Niagara Gazette


September 11, 2011

Playing like this, Bills could make playoffs


NIAGARA FALLS — What a GREAT start for the Buffalo Bills.

That’s what CBS play-by-play man Marv Albert bellowed with six minutes left in the second quarter of Sunday’s barbecue in Kansas City.

Albert was referring to the game, which Buffalo led 20-0 at that point, but he could’ve been talking about the season as a whole. Written off by many of the national pundits — and a good number of locals too — the Bills buffaloed the belief that they will be plucking Andrew Luck at the top of the next draft an hour into the regular season.

To completely disregard the Bills’ ability to contend for a playoff spot so early in September is an ignorant position. We have to wait and see how teams perform in actual games before judging who’s better than who. It’s fun to try and predict how an NFL season is going to happen. It’s less fun to read or listen to those predictions, even though we do it, ad nauseum every August, and then let those opinions shape our own.

Those who make a living trying to predict NFL futures — the professional gamblers — knew what the Bills were capable of. They began the week as six-point underdogs. By kickoff, the big bettors had moved the line down by a field goal. As much as that was a vote of no confidence in the Chiefs, it’s also a statement about the Bills. A statement the players amplified with their performance.

Obviously, the Bills haven’t assembled the most impressive roster. They’re being built on a tight budget. They have no recent track record of success. To have an optimistic projection, you have to have faith in rookies, retreads and injury-prone players.

But spare me the argument that the Bills don’t have adequate talent. Save for a few teams at the top and a few at the bottom, the NFL is an exercise in parity. Competent coaching and quarterback play count for a lot. The Bills have that. Adding a few difference-making players can, well, make a difference. The Bills have done that.

It’s foolish to make too much out of the opener. The fellas at call this National Jump to Conclusions Week. Remember when the Bills beat the defending Super Bowl champions 31-0 in the first game and got the cover of Sports Illustrated? They turned out to be a bad team that year. Maybe it was the jinx. Or maybe the first game was a fluke.

Sunday’s win didn’t seem like a fluke. That’s not to say the Bills are all of the sudden a dominant team. But for the first time in a while, the Bills resembled a complete team. With Marcell Dareus being one of those true difference-makers, they stopped one of the more formidable running games in the league. The secondary played like it was 2009. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson led a balanced offense that scored five touchdowns. The special teams were solid.

After visiting training camp and watching the preseason games, I thought tight end was the biggest weakness on the Bills' roster. Scott Chandler hadn’t even caught his two touchdowns yet when CBS ran a graphic asking, “Can anybody on KC cover the Bills TE.” That’s why I don’t work in an NFL front office.

We have to acknowledge the fact that the Chiefs played like a team that doesn’t particularly care for its coach. Or that the opposing quarterback was playing with cracked ribs. Or fortuitous field position from fumble recoveries that can’t be counted on every week.

But the Bills embarrassed one of last year’s playoff teams in one of the roughest road venues around. Bad teams don’t do that. It’s been forever since the Bills did that.

Covering the University at Buffalo the last five years, I learned not to write off a confident team until it proves itself inferior on the field. The trick is to try and figure out when a team is talking a good game, but isn’t all that confident. That was the case toward the end of Dick Jauron’s tenure, and at various times when J.P. Losman or Trent Edwards was the starting quarterback.

This group of Bills believes it can beat anyone. Who are we not to believe in them?

As Sunday’s game ended, radio broadcaster John Murphy said, “Never in my wildest dreams did I expect the Bills to win by this score.”

Nobody did, Murph. Nobody besides the Bills themselves.

Contact sports editor Jonah Bronstein at r

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