ATLANTA — The Bills have worn me down. There's little room for skepticism after their stunning, 23-17 victory over the Falcons on Sunday. By defeating the defending NFC champs in their shiny new domed stadium, the Bills announced themselves as a legitimate playoff contender.
As I said beforehand, this is their biggest road win in 25 seasons, since they won the AFC title game in January of 1993 in Miami to put them in a third straight Super Bowl. Naturally, it was the biggest road win ever for quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who made the big play when he had to and didn't turn the ball over for the third game in a row.
It's hard to predict what will happen from here. It would be just like the Bills to go lose at Cincinnati next weekend. But one thing beyond dispute is this Buffalo team is much better than expected, a playoff contender under a first-year head coach who has his team playing at a high level.
This was an inspiring effort in all three phases. Tyrod Taylor threw a 34-yard bomb to Charles Clay on the first play after the Falcons tied the game, 17-all, midway through the fourth quarter. That led to Stephen Hauschka's 56-yard field goal, which barely made it over the crossbar.
The defense was sensational. The Falcons had averaged 37 points in their last 10 games at home, and been held under 30 only once. The Bills came within 18 seconds of becoming the first team since November of 2015 to hold the Falcons without a first-half touchdown.
McDermott's defense was aggressive, tough and resourceful. They got a huge, if controversial, 52-yard fumble return for a TD by rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White when Jerry Hughes knocked the ball out of Ryan's hand and White ran it all the way back.
It was an odd call, one that had even the NFL experts in disagreement. But the fact is, the Bills defense forced the action for much of the day, picking off Ryan twice, recovering a fumble and almost coming up with a couple more takeaways along the way.
Bills had beaten teams that finished 27th, 21st and 22nd in passing last season, so the Falcons would be a much tougher test. They had scored 540 points a year ago, the eighth-highest output in NFL history.
Ryan had shredded McDermott's defense in Carolina a year ago, but the new Bills coach was ready for the Falcons' high-powered attack on Sunday. They got after Ryan, tackled with ferocity, and limited a great passing attack. Granted, Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu left with injuries, but the Bills had guys hurt, too.
The Falcons didn't go quietly. There's a reason they scored 540 points last year. They had one last chance after Hauschka's second long field goal. Down by six, they moved to the Bills' 10, helped by a couple of penalties. Atlanta had fourth-and-1, but Ryan's pass for Taylor Gabriel sailed wide with White in tight coverage. The Bills' D, which has been as good as any on the NFL this season, was able to close the deal in a big road game — for once.
Still, for all the hoopla about beating the defending NFC champions, next week's game against the Bengals is bigger from a playoff standpoint. The Bills are 2-0 in the AFC and could get to 3-0 in Cincinnati. In recent years, their early conference record has come back to bite them.
Boy, it'll really get interesting if they get to 4-1. They'll be the talk of the league after this one, anyway. I'm guessing that when those NFL superlatives come out after the first quarter, you'll see lots of experts mentioning McDermott as an early candidate for coach of the year.
Why not, after this one?