It’s hard to believe that a 2-9 football team can be doing much right. There was serious speculation that the Buffalo Bills would go winless after losing their first eight games, joining only the Detroit Lions in the bowels of league history as the only team to go winless in a 16-game season.
Normally I would agree with anyone saying that a 2-9 football team is a really bad team. However, to get a really good gauge of a team, just looking at the schedule isn’t enough to determine how good they are, but rather, how did they get there?
That is where it becomes apparent that the Bills are closer to turning this ship around than their schedule would suggest. Other than the games earlier in the season against the Green Bay Packers and the New York Jets, every game has been decided by 10 points or less. That loss to the Packers was close at the half too with the Bills only down 13-7 going into halftime.
It’s not easy to believe that a 2-9 team could be all that competitive, but in this case, it’s the truth. Take a look at these scores:
- eight-point loss to the New England Patriots in Foxboro.
- three-point overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
- three-point overtime loss to the surprising Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium.
- three-point overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Ralph.
- three-point loss to the Chicago Bears.
All of those teams could very well be in the playoffs. Being competitive is the first step to changing the culture of this team. There’s no two ways about it, this team has a losing culture. They have had it for years. They need to be competitive along the way to changing to a winning culture.
They are doing that this year and most people around the league are realizing it. Steelers linebacker James Farrior, in an interview with NFL.com’s Vic Carucci, said that he thinks “they’re a good football team” and is “glad [he doesn't] have to play them anymore.” You can read the rest of Carucci’s piece here.
Farrior is a veteran and he’s seen a lot of teams in this league. If he’s glad to not play a team again, that means something.
Right now, this team is still struggling to win games. They have learned how to compensate for a bad half of football, though. Against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Bills trailed by 21 points in the second quarter and by 17 at the half. They won by 18 points.
Against the Steelers, the Bills looked ugly in the first half and were lucky to only trail 13-0 going into halftime. Yet they forced overtime and almost won the game three different times.
This is a team that is still learning to win, but they have learned some important lessons this season. So how are they being competitive this season with a team that supposedly is lacking in talent everywhere?
They are competing with a journeyman quarterback drafted in the seventh round who some Bills fans thought should be cut in preseason. Raise your hand if you thought Ryan Fitzpatrick would be having this kind of season. Yet here he is, completely in command of this offense, and unlike former quarterback Trent Edwards, this offense is responding to him readily.
They are competing with a seventh-round wide receiver drafted three seasons ago who never got much playing time the last two seasons. Unlike Fitzpatrick, there were fans (myself included) who thought Steve Johnson could be a good wide receiver. He’s blown everyone’s expectations out of the water this season. No one was sure what his ceiling would be, and no one is sure even now, but their thoughts and expectations have risen immensely.
Johnson isn’t the only receiver surprising this season, though. They’ve received contributions from two undrafted rookie free agents and a receiver most thought would never contribute on offense, only on special teams. Until Roscoe Parrish went on injured reserve for a wrist injury, he looked like what every fan envisioned he could be: a lightning-quick receiver who makes acrobatic clutch plays. David Nelson and Donald Jones have both shown themselves as clutch receivers that can make plays.
With the Bills operating out of the shotgun a lot of the time, and head coach Chan Gailey running the spread offense at times, having four wide receivers that can make plays is a necessity. The Bills have had five wide receivers fulfill that role this season. We still haven’t seen what Marcus Easley can do, but reports from Organized Team Activities this past offseason hint that he could turn out pretty special himself. In the passing-dominated NFL of today, a team can never have too many good wide receivers.
The Bills are being competitive because they are getting solid play from a position that was considered one of the biggest needs going into the offseason. After left tackle Jason Peters was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Bills have been struggling to protect the quarterback’s blindside.
Well, no one is complaining about blindside protection this season due to yet another seventh-rounder in Demetrius Bell. He has been healthy after recovering from a serious injury and depending on your source, he’s given up between zero and three sacks this season. Either way, that’s extraordinary for a seventh-rounder at left tackle.
There are still a lot of issues that need to be resolved before this team can challenge further. The defense has issues against the run and covering the tight end. Make no mistake, though. Chan Gailey has this team headed in the right direction. With some more talent added during free agency and the draft, this team could be good or better. What the Bills need to add will be addressed in my next post, a Christmas wish list for the team, if you will. Stay tuned!