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Jerry Sullivan's Hot Read: Rex & the Bills take care of business

OK, so there's a lot of season left, and we've been fooled before when Bills teams went on winning streaks early in the season.

They made it difficult on themselves Sunday at New Era Field. Colin Kaepernick showed he's more than some backup quarterback who kneels during the National Anthem. Tyrod Taylor again struggled at times as a passer, but threw one gorgeous touchdown throw and made a number of astonishing plays with his legs.

But all nitpicking aside, their 45-16 victory over San Francisco was a reason for Bills fans to stand up and shout. It gave them their first four-game winning streak since 2008, lifted them to 4-2 on the season and established them as a viable playoff contender in the AFC. When it was over, I doubt anyone gave a damn about Kaepernick.

One month ago, the Bills were 0-2 and looking like a train wreck. Firing Greg Roman looked like a panic move and a scapegoating. We were contemplating 0-4 and wondering which national network would be employing Rex Ryan next season.

But Ryan, who never lost faith in his coaching ability or his team, turned it around when things looked most dire. He knew he might be coaching for his job this year, so he decided to do it his way, bringing in his own defensive guys -- his brother Rob, John Blake and Ed Reed -- to help teach and better express his vision of defense.

He put Anthony Lynn, who had never an offensive coordinator, in place of Roman two games into the season. I didn't like it. Most of the national NFL writers ripped Ryan for it. But so far, it's hard to argue with the results. It's a little early to paint Lynn as some offensive mastermind who simply needed his chance.

But the early results are certainly persuasive. On Sunday, in a windy stadium, the Bills scored 30 or more points for the third time in four with Lynn calling the shots, four of the last five overall. For the second week in a row, Lynn put together a run-heavy game plan to compensate for a weakened receiving corps and it worked to near-perfection.

The Bills ran for 164 yards on 21 carries in the first half against San Francisco. A week earlier in LA, they had 148 yards on 14 carries at halftime. That's 312 yards in the first half over the two games, at 8.9 yards a pop. A running game right out of the 1960s. LeSean McCoy, who wanted Lynn as the OC and has validated it with his play, had over 100 yards in each of those first halves.

Lynn had backup guard Ryan Groy reporting in constantly as an eligible receiver, giving the Bills six offensive linemen to execute the run game. He rotated his tackles on the direct snap that McCoy ran in for a 12-yard touchdown to give the Bills a 14-10 lead in the second quarter, a lead they would never relinquish.

They even used backup quarterback EJ Manuel on a second-and-8, and Manuel kept the ball around left end for 8 and a first down. The Bills were 6 of 7 on third down in the first half, making it by the slimmest of margins a couple of times as receivers sharply broke off their short patterns precisely at the first-down marker.

Defensively, the Bills gave up yards, as they had in LA. Kaepernick was OK in his first start of the regular season. He validated the notion that he would be ideal for Chip Kelly's offense, making plays with his legs and unleashing a 53-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith to give the iners a short-lived 10-7 lead in the second quarter.

But as usual, the Bills were tough when it mattered, holding the Niners to field goals instead of TDs, while converting when they had a chance in the red zone. The Niners drove to the Bills' 14-yard line on their second possession. But a holding call set them back and they had to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Phil Dawson.

Later in the half, a drive stalled and Dawson booted a 48-yard field goal. Conversely, the Bills were lethal when they got deep in San Francisco territory. Taylor found Charles Clay on a third-and-5 from the Niners' 12. Then, on second-and-goal from the 4, McCoy took an option pitch from Taylor and coasted into the end zone for a touchdown to make it 7-3.

Make no mistake, the Niners are a bad football team. They have lost five in a row and given up a 100-yard rusher in all of them. They might be the worst team in the NFL.

Over the last three games, the Bills have beaten a third-string quarterback (Jacoby Brissett) and two marginal starters (Case Keenum, Kaepernick). But you have to beat the teams you're supposed to beat in today's watered-down NFL.
The Bills have hurt their playoff chances in recent years by losing to bad teams (Oakland in 2014, the Jaguars last year). If you're a good team, you take care of business against the weak sisters.

They have now beaten the Rams and the Niners after stunning the favored Cardinals and Patriots. The Bills are a good team right now, a well-coached and motivated squad with an elite running game and smart, hungry defense leading the way.

It's a tribute to Ryan that he pulled them from the depths and lifted them to this point. He's finally living up to his reputation as a terrific defensive coach, while looking like a better head coach that he's been given credit for.

This was Ryan's first four-game winning streak since 2010, the year his Jets got to the AFC title game. He used the same model he's using now: Great defense, a highly ranked running game, and an efficient, mistake-free passing game.

That model eventually found its level in New York. How far Rex can take it in Buffalo remains to be seen. But he is proving again that doing it his way can work, at least in the short term. The man deserves a lot of credit for that.

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