1. OK, I’m a believer. The Buffalo Bills are a playoff contender. Sunday’s 34-14 win against the Oakland Raiders solidifies that for me. The Bills are undefeated 4-0 at home, 3-1 in the AFC and 5-2 overall. Full disclosure: I picked them to go 6-10 this year.
To borrow a phrase from coach Sean McDermott, they have a “playoff caliber” defense that has taken the ball away at least three times in four consecutive games. The offense didn’t play a perfect game, and still put up 34 points. The Bills absolutely smoked an Oakland team that was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender.
2. The fifth-round pick the Bills acquired from New England when they chose not to match the contract offer to restricted free agent running back Mike Gillislee was used on … linebacker Matt Milano. That’s looking like an absolute steal at the moment, as Milano continues to make plays. He scored his first career touchdown in the second quarter on a 40-yard fumble return, then forced a fumble on special teams that the Bills recovered. That led to a field goal and a 17-7 lead.
3. Sean McDermott continues to insist that Ramon Humber will return as a starter when he’s healthy, but Milano’s play has to be giving him second thoughts. Humber missed his third consecutive game with a thumb injury suffered in Week Four against Atlanta.
4. Did you miss Marcell Dareus? Did you even notice that he wasn’t out there? The Bills limited the Marshawn Lynch-less Raiders to 54 rushing yards. Oakland largely abandoned the run, but that shouldn't take away the effort by those replacing Dareus in the middle. The combination of Adolphus Washington, Jerel Worthy and Cedric Thornton next to Kyle Williams was more than sufficient Sunday.
5. Depth in the secondary continues to be a concern. With starting safety Jordan Poyer out because of a knee injury, the Bills lined up Trae Elston next to Micah Hyde. Elston, however, was taken out of the lineup in the fourth quarter, meaning Shamarko Thomas was pressed into duty. Elston returned to the lineup and had a late interception, but the Bills were briefly down to two healthy safeties. For a team that continues to make two offensive tackles on healthy inactives, that’s a concern.
6. One of the areas the Bills have really struggled is converting turnovers into touchdowns. Coming into the game, Buffalo had 11 drives start off turnovers. Only one of them ended in a touchdown. The Bills went backward offensively after the Mike Tolbert fumble recovery, getting a 35-yard field goal from Stephen Hauschka. After Hyde’s interception in the third quarter, the offense managed just 15 yards on six plays, ending with a 44-yard Hauschka field goal. The offense needs to develop more of a killer instinct in those situations.
7. It still wasn’t a huge statistical showing for Zay Jones, but Sunday’s game was definitely a step forward for the rookie receiver. He made three catches in the first half. The second of those gave the Bills a first down, and Jones withstood a big hit and held on. Jones was also open deep in the first half on a target to him that went incomplete, but quarterback Tyrod Taylor was late in throwing the ball. The pass was out of bounds and Jones didn’t have a chance to make a play on it.
8. In keeping with the trend of unheralded players making big plays, Brandon Tate’s 24-yard gain in the third quarter was a thing of beauty. Tate spun at the Bills’ 40-yard line to free himself, then made another man miss to pick up a first down on what was a second-and-20 play.
9. To paraphrase Marv Levy, Ed Hochuli’s crew was a bunch of “over-officious” jerks. The offensive pass interference penalty against Jordan Matthews in the first half was a terrible call – the defender simply slipped – and a holding penalty against Jordan Mills in the third quarter was suspect at best. Hochuli has a reputation of making the game about himself, and Sunday’s game won’t change that opinion.
10. Is it safe to say LeSean McCoy is back? The Bills' running back piled up 151 yards on the ground Sunday, a total that's just 2 yards short of his career high in Buffalo. McCoy sealed the win with a 48-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Buffalo's offense operates on a completely different level when he's running well.