lead early in the fourth quarter ended after McCoy drew an interference penalty in the end zone on the first play after San Francisco fumbled a kickoff. Tyrod Taylor found Robert Woods for a 1-yard TD pass and drove home the final nail.
Buffalo was in such good shape in the final eight-plus minutes EJ Manuel took over the offense in a mop-up role. McCoy remained on the sidelines while Mike Gillislee and Reggie Bush handled the ground game. The Bills knew they were in good shape with a defense that allowed only one touchdown on a blown coverage.
The Niners, 31st against the run going into game, practically invited the new-and-improved Bills to run wild Sunday. McCoy gained 106 yards and had two touchdowns on only 11 carries. The Bills gained 164 yards on the ground. And that was in the first half against the 49ers abysmal run defense.
Never mind Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem. San Francisco’s defense should have been on its knees while begging for mercy in the second half. The Bills blew open the game late in the third quarter and early in the fourth. The same Bills fans who stormed out of the stadium after the Jets game enjoyed this one to the end.
But there was one scary moment, of course.
Buffalo held its collective breath late in the second quarter when McCoy crumpled to the turf with an apparent knee injury. He needed assistance while walking off the field but quickly recovered and was cleared to play the second half. If the Bills are going anywhere in the running game, they’ll need McCoy to carry them.
McCoy had averaged 110 yards in his previous three games, and scored the first touchdown to cap a 75-yard drive. He was on his way to a 67-yard TD run in the second quarter before slamming into teammate Robert Woods and settling for a 38-yard gain. It led to McCoy’s second TD, a 12-yard run on a direct snap.