Raiders vs Bills: Top 5 Things We Learned from Buffalo's 38-35 Win
Coming in to this Week 2 battle of undefeated AFC teams, the Buffalo Bills defeated the Oakland Raiders 38-35 in a wild shootout, reminiscent of old American Football League games, to go to 2-0 on the young 2011 season. This was as wild of a second half of a game as you could possibly want to see, as the lead changed hands five straight possessions during the fourth quarter alone.
The Bills had the advantage of a full week of preparation along with playing their home opener in front of a sold-out crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Raiders had just played on Monday Night Football, so not only did they have a short practice week, but they also had to travel cross-country to play this week.
The Raiders played without wide receivers Jacoby Ford, Darrius Heyward-Bey and tight end Kevin Boss. But the Raiders proved that they really didn't even need them, as Jason Campbell discovered rookie receiver Denarius Moore today.
After further analysis, it is safe to say that we learned five new things about the Bills team today and we will explore these topics at length. The Bills now have one day to digest this game, review the tape and then get ready to host the New England Patriots next Sunday. If the Patriots defeat the San Diego Chargers later this afternoon, then the Bills, Jets and Patriots will all be 2-0 to start out the season in the competitive AFC East.
Offense Is Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
We learned that you can't place a label or a tag on the Bills team or on their offense. They were a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde split personality this week. The first half nets three points, while the second half nets 35 points. The rhythm, efficiency and confidence-level couldn't have been any more different from the first half to the second half.
Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buffalo Bills offense completed what I would call a perfect second half. They came in to the half trailing 21-3, but the Bills showed the resiliency that is a trademark of their team. They just don't quit or ever give up, no matter the situation. Everyone recalls the 35-3 comeback against the Houston Oilers in the playoffs. This game had that kind of feeling, but obviously the lead wasn't that big, compared to the Oilers game, but things sure looked bleak at the end of the first half.
The Bills had the ball for five drives in the second half. They scored a touchdown on every drive. How can you do better than that?
In the final drive when the game was on the line, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to focus and convert on both fourth-down conversions to keep the drive alive. He threw the winning touchdown pass on fourth-down with only 14 seconds left to play.
Fitzpatrick distributed the ball around to seven different receivers. The pass attack is unique in that there really is not one guy to key on outside of Steve Johnson. Last week, tight end Scott Chandler came up with big catches. This week, it was wide receiver David Nelson. In the future, it could be Roscoe Parrish, Donald Jones or possibly Naaman Roosevelt, as he will probably be brought up from practice squad at some point during the season.
The Bills Have a Much Better Offensive Line Than Advertised
No unit of the Buffalo Bills has caught more grief or reports of doom and gloom than the Bills offensive line. Analysts and NFL experts alike have been pulling out their hair as to how could the Bills possibly go through another draft class or free agency period without investing a high pick or a multi-million dollar contract on a upgrade for the offensive line.
But here we are, two weeks down and 14 games to go. The Bills' supposedly anemic offensive line has allowed one sack so far this year. The Oakland Raiders had the second most sacks in the NFL last year, but their supposedly powerful defensive line never came up with a single sack in the game. In the second half, with the Bills in desperate comeback mode, you know the Raiders were pinning their ears back and looking to sack Fitzpatrick. But they came up with a big zero. That is a huge compliment to the linemen.
Not only has the pass protection been better, but the offensive line is also opening up some holes for the running game. In Week 1, the Bills gained 163 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs in 39 rushes. Today against the Raiders, they ran the ball 25 times for 217 yards, good for an average rush of 8.7 yards per carry. That means that the Bills offense is becoming very balanced and will be more difficult to defense.
None of the above can happen without the offensive line functioning at a high level. It is time for the Bills offensive line to start receiving more national respect because they are really much better than advertised. We should note that guard Kraig Urbik left the game in the second half, but we do not know yet the extent of the injury. Chad Rinehart filled in for Urbik and did a solid job.
Ryan Fitzpatrick Is Becoming the Bills Franchise Quarterback
Sure, Ryan Fitzpatrick can sometimes be maddening to cheer for. In the first half, he tried to get the Bills offense going, but on some drives, the accuracy wasn't there or the receivers were dropping passes. Then there was the interception that gave the Raiders easy field position that they converted into a touchdown.
But, when the game was on the line in the second half, Fitzpatrick came through on drive after drive. He seems to have ice water in his veins. He calmly faded back and looked over the field on fourth down of the winning drive and calmly threw a perfect strike to David Nelson for the game winner.
He took a number of shots after he released passes, but Fitzpatrick kept getting up and delivered one key pass after another. Despite having a hobbled Roscoe Parrish leave the game, and Steve Johnson out during the key fourth quarter winning drive due to leg issues, Fitzpatrick found a way to produce the winning drive with the Bills "non-descript other receivers," the guys that nobody else wanted: David Nelson, Donald Jones and Scott Campbell.
Fitzpatrick rushed for first downs when he was required to, as he picked up 23 yards on three rushes. As I wrote in an article earlier this week, it is a good thing the Bills have opened up contract talks with Fitzpatrick, because each passing week, his contract demands will keep getting more expensive with each great performance that he turns in. If the Bills can sign him to a contract extension, they can forget using a high draft pick on a franchise quarterback. They appear to be in very good hands already.
Fred Jackson Is Becoming a Star in the NFL
Two games and two straight 100-yard plus rushing performances for Fred Jackson. Jackson gained 112 yards on 20 carries in the Week 1 victory over Kansas City, and he followed that up today with a 15 carries for 117-yard effort, good for two touchdowns.
Jackson is effective whether it is running the ball, catching the ball out of the backfield or picking up a blitzer to provide Fitzpatrick with more time to throw. Whatever you ask Jackson to do, he does it with apparent ease.
Jackson runs with power, but it looks like he isn't really exerting himself that hard. There is a rare smooth quality to his running style, yet he excels at breaking tackles and is one of the hardest guys to tackle in the open field in the entire NFL. If you look up his "elusiveness rating," you will find that he ranks in the top three in the NFL, but he rarely gets mentioned in the upper echelon of NFL running backs.
With two straight 100-yard efforts, Jackson may finally be getting the kind of recognition that the Division III star so richly deserves.
Bills Pass Rush Needs More Work
When the Bills opened up the preseason, the pass rush came out blazing, as they generated nine sacks against the Chicago Bears in the first game. Since then, the bubble on the outstanding pass rush has officially broken.
The Bills were able to get two sacks against the Chiefs in Week 1, but today, they did not have a single sack against Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell. Campbell had far too much time to throw today, and as long as that continues, the Bills secondary will continue to give up long plays like they did today.
The combination of Shawne Merriman, Kyle Williams, Nick Barnett and Marcell Dareus were supposed to be too much for any offensive line to contain, but they really didn't do enough today to throw off Campbell. In fact, the Bills gave up 323 passing yards, which is a direct reflection on the lack of a steady pass rush.
Thankfully rookie safety Da'Norris Searcy has some serious "hops" because it was only due to his strong jumping ability that he was able to intercept the final desperation "Hail Mary" pass of Campbell on the final play of the game and save the win for the Bills.
if the pass rush doesn't lay a hand on Tom Brady next week, we might be seeing another 500-yard performance next week.