I was reminded last week of the reality of the Buffalo Bills in the early 1990s. I tend to remember big plays, big scores, Hall of Fame performers, but that was only part of the reality. There were plenty of losses in those years, and plenty of other games where the Bills gutted out close wins against mediocre competition.
I was reminded of all those less-than-dominant performances as I thought about the losses to the Titans and the Chiefs, and I felt better about how the 2020 season is going. The goals in the regular season are (1) make the playoffs, (2) win the division, and (3) get home field throughout the playoffs. There are no style points. Losses, of course, don’t help with any of those goals, but there always will be some losses. Ugly wins against less talented opponents are wins, and nothing else.
Yes, sure, if you can’t play well against the Jets, there are reasons to worry, but it’s one more win toward the goals. The Bills are 5-2, and only the most elite of elite teams would be unhappy with five wins after seven games.
The Bills are a work in progress and a work in process. Sean McDermott is far from done building his 2020 Buffalo Bills. They know a lot about how to pass. They’re learning how to run. They know about how to stop the pass, and they’re learning how to stop the run. Whether they will learn enough as the season goes on is open question.
The process is how they progress. They play a game, they learn something new in practice. They play another game, they learn something else new in practice. It’s a process. At the end of the season, they should know how to do a lot of things. At least that’s the theory.
The Bills started the game ugly against the Jets. So ugly that even when the Bills took over the game in the third quarter, it still looked ugly. The only time it didn’t look ugly was when Allen took a knee to end the game, and after the game, when we looked at the stat sheet.
In fact, the Bills did a lot of things right against the Jets. One thing was play defense. When the Jets scored with three and half minutes left in the second quarter, it was the last time the Jets got close to scoring. Actually, after that touchdown, the Jets gained 25 net yards through the rest of the game! One more first-half possession and all of the second half, the Bills allowed 25 yards. Sam Darnold, who looked like a world beater early, could do nothing about it.
The Jets dominated time of possession early in the game, but the Bills finished the game comfortably on top in TOP. The Bills outgained the Jets 422 to 190, and they ran 72 plays to the Jets’ 51. All this after a woeful start, with a missed field goal on the first possession and a lost fumble on the second.
Everything has to be qualified by the fact that this is the Jets, but good football is good football. The Jets came to play; Darnold wanted to beat his buddy, Frank Gore wanted to play well against his old team, the whole team was tired of losing and saw the Bills (with two straight losses and a long injury list) as the team they could beat. The Bills said “no” to all of that.
Poyer and Boettger and Hughes and Oliver and Beasley and Moss came to play, too.
If anyone expected a magical turnaround where the Bills put up 600 yards and 49 points while shutting out the Jets, they were dreaming. The Bills have serious shortcomings exposed during the past two weeks, and those shortcomings couldn’t be fixed in a short week of preparation for the Jets. The Bills still couldn’t throw deep, they still couldn’t run the ball effectively. They still were beaten by attacks on the edge. Early in the game they had trouble getting off the field. Tremaine Edmunds still got pushed around, and the Bills still were getting penalized big-time for unnecessary roughness.
But the Bills showed progress. They improved their possession passing game, going repeatedly to Beasley and Diggs and Kroft underneath. Allen was in charge of an offense that effectively and repeatedly marched down the field – one fumble and eight field goal attempts. They played ball control with their passing attack, just like the Chiefs do.
The Chiefs, of course, also have a running game, and the Bills should study Chiefs’ game film, 49er game film, Ravens’ game film, and continue to add wrinkles to their own run game. Moss and Singletary aren’t burners, and they need good creases to make their gains. They can get those creases as the passing game continues to move the ball effectively and to challenge defenses deep. It’s all a package, and the Bills are working on it.
The Bills couldn’t find the end zone, and their place kicking leaves everyone shaking their head. Some things to work on.
The good news is that they have the right guy handling the ball. Josh Allen had his usual collection of mistakes against the Jets, but he continues to dazzle nevertheless. His most impressive talent – other than his arm – is his ability to manage the pocket. He stands firm when unthreatened, and he moves and eludes tacklers while staying in the pocket. He handles the blitz reasonably well. When he scrambles, he’s as dangerous as Mahomes. He makes good decisions, most of the time. He’s throwing the ball away when he should. He’s been getting better for two and a half years now, and he will continue to get better.
Milano’s back, with luck Brown will be back next week. Getting Norman back on the field will help. Feliciano will help. Learning and improving will be key.
The upcoming game is big. 6-2 at the halfway point would be an excellent first half. More importantly, the Bills beating the Pats would be the symbol the league and football fans everywhere have been waiting for – someone to bury the Pats deep in the standings. It won’t be easy. Belichick doesn’t like losing, and he’ll do a better job game planning against the Bills than the Jets did.
It’s a process.
Editor’s babble: Thought of the same thing… how many ugly wins and losses the Bills had during the 90s. Thanks to Mark Korber for his contributions to our blog. You can’t find Mark on Twitter, but you can find him posting on twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall message board.