Saturday and Sunday in Western New York were two of those autumn days an old guy like me remembers fondly, so fondly that sometimes I wonder if they ever really happened. Did I just imagine bright sunshine, mid-60s, the wind stirring just enough to cool and refresh your face? Clouds drifting by, trees decorated with red and yellow and orange, some trees already bare. And football. When I was a kid I loved playing touch football with my friends on days like this, sometimes in the street, sometimes in a field the builders had left vacant.
Sunday, Bills fans gathered at New Era Field to watch the Bills play the Dolphins. It was a beautiful day, like the ones I remember from my childhood, and I went to the field to watch a game instead of play one. Tailgate parties were everywhere, music played, footballs were tossed around. It was perfect.
Then the football started, and things were no longer perfect. The reality of the NFL set in, “on any given Sunday” and all of that. More about that below.
I had planned to bring my grandson to the game, but that didn’t work out, and I had an extra ticket. I sold it through the Bills and NFL Ticket Exchange, which worked really well. I was worried that I’d get a Dolphins fan, and I was pleased when a Bills fan named Peter showed up and took his seat.
Peter isn’t just any old Bills fan. Peter is a Bills fan from the United Kingdom. His sister came to Canada as a young woman and never left. She lives in St. Catherine’s, and Peter comes to visit her every year or two. He became a Bills fan during the Kelly Super Bowl era, watches the Bills on television when they’re on and watches the Red Zone when they aren’t. He planned this trip for these three weeks, hoping he could catch two or three home games.
We had a good time together. I usually clap and make some noise when the Bills are on defense, and after a while Peter start doing it, at least on the big plays. Peter’s an accountant and I’m a lawyer, and I think Peter realized that if I could make a fool of myself at a football game, he could too!
My seats are on the Bills sideline at the closed end of the field, and Peter got some good video of the fourth quarter touchdowns and the fan celebrations.
He’ll be back.
Maybe I’m imagining this too, but I’m pretty sure that in his first year as head coach, Sean McDermott taught his players to win the fourth quarter. Whatever else happens, win the fourth quarter. And so it was again on Sunday, when the Bills in the first half looked like anything but a 4-1 team playing the winless Dolphins. They moved the ball in fits and starts and took a lot of penalties. Three listless drives ended in field goals. The Dolphins seemed to know all the Bills tendencies and those easy completions Josh Allen got earlier in the season were nowhere to be seen. Everything was difficult.
As good as they were on defense against the Bills, the Dolphins were better on offense. They had studied the film and found plenty of weaknesses in the Bills’ defense. In Ryan Fitzpatrick they had the kind of veteran quarterback who could attack those weaknesses play after play. It was masterful performance by Fitzpatrick, who repeatedly found the open receiver and delivered catchable balls. And the Dolphins were running the ball effectively, too.
14-9 at the half.
When the Dolphins put together an incredible 19 play, 9+ minute drive to open the second half, they seemed ready to surprise the league and beat the Bills. Earlier in the game, I had told Peter that through Fitzpatrick’s career, his unfortunate trademark had been the untimely interception and then, as if to prove to Peter that I had some special insight, Fitz was Fitz one more time. In his defense, his throw wasn’t horrible, but they rarely are. He put the ball in a spot where his receiver could catch it but where a really good defensive play could beat him, and Tre White made the play.
The interception followed an amazing sequence where the Bills stopped the Dolphins on third down near the goal line. White almost stopped the fake field goal short of the first but saved the touchdown. Then Jordan Phillips burst into the backfield to tackle Fitz for a big loss. The fans erupted, and on the next play, White made the interception.
Then the Bills won the fourth quarter. It started on the two-yard line after White’s play, right in front of Peter and me. Most of the drive was in the final minutes of the third quarter, including a beautiful 23-yard completion to Duke Williams. The fourth quarter began, and the Josh Allen completed the 98-yard drive with another beautiful throw, this time 20 yards to John Brown on a skinny post. Brown ran a great route and fought off the defender’s hold, and Allen delivered the ball. Gorgeous. The Bills had the lead.
When Tre White forced a fumble six minutes later, the Bills got another touchdown, and the game was over.
A loss would have spoiled a perfect weekend; the Bills had to win, and they did.
A few random observations from the game.
1. In the 11-on-11 warmups before the game, the defense always lets the running back slide through the line so that he can run 40 yards and complete the imaginary touchdown. On one rep, Singletary broke through the line and headed for the end zone. Kurt Coleman surprised him, jumping in front of Singletary as if to make a tackle. Singletary made a great, quick change of direction and blew past Coleman to the goal line.
The two joked about it as they returned to their positions. When he was up next, Singletary caught a pass and ran to the end zone. Coleman surprised him again, this time catching Singletary from behind at the goal line and grabbing him. They joked around again and returned to their positions. They were like two lion cubs wrestling and playing with each other.
2. I was a big McCoy fan, and I loved having him on the team, but, man, it’s a pleasure watching Frank Gore work. Every run is a quality run. He gets the most out of every play, gets up and does it again.
3. Josh Allen really seems to have lost his feel for the deep ball. He missed McKenzie up the right sideline, and he overthrew Roberts badly deep down the middle. Can he only complete those passes to Foster?
4. John Brown is the sweet receiver we’ve seen on highlights for years. His touchdown was professional, and his 24-yard reception a few minutes later was textbook. So nice.
5. A few weeks ago, when Tre White clinched a win with an interception off a twice-tipped ball, McDermott praised him for doing something they teach – keep running to the ball until the whistle. Sunday, Jerry Hughes turned and ran upfield on a Fitzpatrick completion. His hustle put him in position to recover the fumble White created. Big play. Oh, and if we liked seeing Kyle Williams in the offensive backfield last season, I can’t wait to see Jerry when it’s his turn. That man can run with the ball!
6. After the Bills took the lead in the fourth quarter, the defense forced the Dolphins to punt. On third and five, Allen had his overthrow of Roberts. While still on the field, Beasley ripped off his helmet and threw it 20 yards to the bench. He was really hot. I don’t know why, but I’m guessing it was because he was open for the first down and Allen got greedy.
It looked like he talked to Barkley about it on the bench , and Barkley then talked to one of the coaches. Beasley regained his composure and made a really nice catch for the TD after the Hughes fumble recovery. It should have been an easy score, but Allen drilled it high and outside. Beasley wasn’t going to miss the opportunity.
7. Micah Hyde is really talented. He went way into the air to catch the onside kick after the Dolphins second-last desperation drive. Hyde’s the primary “receiver” on their onside kick recovery team because the Bills trust his hands and his judgment. Interestingly, the primary receiver on the other side of the formation is Lee Smith. I don’t get that.
8. Shouldn’t Hyde have given himself up at the one-yard line? Take a knee, let the offense come out and run out the clock? By scoring the touchdown, he left the game in doubt. The Dolphins could have scored a miracle touchdown, on a kickoff return, long pass, gadget play, something, and had another chance at an onside kick.
9. I’ve always liked Fitz. He’s been cursed, playing on a series of bad teams. I’m sure the Chiefs wish they had him as their backup instead of Matt Moore. Fitz would be having a ball running that offense. Or imagine if Fitz had been the backup in New Orleans; he might not have been better than Bridgewater, but he would have had a chance to run a big-time offense.
10. I’ve never liked the QBR. I don’t understand it, and I don’t think it does what it’s intended to do, which is to measure a QB’s overall performance. Sunday’s box score is a perfect example.
Fitz had a QBR of 60, and Josh Allen was 50. Huh? Fitz’s passer rating was 88 compared to Allen’s 111, Allen ran for more yardage and a better average, Allen threw more TD passes and fewer interceptions, somehow Fitz has a dramatically better QBR. Why? Because he scored a touchdown in semi-garbage time? Fitz had a good game, but Allen was better.
Thanks for a nice afternoon, Peter. Safe travels.
The Rockpile Review is written to share the passion we have for the Buffalo Bills. That passion was born in the Rockpile; its parents were everyday people of western New York who translated their dedication to a full day’s hard work and simple pleasures into love for a pro football team.
Editor’s babble: A perfect day in Buffalo for a football game! Thankfully, this time the Bills didn’t find a way to lose. Thanks to Mark Korber for his contributions to our blog. You can’t find Mark on Twitter, but you can find him posting at twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall.