Three weeks ago, the Bills were coming off a 37-31 loss to the Jets in a game that was more lopsided than the score indicated. Ryan Fitzpatrick carved them for 375 yards passing. Matt Forte rushed for 100 yards and three touchdowns. The villagers gathered at city square and awaited Rex Ryan’s execution.
OK, so that’s not entirely true.
Fitzpatrick threw for 374 yards.
Ryan’s response to his sorry defense getting humiliated on national television was firing his offensive coordinator. That was the story Rex told without explaining why Roman was allowed to oversee offensive meetings the day after the game and hours before he was shown the door with $4 million in severance.
Life is good again in Buffalo after the Bills won two consecutive games. Ryan turned over offensive play-calling to Anthony Lynn and defensive play-calling to Dennis Thurman, and the Bills turned the corner faster than LeSean McCoy. Outscored, 50-38, in the first two games, they outscored their next two opponents, 49-18.
Buffalo pummeled Arizona, supposedly a Super Bowl contender, 33-18. The Bills took another step last week when they charged into Foxborough, Mass., and mugged the Patriots, 16-0, dethroning the AFC East kings in their own castle. The same team left for dead three weeks ago is breathing on its own at 2-2.
Suddenly, the tone changed.
Buffalo made a great quarterback in Carson Palmer look ordinary and backed up that performance by becoming the first team to shut out the Pats in Gillette Stadium. The Bills were third in sacks through four games and allowed only 17 points per game, sixth in the NFL and good enough to win more times than not.
Zach Brown is a revelation at inside linebacker. Lorenzo Alexander, playing for his fourth team in five years, already has a career-high four sacks. They’re bullies. The Bills led the NFL in penalties last year but showed more discipline through four games. Marcell Dareus will be rested and more focused after his suspension.
Tyrod Taylor proved he can win a game when throwing more than 30 times, which he did against New England. He’s spreading the ball around with Sammy Watkins on the sidelines. McCoy was averaging 4.4 yards per carry. The Bills were finally putting Mike Gillislee to good use. It’s only a matter of time for Walt Powell.
It’s all good.
The Bills could win their next four games. The Rams were NFL weaklings going into the season. San Francisco at home? Please. Miami stinks. New England already lost to Buffalo at home, so it’s plausible to believe the Patriots would have an even tougher time in Orchard Park.
If the Bills get on a roll, look out, Seattle. Buffalo could be 7-2 at the bye. Shaq Lawson will give them another asset and prove why he was a first-round pick. Sammy will be coming back at full health. The schedule is soft down the stretch with Cleveland and Miami at home and the Jets on the road.
Three weeks ago, some people had them pegged for 1-8 going into the bye. What morons. We already know that’s not going to happen. Speculation was rampant that Ryan wouldn’t survive the bye week, and Doug Whaley could follow him out the door. Three weeks later, the organization is humming.
Rex is a genius!
Sorry. I’ll stop there.
Look, fans who braced for another long, dreary football season should celebrate the Bills in victory. When they win, everybody wins. Ask the restaurant and tavern owners, or the stores selling Bills’ merchandise, or the people who run newspapers and broadcast companies for that matter.
It would be wise to take a closer look at the first four games, tap the brakes and proceed with caution. I seem to remember offering the same advice in 2008, when Bills Nation was planning the parade after a 4-0 start only to see them close out the final 12 games with a 3-9 record.
In 2011, they opened with three straight victories and had a 4-1 record before finishing 7-9. This marks the sixth straight season in which Buffalo was 2-2 or better, and you know what happened in the other five. To me, the 2016 Bills look no better than the others and, in certain areas, they look worse.
Buffalo’s win over Arizona was desperately needed, and it came from a desperate team that was on the verge of implosion. It also came over an overconfident team traveling across the country. The Cardinals had a penchant for starting slow and did. They also outscored Buffalo, 18-16, over the final 40 minutes.
It appears Arizona was overrated going into the season, too. The Cards lost their two other games at home, the opener to the Patriots and last week to the Rams. Buffalo travels to Los Angeles this week. The Cardinals are 1-3 while the Rams are 3-1. Las Vegas oddsmakers aren’t impressed by the Bills, who are underdogs Sunday. New England’s choices for quarterback were third-string rookie Jacoby Brissett, who had a bum thumb on his passing hand, and receiver Julian Edelman. With three victories in their pockets without Tom Brady, among others, and Rob Gronkowski limited, they handed the kid a conservative game plan and lost.
While Bills fans rejoiced in victory, New England flicked defeat from its sleeve. Bill Belichick didn’t use his timeouts late in the game the way he normally would when trailing by two scores. He treated Sunday’s game like a nuisance in the preseason. He cared more about injuries and long-term success than the result of one game.
So let’s be real. The last two games, more than anything, stimulated our communal mood swings during football season. If the Bills won their first two games and lost the last two, fans and media would suggest they were exposed. Ryan would be back on the hot seat, from which he rarely strays, with Whaley on his lap.
Rex appears safe for now, and so does Whaley, but check back later this season. If we learned anything in the past few weeks, it’s how quickly the tone can change.