Nobody would dispute whether the Bills have had their share of breaks so far this season, but there comes a time in which their success can't be dismissed based on good fortune alone. Their defense has been terrific. The running game has reawakened. The whole thing is coming together.
Dare anyone say Buffalo is for real?
If their 3-1 record fails to convince critics that they can win on any given Sunday, the Bills' 23-17 victory over the Falcons on the road certainly should do the trick. The Bills answered yet again with their most impressive road win since … since this whole dreadful playoff drought began.
The Bills certainly didn't make things easy, of course. Their defense answered when it mattered most after Atlanta drove inside the 10-yard line in the final minute. The Falcons were a play away from winning, but the Bills ultimately came through and knocked off an unbeaten team for the second straight week.
Buffalo had its share of fortune last week in the win over Denver with passes bouncing off receivers and finding Bills' receivers and Von Miller getting called for a bogus unsportsmanlike foul to extend a drive late in the game. The Bills were lucky again Sunday, twice in fact, but they also created their share of breaks.
In the third quarter, Matt Ryan appeared to throw an incompletion that was called a fumble before it was returned for a touchdown by rookie Tre'Davious White. Replays showed Ryan's arm moving forward with the ball in his hands after it was dislodged by Jerry Hughes.
Players on both teams stopped, but White scooped up the loose change and returned the fumble 52 yards for a TD. Somehow, the play was upheld on review, and the Bills had a 14-10 lead despite being outplayed. Good things happen when you pressure the quarterback.
In the fourth quarter, Micah Hyde made a diving interception on a ball that appeared to hit the turf. The interception was upheld, which led Stephen Hauschka kicking a 55-yard field goal after making a 56-yarder earlier in the game. Good things happen when you make the extra effort.
Quick question: What is control?
The definition shifts from week to week – or play to play – depending on your perspective. Ryan appeared to throw an incomplete pass, but it was ruled a fumble. What's a catch in today's NFL? Your guess is as good as mine. No matter how many times the NFL has redefined control, it remains a mystery.
Then again, the entire league is a mystery. The NFL has become more unpredictable with every season, none more than this year. Every week, games are up for grabs no matter the point spread in Las Vegas. Picking the winner is difficult enough without the spread. Atlanta was an eight-point favorite Sunday.
Give the Bills credit. They played well enough to win Sunday after holding the Falcons' high-powered offense to 17 points.
Tyrod Taylor completed 12 of 20 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown. He rediscovered the deep pass with a 44-yard completion to Charles Clay in the second quarter that set up Buffalo's first TD. He found Clay in the fourth quarter for a 34-yard pass that was thrown into double coverage that set up a field goal.
Sean McDermott made some dubious decisions Sunday. He elected to punt at the Falcons' 39-yard line early in the game rather than have Hauschka attempt a long field goal after he made two from 50-plus yards last week. He settled for a chip shot on fourth-and-goal from the 1 rather than go for the touchdown.
If they converted, the Bills would have taken a 21-10 lead. Instead, they allowed the Falcons to stay within one score. Sure enough, as their offense is known to do, the Falcons marched down the field for a touchdown. Hauschka answered with a 56-yarder to give the Bills the lead.
McDermott also deserves credit for showing faith in Hauschka late in the game. If he missed, the Falcons could have had a short field while needing a field goal to tie. Instead, they needed a touchdown at the end. The decision paid off.
The Bills had little to lose Sunday – other than a football game, of course – when they showed up in Atlanta against the defending NFC champs. Entering the game with that mentality made the Bills dangerous to a degree. They were a loose team that was determined to play with more aggression.
Rex Ryan often talked about building a bully, an attacking football team that punched first and asked questions later, but it was a myth. The Bills under McDermott played with the passion and competitiveness that had been absent for some time in Buffalo. Can we end any talk about the Bills tanking?
Much has been said about the Bills' defense this season, and rightfully so. It hadn't allowed a touchdown pass in the first three games and surrendered only two TDs total in the first three weeks. But their best defense against the Falcons figured to be putting together long, sustained drives and keeping Atlanta's skill players off the field.
The new regime is still trying to make sense of Taylor – welcome aboard, fellas – but one of his strengths in his first two seasons was throwing the deep ball. Whether he lacked familiarity with his receivers or threw poor passes when they were open, he had failed to connect on longer passes in the first three weeks.
He was bound to break through. Taylor is at his best when throwing on the run, and he threw his best ball all season on a 44-yard completion in a broken play. Taylor found Jordan Matthews in the end zone a play later, and suddenly the Bills had a 7-3 lead midway through the second quarter.
Taylor found rookie Zay Jones on a deep pass later in the quarter, but the receiver lost control while hitting the turf. The Falcons put together a good drive before Freeman scored from the 1 with 18 seconds left in the second quarter as Atlanta took a 10-7 into halftime.
Buffalo couldn't have asked for a better first half on the road than the one it played Sunday. But a familiar question loomed: Would they finish strong or buckle in the end?
You have your answer.