Each year, even veteran, established NFL squads claim it is a different team, year, and often, result. For younger, inexperienced bad teams, they make that claim even more often. But the new, New Era Buffalo Bills have transformed their lineup and makeup in dramatic fashion, and the result was a drama-filled sea change in momentum and ultimate, unexpected win on the road against the sputtering, choking New York Jets.
The best part might be that most intended improvements materialized before our eyes.
The offensive line was horrendous last year and, hence, systematically dismantled. Most were shipped out with their coach. The new beasts quickly exchanged pleasantries and immediately took out their aggression on the Jets. They played exponentially better and more cohesive than their predecessors and pretenders, despite not having played together at all in the preseason.
Mitch Morse went from concussion protocol to giving the Jets headaches, solidifying calls, stuffing pass rushers and flashing remarkable nimbleness. Quinton Spain and Jon Feliciano provided vet leadership, grit, shrewd smarts, staunch anchorage and a nasty punch. The jailbreaks that wreaked havoc on Josh Allen as soon as the ball was snapped last year were squashed by the new warden in town, Bobby Johnson.
John Brown’s body of work has been completely missing for years. His rep as a deep threat was both proven and shown to be misleading. He not only runs the entire route tree, he picks off passes like low fruit. Cole Beasley, despite two major yips, makes the passing game diverse and difficult to defend. The two rookie TEs didn’t disappoint or disappear like their endless earlier incarnations with Ryan Neufeld Syndrome, who were all the same player with no special qualities. Lee Smith blocked like Lee Smith. The position morphed from a liability to possible lethal strength.
Devin Singletary almost singletarily got the Bills back, and is a revelation, despite early game jitters. The whirling dervish rookie got bulk yardage on all four scampers, sprinting for a ridiculous 70 yards and a 17.5 YPC. There is a new sheriff in town.
Josh 2.0 provided grist for his detractors as well as his growing legion of converts. Bad Josh flashed, but good Josh showed notable improvement in accuracy, patience, short passing, control of the offense and play, plus late-game heroics, including the win.
For decades, whenever we witnessed inconsistent but decent QB play, it was a pretty good game but a disheartening loss. Josh put the team on his tall, broad shoulders and guts, and then gamed out a win, going 8-for-10 and accounting for two scores in crunch time. The Bills had six plays of 20 yards or longer and the Jets were grounded to none.
Josh is a different player despite some old bad habits. Seemingly sunk at second-and-16 with a little more than three minutes to go, the New, New Era Bills say, “We got this,” and it is not even a major surprise they picked up the first. Previous teams, quarterbacks and maybe Josh Allens, come up short. Not these guys; not this guy.
The defense, in its third year in the McDermott/Frazier scheme, is a new iteration and significantly improved despite 10 of 11 returning starters. Gone are the gashes up the gut, anemic pass rush, bend but do not break strategy, and red-zone zaniness. These guys didn’t bother bending let alone breaking. They gave Sudden Sam Darnold fits all afternoon, and suddenly he was frustrated and all but immaterial. Hurried Sam became harried Sam.
Four sacks and nine hits were bruising. A healthy Trent Murphy, the antithesis of Murphy’s law, provided two-pronged pressure. Shaq Lawson looked as tall as Shaquille as he batted down two balls (now if he could only bat them up!), had a sack and held up his edge. The pure speed and power of top newcomer, Ed Oliver, gave Jerry Hughes more room and time. Darnold could not step into the pocket because it didn’t exist. The Bills' interior defense previously looked like they wore khaki cargo pants with little and big pockets everywhere, instead of the big boy pants they put on at MetLife Stadium.
The run defense was stout, even against one of the league’s best RBs. The new, new era features reconstructed terminators, Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano, who both showed flashes as youngsters and now show flourish as young vets. Neither needs to think as much and can just turn on their explosive jets. Edmunds had a good, erratic rookie year, but now set to make a huge sophomore jump and not slump.
In turn, the coaches can dig much deeper into their bags of tricks on both sides. Josh knowing the offense and the clear leader allowed Brian Daboll to re-construct his Patriots offense in the first few drives. IMO, it was not the idea to start the game with 18 consecutive pass plays (a couple scrambles by Josh notwithstanding). Allen was given a binary choice. If the Jets lined up A, they would run, and if they lined up B, they would change the formation and then pass. They always played their base and so we always passed.
The rookies never looked as green as the Jets. The special teams didn’t lose field position or the game as earlier installments of “new” Bills, and like the Jets did. Kaare Vedvik lost them four points. Hausch Money has never missed (12-for-12 on FGs, 24-for-24 on PATs) in seven games at MetLife.
The newfound composure held the team together through adversity and eventually into the end zone. The culture took firm hold. The resilient team effort became an invigorating full team win, and renewable energy for Bills fans everywhere.
Pete Rosen is a screenwriter in Los Angeles, lifetime Buffalo fan and may be found blathering daily at twobillsdrive.com.