The Buffalo Bills had lost eight straight road games coming into the contest at Cleveland today, but the Bills were able to break that streak with a 24-14 win over the Browns to improve their record to 2-1 on the season, and maintain at least a share of the lead in the AFC East division.
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three touchdown passes and the Bills used their ground game and passing attack to control the ball en route to their second straight victory in 2012.
Bills' running back C.J. Spiller injured his shoulder in the first quarter after being tackled on a short pass play that he was able to turn into a significant gain. Spiller never returned to the game and we are still awaiting word as to the severity of the injury.
The Bills depth has been tested already in 2012, as the Bills lost Fred Jackson to injury in Week 1 and now Spiller in Week 3. Hopefully Jackson will be ready to go for the big AFC East division showdown with the New England Patriots next Sunday.
C.J. Spiller hurts his shoulder versus the Browns
Since we don't have official word yet on how long C.J. Spiller will be unable to play due to his shoulder injury, let's open this up to the possibilities of what to expect going forward.
It could be an injury similar to the one Fred Jackson had, where he could be gone for a three to six-game window. The Bills would then ask other players on offense to step up and pitch in, which is exactly what happened today, as Buffalo saw production from RB Tashard Choice, rookie WR T.J. Graham and Brad Smith.
It could be a serious injury to the point that he was out months, or even longer. If Spiller was ruled to be out for two or three months, that puts the Bills in a tough spot. They already have used their designated player to come back to the team later off of I.R in Ron Brooks, so that isn't an option for Spiller. The Bills would have to either eat his roster spot and declare him inactive each week until he is ready to play.
The Bills already have Choice and Johnny White as active players, so it will be interesting to see if the team makes any other moves at running back. Fred Jackson may possibly return for New England, and if push came to shove, you can ask Brad Smith to run the ball out of the Wild Cat offense.
The worst-case scenario is that Spiller has to go on I.R. for the rest of the year, which would put him out of consideration for the playoffs as well should the Bills advance that far.
Ryan Fitzpatrick turned in a solid enough game for the Bills today, as he completed 22 of 35 passes for 206 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Fitzpatrick did have one turnover, as he attempted to throw a pass that slipped out of his hand and was ruled to be a fumble. That play was big at the time, as Buffalo was driving for points, but had to walk away with nothing to show for the drive.
Fitzpatrick had a number of passes batted down or deflected in the game, but luckily, none of the deflections or bounces turned into interceptions. Fitzpatrick guided the Bills to scoring drives four different times on Sunday out of the 11 drives the Bills had in the game.
The Bills only gave up one sack of Fitzpatrick for a loss of two yards, so that means in three games that Fitzpatrick has only been sacked one time. He was required to throw the ball on the run today and was usually accurate with his throws on those occasions. Still, there were some open receivers that he missed badly on, but we have come to expect that he will have some clunker passes in every game.
Fitzpatrick scrambled when he needed to and set up a very nice screen pass to C.J. Spiller that resulted in a 32-yard touchdown play. Fitzpatrick improvised on one busted play and threw a little two-yard pass to Spiller, who, in turn, was able to turn it into a big play, but then Spiller went down with the injury at the end of the play.
All in all, if Fitzpatrick plays like this, he will continue to give the Bills a chance to win most weeks, especially with the defense playing as well as they are.
All four of the Bills defensive line starters got in the sack dance today, as each of them were able to get to Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden today. Mario Williams recorded his first sack as a member of the Bills. Kyle Williams and Mark Anderson also came up with a sack today, and Mario Williams and Marcel Dareus combined for a sack as well, as they celebrated with their own little impromptu dance in the photo.
After the first three games, the Bills sack totals have gone from zero, to five and now four. If they average three sacks per game, that would be a welcome change, but even more than three would be icing on the cake.
The Bills defense proved to be tough against the run again today, as Trent Richardson didn't have much room to operate. The Bills were credited with five hits on Weeden today, so the pressure continues to look like it will be more often than not.
Bryan Scott continues to come up with big plays. He intercepted a pass from Weeden today, giving him one turnover in all three games this season. He returned the ball to the one-yard line, where the Bills knelt down in the victory formation to run out the clock.
Leodis McKelvin also got in the act with an interception today, so the Bills added two more interceptions to their total turnovers on the year.
Hopefully, the Bills defense will have some more interceptions they can add next Sunday, because they will probably need them when the Bills line up to defend against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
No doubt the secondary is benefiting from the improved pass rush. If that stays constant, the Bills should be in the plus side of most turnover battles this year.
Tashard Choice was asked to take over the featured running back role from C.J. Spiller when Spiller went down with the shoulder injury. Choice responded with almost 100 combined yards of offense today, as he ran the ball 20 times for 91 yards and caught two passes for eight yards.
Choice had one play when he was able to break through the line en route to a rush of 22 yards. Between Choice, Spiller and Fred Jackson, all three backs have been able to crank out a run of at least 20 yards or more already this season.
Johnny White got a few touches, as did Brad Smith. As long as Jackson is due back soon, the Bills seem like they have enough depth that they will be OK for a while.
The Bills got on the scoreboard with a touchdown pass to rookie WR T.J. Graham. Ryan Fitzpatrick found Graham open in the middle of the end zone, and the Bills were able to score on another red zone drive.
The rookie receiver made another nice play later in the game, when the Bills were faced with a third down and nine yards to go. Graham caught a pass as part of three wide receivers out wide to the right-hand side and was able to use his blockers and pick up a key first down by more than one-half of a yard.
If Graham continues to develop, that will really help to overcome the loss of David Nelson in the Bills offense. It will be interesting to see how much more that Fitzpatrick looks for the rookie in the upcoming weeks.
First-round draft pick Stephon Gilmore learned a valuable lesson today, as Browns rookie WR Travis Benjamin beat Gilmore on a move today for a play that resulted in a 22-yard touchdown. Benjamin made a move that caused Gilmore to completely lose sight of Benjamin, and by the time that Gilmore could recover, Benjamin was hauling in the touchdown pass.
Later on, Bills rookie LB Nigel Bradham was involved in a special teams play. and two Browns players were trying to give him an extra shot while the whistle was blowing. Bradham lost his cool and retaliated, which of course, was witnessed by the referees, who marched off a 15-yard penalty against the Bills.
The plays involving Gilmore and Bradham are prime examples of how the rookies can still make mistakes, but it is believed that both players are making progress and are learning from their mistakes. As the year progresses, the Bills will be counting on all of these players to take on a greater role.
Steve Johnson led the Bills today with seven receptions for 61 yards and one touchdown. Johnson didn't draw a penalty flag for his touchdown celebration, so it appears that he has learned his lesson the hard way from prior efforts that wound up hurting the team.
Johnson led the Bills with 11 targets and had a couple other passes that bounced off his hands. Johnson looks like he is able to continue producing every week for Buffalo.
If the running backs continue to go down with injuries, it will mean that Johnson, Scott Chandler and Donald Jones will need to take their game up a notch going forward.
Johnson's groin injury doesn't appear to be a factor at all, so it appears to be all systems go for Johnson.
The Bills run defense turned in a very good game on Sunday, as they limited the Browns to just 33 yards on 13 carries. The interior defensive line, led by Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus, allows the Bills to control the line of scrimmage, and that allows the linebackers to step in and prevent long runs.
Against Cleveland, the Bills defense was credited with eight tackles for a loss. LB Nick Barnett led the Bills with eight tackles, and it was clear from the beginning that Trent Richardson and the other Browns backs didn't have much daylight to work with.
If the Bills can continue to force opponents into 3rd-and-long situations based on the strong run defense, that bodes well for the Bills on multiple fronts.
Since the New York Jets defeated the Miami Dolphins in overtime today, the Jets and Bills are tied at 2-1 atop the AFC East division, awaiting the outcome of the New England Patriots game against the Baltimore Ravens.
With the Bills facing Tom Brady and the Patriots in Week 4, it will be imperative for the pass rush to continue to keep creating ways to get to the quarterback, as pressure up the middle seems to be a key to beating Brady.
We will have to see what news transpires on C.J. Spiller, so all we can do for now is sit back and hope he can still return later this year.
The Bills hopefully learned how to cope with early-season success from 2011 and will use those experiences to stay hungry and continue to play winning football over the next few weeks.
Thanks for checking out the presentation.