Niagara Gazette

November 4, 2013

MEILER: Even in loss, Marrone and Co. are winners

By Mike Meiler
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — ORCHARD PARK — Doug Marrone was, well, upset, following the Buffalo Bills' 23-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. He said so himself, though in slightly-less-printable words.

And he had a right to be. Rarely in the past decade has this been true, but Marrone's Bills deserved to win on Sunday. The Chiefs entered the game with an 8-0 record, the lone undefeated team in the NFL. The Bills were an afterthought, a 3-5 team with a first-year coach trotting out a third(ish)-string, undrafted rookie quarterback.

You wouldn't have guessed it after the opening kickoff. The Bills did whatever they wanted in all three phases — offensively, defensively and on special teams. Leodis McKelvin returned a punt for a score, though it was called back on a penalty. Jeff Tuel threw a 59-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin. CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson ran wild, and the defense held the Chiefs to 210 total yards.

Eventually, turnovers — football's ultimate equalizers — killed the team's chances of an upset. The Chiefs scored 17 points off turnovers, including two defensive touchdowns on a Tuel interception and a TJ Graham fumble. But in a season where expectations were never high outside (and probably realistically inside) the organization, the result doesn't matter.

What does is that Marrone, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine had their team — playing without its top two quarterbacks, with a banged up Spiller and some lingering injuries in the defensive secondary — one or two bad decisions away from knocking off the last undefeated team in the league.

The Bills have remarkably had the opportunity to win nearly every game this season, last week's 35-17 loss to New Orleans notwithstanding. They've done so while dealing with injuries at quarterback, running back and in the defensive backfield, each either the thinnest or most important position on the team.

The NFL's short, 16-game schedule, mixed with the number of plays and the number of players involved in each play, makes it difficult to truly get an idea of a team's identity. There are simply too many variables each week and two few weeks to get a positive read. Eventually, you have to go out on a limb and call a team what it appears to be.

Right now, the Buffalo Bills are an inexperienced team with questions of depth that is finding a way to overcome injuries and has not met a challenge that it wasn't willing to get up for.

That's on coaching, and for the first time in a very long time in Buffalo sports, that's a good thing.

Respond to Niagara Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler or by email at mike.meiler@niagara-gazette.com.