EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Wow, are we really three hours from the midpoint of another Bills season? It seems only yesterday that the Bills were auditioning backup quarterbacks and swearing their allegiance to EJ Manuel.
It’s hard to believe I have so many cliches still in the grab bag. Let’s see what we have: No, that’s the “one game at a time” refrain. How about ‘The biggest pressure is what we put on ourselves?”
Nah. Got to keep searching. Oh, here it is. The cliche practically jumped out of the bag. It’s time for the “no respect” card.
Hey, their own coach said they weren’t that good after they beat the Vikings last week to get back over .500. Doug Marrone said the win was great, but he wasn’t smiling over the ugly way it came about. He said that wasn’t the performance of a playoff team, and he was right.
Maybe Marrone can close the locker room doors before the game against the Jets today and deliver these rousing words: “The rest of the world believes it too, men! Now go out there and prove us all wrong!”
The Bills aren’t getting a lot of respect for a 4-3 team. It’s not just the coach and media. How about this for a lack of respect: According to one wagering site, the Bills are the first team in history to enter a game with a winning record and be an underdog against a 1-6 opponent.
I don’t normally pay attention to oddsmakers, mind you. I wouldn’t want to give the impression that gambling is a huge part of the NFL’s appeal. Evidently, the research went back only 25 years. I guess there’s no way to find out the line on the 1940 NFL title game (the Bears beat Washington, 73-0).
Still, it qualifies as an insult to the Bills. People aren’t taking them seriously as a playoff contender. Otherwise, they would be favored against a Jets team with a bad quarterback, a bad secondary, and a coach, Rex Ryan, who should be updating his resume as we speak.
When a team is a three-point favorite at home, it means the Vegas guys see the teams as essentially equal. The home field provides the edge. If you ever watched the Jets get on a roll against the Bills here, you understand.
The Bills have earned the insult. They have lost all four games to the Jets in MetLife Stadium. They’re 0-5 here, including a loss to the Giants in 2011.
Bad things tend to occur when Buffalo plays the Jets on the road. In 2003, the Bills came to Jersey with a 3-2 record. The Jets were 0-4. The Jets won, 30-3. I’m guessing the Bills were actually favored that day.
The Tom Donahoe-Mike Mularkey era ended here in the 2005 finale, 30-26, to a 3-12 Jets team with Brooks Bollinger at quarterback. Their last win came in overtime at Giants Stadium in 2009. They gave up 318 yards rushing and won.
They lost in 2011, 28-24, on the day Stevie Johnson pretended to shoot himself in the thigh (a shot at Plaxico Burress) and did an airplane routine after scoring a TD. Late in the game, Stevie dropped a TD pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Oh, and Mark Sanchez threw a career-high four TDs.
In 2012, they lost, 48-28, in Mario Williams’ debut. He whined about the officiating. Last year, they lost, 27-20, in Manuel’s first road game. EJ kept throwing the ball to the cheerleaders. Geno Smith threw for 331 yards, still a career high.
These Bills are supposed to be different. But the public – you can include me – remains unconvinced. Call it lack of respect or educated skepticism, the doubters see an average team that has used good defense and opportunistic offense to win three games in the final seconds.
Those wins count. That’s how you make the playoffs in an age of parity. But they have a lot to prove. Today could be a – I’m dipping into my cliche sack again – a statement game. It will be big if they can, uh, upset the Jets today and get to the bye at 5-3.
“Huge,” linebacker Jerry Hughes said. “It would be huge. Lot of momentum on our side.”
It starts with the D, which has been one of the best in the league this season. Last week, the Vikings were the first team to run effectively against them. Marrone seemed concerned about their lack of physical commitment against an inferior foe that attacked them in the run game.
“I think you have to understand what makes you good against the run is playing physical,” Marrone said on Monday. “I think we’ve got to understand that and do a better job of that, as we get ready to play again.”
Under Ryan, the Jets have averaged 195 yards rushing in 10 games against the Bills. Ryan will have them ready to pound the football at a defensive front that hasn’t always punched back. Chris Ivory is one of the best backs in the league at yards after contact.
The Bills have allowed an average of 36 points in the last four games here. They have a score to settle, respect to be gained. They’ll be eager to prove that this year is different.
“Absolutely,” Hughes said. “So people want to doubt us. It’ll be a great place to show them.”
Offensively, they must take advantage of a Jets secondary that has allowed 18 TD passes and has just one interception. Kyle Orton, the first NFL passer in 17 years to throw for 283 yards in each of his first three games with a new team, has to outplay Smith and be the difference.
Orton has become an unlikely savior. By leading two fourth-quarter comebacks in his first three games, he has raised expectations and kept the Bills’ playoff hopes afloat. The question is whether it’s asking too much for him to win a pass-heavy game at the Jets.
The Jets are sixth in the NFL with 20 sacks. It’s odd that they haven’t forced more turnovers, given the pressure. Maybe their luck is bound to turn. Orton has made one colossal giveaway in all three of his starts. The Bills might not be able to recover if he does it today.
A real contender needs a QB who can go on the road and lift his team in tough circumstances. The Bills lost their top two running backs and have a shaky offensive line. Orton will need to make quick, accurate throws and make the Jets pay for blitzing.
Buffalo quarterbacks haven’t risen to the challenge here very often. The last Bills QB to throw for 200 yards and win here was Todd Collins in 1997. Yeah, the season after Jim Kelly retired.
People who follow the league are justifiably dubious about the Bills when they play here. If this year is different, then prove it. Win today, hit the bye at 5-3, and respect will follow.
Marrone seems to be wondering if his team is for real, too. I’m sure he’ll be smiling this week if they get a win, ugly or not.