Sunday, September 25, 2011

A win like this embiggens even the Flutie-sized among us.

In case you weren't reminded often enough, it had been 2,940 days since the Bills last beat the New England Patriots.

The imagery from that opening-day victory in 2003 remains vivid: Waves of pressure on Tom Brady. Sam Adams rumbling, bumbling, stumbling into the end zone with a pick-six. Total domination. It seemed like the Bills knew exactly what the champion Pats would do, and maybe they did, by virtue of the late acquisition of Lawyer Milloy to bolster the defense and cram for the proverbial exam. Then, all of that would prove pretty meaningless, as the Bills couldn't sustain that effort in a 6-10 season.

Today's win? It feels different. As in 2003, it feels really, really good, too -- but better. The Bills are just under a fifth of the way through this campaign, and they now have three wins. That's one fewer than in all of the trying 2010 season. Let's make this clear, though: three wins doesn't buy you much. A divisional win buys you a little more. Winning at home when you need to, when your fanbase so desperately desires it, against the juggernaut Patriots, goes a little further. None of that, though, can really express why the Week 3 win over the Pats feels irrationally good, though. Let’s dive a little deeper.

First, this was most obviously another big comeback victory for the Bills. You’ll probably never leave another game in which the Bills are down again (and what was with all those empty seats in the Jim Kelly club? I’ll send my address and a self-addressed stamped envelope for you to deposit those tickets into, if you don’t mind). Coming back from 21-3 against the Raiders is one thing. A comeback from 21-0 against Tom Brady and co., especially this year’s version, is a feat that few words can express, aside from, perhaps, “big.” There were big takeaways. There were big breaks in officiating, plays made by the Pats and then called back, and the timing of turnovers (and no Bills fan should feel shy about having luck on his side).  Chad Ochocinco's drop of a sure touchdown was the stuff Bills fans are usually used to from their own team in crucial moments.  Big plays came when they were needed. And now, the Bills may end up the week in sole possession of first.

We all know, though, that it’s just one game. What’s more important, and what portends well for the future, is that we’ve seen a measure of consistency in the Bills, not exactly in their execution (difficult to sustain across 60 minutes, and despite the early deficits). Rather, that consistency is evident in the way Chan Gailey and his staff call the game. They once again did not deviate from the game plan when in a big hole. They went for points with 1:05 left on the clock in the first half. They ran the ball with confidence, and Fred Jackson was once again a hero in this game (pay the man). The protection was there when it needed to be, in yet another banner game for the maligned offensive line. Fitz didn’t get discouraged – easy to do against Bill Belicheck – and kept looking for open receivers. Scott Chandler is quickly establishing himself as a TE, and not just in fantasy football, but by getting open at crucial moments. What makes you feel better about this victory is that you saw that the Bills maintained perspective both within and about this game. You know they will celebrate this one (maybe just a bit more than the others) and then go back to work for a trip to Cincinnati. You know that they will be hungry to win against this same team in Foxboro, in a game made more meaningful, later in the year.

If there was a story to this game, it was most assuredly the turnovers forced upon Tom Brady. Brady didn’t play his best, but he didn’t appear to be having as bad of a game as the stat line reflected. Yet, there it is: four turnovers. Chances to take the ball away happen. Actual takeaways are usually a product of good luck, good coaching, and good execution. The Bills got all three today. Most importantly, Brady didn’t get the ball to end the game. If you want to point to a sign of the Bills’ fortunes, it may be that Fred Jackson didn’t get the refs’ call at the end of the game with his arm just a hair short of the goal line, and yet it might have been the best thing for his team. He had done enough work to put his team in position to win, and in position to control the clock. Gailey made the less exciting call, but the right one, to hog the ball until the waning seconds, and trust Rian Lindell on a chipshot to seal it.

There's still plenty of football to be played this year, and no Bills fan felt good about seeing CB Aaron Williams carted off the field.  Every single observer felt that the pass rush needed to assert itself for the Bills to win.  It showed that there is still plenty of room for improvement in that department.  There were things put on tape today that the Bills must shore up, in order to contend.  But this was a win to savor.  It feels good, and deserved.  It feels all the better, though, because of what it might mean in December. Enjoy this win, Bills fans.

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