They have talked the talk for months.
Rex Ryan, the biggest talker of them all, was predicting these sort of outcomes from the moment he stood on that stage for his introductory news conference in the Buffalo Bills’ field house last January.
He promised his team would be more physical than the other guys. He promised it would win the coaching battle. He promised that the fans would have a reason to cheer like they used to in the good old days, when winning was something the Bills did routinely.
Ryan’s players bought into the swagger and the bravado and fell in line with the idea that, yes, this is a very different Bills team than any that has taken the field in many years. This one was built to not only win, but to dominate in all phases. This one was put together to keep playing after the regular season.
And on Sunday, the Bills opened their schedule by walking the walk. They beat the Indianapolis Colts, 27-14, in every possible way at Ralph Wilson Stadium. They pounded them physically. They out-smarted them with brilliant offensive and defensive strategy that went a long way toward allowing the first-time NFL starter, Tyrod Taylor, to look far more seasoned than his much more highly touted counterpart, Andrew Luck. They kept a crowd of 70,319 roaring from start to finish.
“We went out there and did what we said we were going to do,” running back Boobie Dixon said. “And it felt good.”
At one point, it actually felt like the early 1990s all over again. Not that anyone should suggest, after one game, this squad deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the ones that made annual trips to the Super Bowl.
But the level of excitement it generated through the offseason, the preseason, and on Sunday was reminiscent of that era. That was especially true after Dixon’s 1-yard touchdown dive to give the Bills a 24-0 lead early in the third quarter and their fourth score in as many possessions beginning at the end of the first quarter.
“That was a statement,” Dixon said. “We feel like a problem for the league. So, I guess, look out! Buffalo’s on the way.”
It certainly appears to be the case.
Start with the defense. The Bills ranked fourth in the NFL in total yards allowed last year. They were No. 1 in sacks. If nothing changed in that area, they would, at the very least, have the foundation of a playoff contender.
But something might very well be different. This year’s defense is conceivably better. For the most part, it owned everything against the Colts: the line of scrimmage, the secondary, and the collective brains of Luck and Indianapolis offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.
Ryan put together a defensive game plan that included his typically creative pressure packages. In some cases, he blitzed, coming at Luck from all angles. Other times, he allowed his defensive line – despite missing its best player, Marcell Dareus, due to a suspension – to generate pressure on its own. And then there were Ryan’s patented “simulated blitzes,” which was when he had Luck and his offensive linemen assuming blitzes were coming when they really weren’t.
Luck was sacked twice, but that didn’t reflect how truly off-kilter he was for the entire game. He threw two interceptions and, with a game plan that had him trying to avoid the rush by throwing quick passes and working from a moving pocket, he was inaccurate and unable to make deep throws. Ronald Darby, the rookie cornerback on whom Luck was supposed to feast, intercepted him once and knocked down two of his passes.
“We were mixing everything,” Ryan said. “That kid, he gets the ball out of his hand quick, he’s smart. That was real competition out there. But, yeah, you mix it up. We mixed up personnel groupings and things like that.”
Luck had 49 pass attempts, completing 26 for 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But his first scoring throw came late in the third quarter and his second came late in the fourth.
By then, the Bills were in tee-off mode.
“They are a good team and they made it hard for us to do things that we wanted to do,” Luck said. “That’s a heck of a front four and they beat us pretty badly.”
Taylor, on the other hand, couldn’t have had a much better NFL starting debut. Well, perhaps, it might have gone a bit smoother if he actually started at quarterback rather than wide receiver, which was where he was on the Bills’ first play from scrimmage while Matt Cassel took the opening snap. The play was a LeSean McCoy run that went for a 6-yard loss. We’ll have to take Ryan’s word that it worked much better in practice.
With Taylor behind center, the offense generally moved well. He was efficient, completing 14 of 19 passes for 195 yards, and a touchdown. He had a 31-yard run that set up a 26-yard scoring sprint by rookie running back Karlos Williams, but Taylor wasn’t overly reliant on his exceptionally fast feet. He pretty much ran only when necessary and showed excellent poise and made good decisions from the pocket.
Taylor also made a highlight-reel throw when he connected with Percy Harvin, who ran past cornerback Darius Butler to grab a perfectly thrown 51-yard pass in the end zone to give the Bills a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“The long pass got us going, really kind of ignited us,” guard Richie Incognito said. “We’ve had confidence in Tyrod since they named him starter. Even in practice, he’s been dropping dimes like that, and to see him do it on the field, it’s just kind of reconfirming what we already know.”
And backing up what the Bills have been saying all along.