Last week after work I jumped in my truck, excited to drive to the airport. I was excited because the flight I was boarding was headed to Buffalo so that I could experience my first Bills game at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Although the final score was a disappointment, much about the game was not. I’ve been to a lot of Bills games as a visiting fan, but sitting in the Ralph with 73,000 Bills fans all screaming for the same thing was like nothing I’ve done before. We may not have won, but there was a lot to cheer about from this young Buffalo Bills team.
From a players perspective, I think Jim Leonhard said it best in his post game interview. “There are no moral victories in this game,” and he is certainly right. Sixteen weeks from now the fact that the Bills almost pulled it off in week one isn’t going to help their playoff destiny, and that is the perspective that the team has to have! Luckily for us as fans though, we have the luxury of being able to look at the good things even in a heartbreaking last second loss.
The Bills defense was a big bright spot on the field Sunday afternoon. I can’t remember the last time that we knocked Tom Brady down as many times as we did Sunday. We only recorded two sacks but he was pressured time and time again, causing him to throw many errant passes, including an interception shortly before the half that allowed EJ Manuel to throw for his first regular season touchdown to second round pick Robert Woods.
On paper, the Bills secondary didn’t have a phenomenal performance but this was the part of the defense that I was most impressed with. It was a unit missing its two best players in Stephon Gilmore, and Jairus Byrd. They allowed 273 yards through the air, but also had some great pass break ups, and other than a couple plays didn’t miss too many tackles. Amendola caught ten passes for 104 yards in his first start for the Patriots. This number is way too high, but press coverage from a strong corner like Gilmore could drastically limit Amendola’s productivity.
EJ Manuel came out of the gate in his first game and put up a good completion percentage, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. He didn’t throw for a lot of yards, but he didn’t make any big mistakes either. His ability to scramble in the pocket and run when necessary will cause defenses problems when he gains some more experience and starts to throw the ball more often.
CJ Spiller was completely stalled out by the Patriots defense on Sunday. I don’t know if it is the different scheme that is limiting field vision, or what the real problem is, but he had no luck finding a hole in New England’s front seven. If the rushing game could have gotten going more it would have opened the offense up all together. On the scoring drive in the third quarter the Bills ran 9 times out of 11 plays, gaining first downs on the ground and wearing out the Patriots defense. With the run being successful it helped allow Stevie Johnson to easily get over the top of the coverage in the end zone. If we can get the run game going like we expect it to be with Spiller, this offense could be very consistent… and very good.
In the end our lack of time of possession left a tired defense on the field for much too long, and Brady was able to put together the game winning drive. Despite how painful it was to watch that ball sail through the uprights, leaving only five seconds left on the clock, we still saw something good on the field that day.
We saw a defense that was put in some tough positions but fought hard time and time again to give our offense another chance. We saw a rookie quarterback who looked confident in the pocket, and not rattled at all in his first regular season start. We saw a team that, if they cleaned up even a couple of the big penalties, could have easily walked away with a victory against a team that was favored by ten points going in. I’m not saying it means anything for sure but it sure seems like this team is moving rapidly in the right direction.
Was there a moral victory in there somewhere? I don’t know that I have a good answer for that. And I don’t know if it was because it was my first time experiencing football at the Ralph, but I do know I’ve never walked away from a week one loss and felt better about a team than I do right now.