Sunday's 34-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders at New Era Field signals something more than just being an early-season enigma. The 5-2 Bills near this season's halfway point as the franchise's best team since it placed a four-year Super Bowl runner-up during the early 1990s.
Dark shadows loomed over this organization for so long, it's hard to accept the Bills are just a half-game behind the New England Patriots for the AFC East division lead and the conference's best win percentage.
The Bills franchise and its fanbase have experienced so much heartache, a belief in an actual curse developed. Starting with Scott Norwood's failed field-goal attempt in Super Bowl XXV, extending to the Music City Miracle and continuing into the team's current 17-year playoff drought, the Bills experienced more than their fair share of disappointment.
The difference between today's squad compared to the one that featured future Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith is startling. Yet the current incarnation demands respect for its complete culture change, aggressive approach and opportunistic style of play.
Owners Terry and Kim Pegula didn't have to consult an exorcist to rid the franchise of its demons. They simply needed to make the right hires. They did so when they agreed to a deal with head coach Sean McDermott in January and named Brandon Beane the new general manager nearly four months later.
McDermott and Beane weeded out those who no longer fit the team's profile. Stephon Gilmore, Robert Woods, Zach Brown, Marquise Goodwin, Justin Hunter and Nickell Robey-Coleman left in free agency. Beane traded away top receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams, top cornerback Ronald Darby to the Philadelphia Eagles and 2016 second-round pick Reggie Ragland to the Kansas City Chiefs. His decision to trade defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday came as no surprise, either.
Those personnel moves allowed a streamlined core and an identity to emerge. That was never more apparent than during Buffalo's performance Sunday against a perceived Super Bowl contender, the Oakland Raiders.
Everything starts with the Bills' talented backfield.
Tyrod Taylor is criminally underrated. Even his own team didn't seem to want him around at times, but that's no longer the case.
Since taking over as the Bills' starting quarterback in 2015, Taylor owns a 45-to-14 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He's also one of the league's most mobile quarterbacks, having racked up 1,323 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
His teammates respond to him, too, per Bleacher Report's Tyler Dunne:
Taylor was efficient against the Raiders, completing 74.1 percent of his passes for 165 yards and two total touchdowns. He tallied only a single rushing yard on six carries, but ability to scramble in the pocket opened up the offense on more than one occasion, as seen below courtesy of the Bills:
His presence also helps workhorse running back LeSean McCoy.
McCoy is able to find more creases in defenses because they must account for Taylor at all times. The 29-year-old runner often gashes opponents in these cases. He ran for 151 yards on 27 carries against the Raiders, which places him a cut above the NFL's other running backs, per NFL Research:
Even with Taylor, McCoy and a physical offensive line, room for improvement exists. The Bills wide receiver corps is a dead zone, as McCoy and tight end Charles Clay lead the team in receptions.
Jordan Matthews entered Sunday as Buffalo's top wide receiver with 12 receptions for 172 yards. He snagged only three passes for 21 yards against the Raiders' weak pass defense. Meanwhile, Andre Holmes and Zay Jones flashed some potential with three catches each. Holmes led the way with 51 receiving yards.
Both Holmes and Jones could become bigger parts of the offense moving forward, or the Bills could pursue another wide receiver prior to Tuesday's trade deadline. Adding a legitimate presence outside the numbers would create even more opportunities within the scheme.
As the organization is aggressive with regard to talent acquisition, there's still room for improvement.
Buffalo certainly was when it signed Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer in free agency, drafted Tre'Davious White in the first round and changed the team's overall defensive approach. Now, the Bills defense is among the league's best at creating turnovers.
Even with Poyer, Ramon Humber and E.J. Gaines out of the lineup due to injuries and Dareus gone, McDermott knew his defense wouldn't suffer a letdown.
"I'm confident heading into this game," he said Friday, per Rodak. "I'm confident in the players, that they're going to go out and execute, [in] the backups that have to step up. That's the mentality we embrace. You saw that last week [in a win over Tampa Bay], I expect the same this week."
Derek Carr and Co. couldn't match up against the opportunistic group. Two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a defensive touchdown swung the contest in Buffalo's favor. McDermott's squad is now plus-14 in turnover ratio, while no other team is more than a plus-eight, per The Football Database.
The victory against Oakland is the team's fourth straight at home, and the advantage becomes more obvious each time the Bills circle the wagons in Buffalo, per the team's public relations department:
A new attitude within the locker room coupled with a burgeoning home-field advantage and a style of play that translates to the postseason makes this Buffalo's best opportunity to finally end its perceived curse.
"It's hard to go against the eye of the tiger," McCoy said after the contest, per the team's site. "We will fight and claw our way until the end. This team is a family."
The Bills Mafia no longer needs to live in misery. Embrace the change.