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Vic Carucci's Take Five: Revived running game helps Bills rise above Bucs' mediocrity

Here are how my five takes before the Buffalo Bills' 30-27 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers worked out:

1. Avoid a playing-down-to-your-opponent repeat. Check.

The Bills came close to sinking to the Buccaneers' level and having it cost them as it did in their Oct. 8 loss at Cincinnati. There were enough lapses on both sides of the ball to make it a two-game losing streak, but the Bills saved themselves with timely big plays on offense, defense and special teams.

Are the Bills a legitimate contender? With the NFL being as wide open as it has been so far, they're as legit as almost anyone else. It's their defense that allows them to rise above the mediocrity of opponents such as the Bucs, but when the strength of their offense — the running game — gets rolling as it did Sunday, the Bills are capable with competing with anyone.

2. Do not let Jameis Winston beat you. Check.

At the times, the Bills seemed to try their very best to allow Winston to come out on top. He threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns, numbers that normally would figure to end up on the winning side.

That they didn't is a testament to a defense that has a knack for forcing turnovers and responding well to adversity. The classic example was rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White, who, after getting beat by Mike Evans for a touchdown that gave the Bucs a 27-20 lead with 3:14 remaining, forced and recovered a fumble that set up Stephen Hauschka's winning field goal from 30 yards with 14 seconds left.

Jay Skurski's Bills-Bucs Report Card: 'A' return to form for the running game

3. Show that the running game does, in fact, have a pulse. Check-plus.

The Bills had 173 rushing yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. LeSean McCoy had a game-high 91 yards and averaged four yards per rush. For the first time this season, quarterback Tyrod Taylor was a significant factor in the ground attack with 53 yards on six carries.

McCoy and others expressed confidence before the game that the Bills would find room to run against what had been the 12th-ranked rushing defense before the game. The Bills' coaches clearly used the bye to tinker with the offensive scheme, because they used more power-oriented than zone-type blocking. The offensive linemen also won a good deal of their individual battles to open holes.

It's notable that Cordy Glenn returned as the starter at left tackle and that the Bills stuck with Vlad Ducasse as their starting right guard in place of John Miller, who was inactive.

4. With or without Jordan Matthews, the rest of the receiving corps needs to, once and for all, do something more than wear uniforms. Check.

Matthews played with a special protective cast on his surgically repaired thumb, and did make a couple of catches for 10 yards.

But the story was the rest of the group.

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How about this? The Bills sign Deonte Thompson on Tuesday and five days later he ends up leading their wide receivers with four catches for 107 yards in a victory. Thompson's 44-yard reception, plus a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty he drew on a hard hit from cornerback Robert McClain, helped set up the McCoy touchdown that tied the game at 27-27 with 2:28 left.

The backup tight ends also rose to the occasion in place of injured Charles Clay. Nick O'Leary had a pair of grabs for a career-best 58 yards. Logan Thomas had once catch, only his second as a pro, but it was for a 22-yard touchdown that gave the Bills a 17-6 lead in the third quarter.

5. Sean McDermott has to show he has learned a thing or two from the "bye week master" and his primary mentor, Andy Reid. Check.

Whether McDermott will ever catch up to Reid's 16-2 career post-bye coaching record is anyone's guess, but he's off to a good start in his rookie season.

McDermott followed the Reid approach of giving his players a full week off, which could have been argued was a questionable move with plenty of offensive problems as the agonizing loss against the Bengals to sat in the Bills' collective belly.

However, the Bills were ready to play. It wasn't always pretty, but that's how it is with these guys. For the most part, they are doing just enough to win ... or avoid losing.

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