Through the first two weeks, the sky was falling with the Buffalo Bills. They lost two straight games, fired the offensive coordinator, and some were even wondering how many more consecutive losses it would take for Rex Ryan to be shown the door.
Fast forward four weeks, in which the Bills have collected four straight wins, and the better question is this:
Are the Buffalo Bills for real?
Following a 45-16 drubbing of a hapless 49ers team, the Bills are now 4-2 on the season and locked into one of the two Wildcard spots in the AFC playoff picture six weeks into the season. How did it all happen?
Seven observations from the game:
1) Bills won the game they’ve lost so many times before
- This is a much larger point than just this one game, but this game was huge for the Bills as a franchise for so much more than just simply beating the San Francisco 49ers. This is a game that, when they’re in a big spot and on the cusp of taking a step forward, has gone against them so many times before. Just look in recent years: 2015 against Jacksonville, 2014 in Oakland, 2012 versus Tennessee: three games where the Bills looked like they were going to take a step forward — and three games were they fell, for fans, heart-sickeningly short. That was the spot they faced with the 49ers. San Francisco had lost each of the last four games, made a quarterback switch, and the Bills were fresh off three straight wins. The Bills had the superior talent, they had the home field advantage, and they had the opportunity to show the league that they were more than just an early season flameout. Rather than taking the route they have so many times before, they won the game that potential playoff teams win — and without a shadow of a doubt. The 49ers hung around for a while, but the Bills made their second-half advantages and unloaded on San Francisco to the tune of 28 second half points, and allowing only a field goal to the hapless 49ers. This game was such an important step for them, but the work isn’t anywhere near being done. It’ll be a tougher matchup next week in Miami, but still one that they can win. This Bills team seems to have a knack for finishing games unlike the other times the Bills started off with a hot start. Now, they just need to finish the job, like they have been doing the last four weeks.
2) Shady -- sans injury scare -- shook the world
- Through the first half, the Buffalo Bills rushing offense — and most notably running back LeSean McCoy — was rolling to the point where the 49ers couldn’t do much to get in its way. McCoy was finding open areas of the field, making people miss in one-on-one opportunities, and busting huge gains almost routinely. At one point, McCoy was averaging over 9 yards per carry in the first half and had a pair of touchdowns to his name. He simply couldn’t be stopped — which is why a hush came over the crowd when McCoy went down with a knee injury near the end of the first half.
#Bills RB LeSean McCoy on injury: That was a quick one. It could have been bad.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) October 16, 2016
Luckily for them, it was only a scare, and McCoy was able to get back on the field and scoop up even more yardage in the second half, along with a third touchdown to his name. McCoy is the most important Bills player on the team, period. If he suffers an injury, the whole scope of the offense changes because they lose their most dynamic playmaker, and don’t have much behind him. Anywhere else, the Bills could get by as long as they have McCoy. For the Bills to keep the same success they’ve had through six weeks going, they’re going to need McCoy to be a part of it all the way through. Disaster averted, and one hell of a game for McCoy for the fourth week in a row.
3) A complete offensive line?
- The Buffalo Bills couldn’t have gotten the type of production that they did from McCoy this week, and really the last four weeks, without the job the offensive line has done in clearing out ample room to roam. From left to right with with Cordy Glenn, Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, John Miller, and Jordan Mills, the Bills have gotten fantastic production on a weekly basis. The headliner has been the type of progress that Miller has made from his rookie season to year number two, but Jordan Mills has turned it around from a poor performance in 2015 as well. In order for the Bills to be as dynamic as they have been running the ball, they needed the play of both sides of the offensive line — in run blocking — to hold up their end of the bargain. It keeps opposing defenses more even against the run, and gives McCoy more opportunities to beat defenders one-on-one in the open field. As the offensive line has gone, so has McCoy, and they’ve been outstanding to start the 2016 season all the way through.
4) Tyrod stepped up when it counted
- About halfway through the third quarter, the Buffalo Bills were letting a poor San Francisco 49ers team hang around only four points down, and it had a lot of the fan base a bit nervous that something would go wrong. Much of that was do in part to the play of Tyrod Taylor. While McCoy and the running game was on fire for much of the game, the passing game really never got themselves going through that stretch of the game. Before the Bills took over with 4:29 to go in the third quarter, Taylor’s day was uninspiring to say the least. At that point, he completed 13-of-22 passes, but for only 119 yards and no touchdowns. If you combine that with his six early game carries for 39 yards, Taylor was averaging a pedestrian 5.6 yards per attempt. The Bills needed more from him, and then they got it over the next three drives. They were short-lived drives, but incredibly efficient ones compared to the rest that Taylor was putting together. On that upcoming drive in the third quarter, Taylor completed a pass to Nick O’Leary for 23 yards, and on the next play delivered a strike to Justin Hunter in the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown. The next offensive series, Taylor completed just one pass to Charles Clay for 14 yards, but kept two plays alive with his feet for big yardage and first downs: first an eight-yard gain, and then a 21-yard gain that looked like a sure sack for the 49ers. The Bills scored a touchdown on the play after the 21-yarder. Then, Taylor found Robert Woods for a five-yard touchdown to ice the game. Over those three drives, Taylor went 4-of-4 for 60 yards, and had two rushes for 29 yards. In those three drives when it mattered, Taylor’s yards per attempt was an astounding 14.8. It wasn’t a perfect day, but once again he’s done enough for the Bills to win — and most importantly, he hasn’t turned the ball over a whole heck of a lot while doing so.
5) Hunter’s role expanding even more
- The Bills claimed the former second-round pick and wide receiver Justin Hunter shortly ahead of the New England Patriots contest, and gave him his debut last week with a fairly large workload considering his circumstances. After all, Hunter had been with the team for all of a week-and-a-half, but managed to get 11 snaps on offense and collected his lone target for a touchdown. Hunter has what other Bills receivers Marquise Goodwin and Walt Powell don’t: height. A bigger role seemed to be on the way, but Rex Ryan cast a bit of doubt on that in the middle of the week.
#Bills HC Rex Ryan when asked if Justin Hunter could be in line for a bigger role, said Hunter has been dropping some passes in practices.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) October 13, 2016
And in typical Rex fashion, that was done with a purpose.
#Bills HC Rex Ryan on earlier week criticism of Justin Hunter: That's my guy. He missed a couple of vertical balls, so I had to zing him.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) October 16, 2016
Hunter responded quite well, securing one of his two targets for a clutch 30-yard touchdown. The snap counts aren’t available just yet, but Hunter was definitely on the field for more than he was a week ago. Considering what he’s done in just two weeks, there’s every reason to believe that Hunter could even push to be the number two receiver as he continues to acclimate himself to the offense. It’s not a sure bet, but it’s clear the opportunity is there for the taking and he boasts some big play potential.
6) Third down, red zone success all across the board
- Outside of the obvious LeSean McCoy, and total Bills rushing statistics from the game, two of the most important statistics from the day are something the Bills dominated in: third down and red zone efficiency. On offense, the Bills were consistently keeping their drives going, converting on 8-of-13 attempts. Defensively, they allowed the 49ers to convert on only 3 of their 13 chances, nearly a 40-percent difference in efficiency between the two teams. Then, of course, there was the red zone in which the Bills flat out dominated. They were a perfect 4-of-4, while San Francisco didn’t convert on either of their red zone opportunities. The Bills were clutch when it counted, and that’s a major part of the reason why they sailed to a 29-point victory.
7) Only negatives: Missed tackles and one blown coverage
- Just like the win over the New England Patriots, it’s hard to find many negatives from the Bills win over the 49ers on Sunday. You could point to the start of Tyrod Taylor in the game, but he turned it around late in the game. No, the only real disappointing parts of the game were some of the issues tackling the opposing team. There were a lot of additional yards gained on both special teams and for the 49ers offensively because the Bills just couldn’t wrap up the ball carrier. The biggest gaffe of the game came with the 49ers lone touchdown of the afternoon, when a combination of the defensive backs didn’t know their full responsibilities, and the play easily went to a wide open Torrey Smith for a touchdown. Really, that’s all there is to complain about. The Bills handled their business on Sunday.
Bills MVP: RB LeSean McCoy
- The offensive line was quite close to earning these honors, but McCoy often makes something out of nothing, and by beating as many defenders as he did in the open field, he gets the nod for top honors.
Bills LVP: OLB Lerentee McCray
- McCray missed some plays both on special teams and defense, and got flagged for a penalty late in the game. There weren’t a lot of candidates, so only a couple of mistakes warranted that. McCray will see his role likely get replaced by rookie Shaq Lawson next week.
Up Next: The Bills (4-2) travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins (2-4) at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, October 23 at 1:00 pm.
GIF of the Game:
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) October 16, 2016
The GIF that keeps on giving.
- There were so many outstanding parts to the game for the Bills in addition to what I’ve already written about. Nickell Robey-Coleman stepping up in another couple of key moments, the run defense allowing only 3.35 yards per carry to running backs on the day, and there’s more. However, this game is the one that playoff team win — and they didn’t leave any room for misinterpretation by the time it was done. They let them hang around, and then they put down the hammer and the game was there’s from the middle of the third quarter on. The job is not done by any means, but it’s hard to ignore that there’s something a little different about this Bills team than the ones that we saw started season off incredibly well in 2008 and 2011 — and also the last two times we saw the Bills begin the season with at least a 4-2 record through six games. This team seems to have that knack of making a clutch play when they need it to put away a victory, not allowing the team to hang around long enough to steal the game. Do they have their warts from the first two games of the season? Sure, offensively, they couldn’t do much. That, however, seems to be in the past as we now have four games to digest with a new vision on offense. The Bills are a long way from doing what they set out to do at the beginning of the season, and they’re going to need to beat some more teams that are worthy of the playoffs. However, the Bills are off to their best start in years, and they have the talent to potentially take this thing all the way to a playoff berth. Can they transform potential into reality? That’s on them, but it’s there for the taking.
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