Let’s begin by giving the Bills the credit they deserve. They showed up Sunday ready to play. They built an early lead. They made life miserable for Carson Palmer, who figured to walk into New Era Field and pick up where Ryan Fitzpatrick left off. They ran the ball. They scored a touchdown on special teams.
Rex Ryan was right.
The Cardinals were precisely the team the Bills needed to play if they wanted to pull themselves from misery. Super Bowl contenders? The Bills made them look like … they made them look the Bills did in the first two games. Buffalo trampled over Arizona in a 33-18 victory that gave their sun-soaked crowed reasons for optimism.
It’s mystifying how an NFL team, in this case Buffalo, can look so bad for two straight weeks and play so well in the third. The same is true on the other side. Arizona gave New England all it could handle before falling in the opener. The Cards regained their footing last weekend before falling on their faces Sunday.
Here’s a quick question for Bills fans: Are they a one-week wonder, a tease, that will faint at the sight of the Patriots next week in Gillette Stadium or are they becoming what Ryan had been running his mouth about since he arrived? History suggests it’s the former, but you never know in the NFL.
Bills fans are conditioned to prepare for the worst, especially when Buffalo has the lead as they did in the first half Sunday. The Bills took a 17-7 advantage into the locker room but, as anyone who had watched them would attest, their dominance was hardly grounds for celebration. They were plenty capable of blowing it in the second half.
Even the biggest cynic (who, me?) could sense the Bills had this one on their pocket when Aaron Williams picked up a botched snap and ran 53 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. The Bills had a 30-7 lead. The way their defense was playing, and the way Palmer was playing, it was over.
For one week, anyway, the pressure was off Ryan. It could return if the Bills stumble next weekend at New England or if they continue to struggle. His players showed up for him against the Cardinals after he fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman. It makes you wonder why they lacked the same passion in the other games.
We’ll see how the season unfolds, but at least the Bills showed glimpses of how they can be effective. New offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn removed the harness from Tyrod Taylor and encouraged him to use his legs. Taylor had a franchise-record 49-yard run in the first quarter and a 24-yard scamper for a TD in the third quarter. He had 82 yards rushing before losing 10 on a fumble.
Taylor was pedestrian in the passing game – 14 of 25 passing for 119 yards – but the Bills didn’t need him to make big throws after they grabbed a 17-0 lead. The way the defense had shut down Palmer, who threw four interceptions, he needed to guide the train into the station. He spread the ball around with Sammy Watkins sidelined with a foot injury.
LeSean McCoy had 110 yards rushing and two touchdowns, a performance they desperately needed after he struggled in the first two games. Mike Gillislee, who was ignored in the first two games with Roman calling the plays, picked up critical yardage when needed.
It was an impressive win considering the Bills were without Watkins , left tackle Cordy Glenn, cornerback Ronald Darby and suspended defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, among others.
Since the day Ryan arrived as the head coach, the Bills showed they were much better off on defense when they dialed up blitzes and pressured the passer. Too often last season, they backed off and allowed offenses to dictate the pace. On Sunday, the Bills started fast and kept coming.
Why it took so long was a mystery. The same defense that Fitzpatrick picked apart on national television looked like the ’85 Bears against the Cardinals. Arizona supposedly had one of the most potent offenses in the NFL, but Palmer was out of sorts for nearly the entire first half.
Now they need to carry their performance into next week.
For this team, it has proven to be a tall order.