By Mike Meiler
Niagara Gazette — ORCHARD PARK — It’s sure nice to be on the winning side of one of these, isn’t it?
Anyone who has followed the Buffalo Bills for the past decade could fill a book with stories of heartbreaking losses. Fans probably remember where they were for the “Music City Miracle” or any of a number of Tom Brady-led comebacks.
It’s a cliche in sports that learning to win is the toughest task for any young team, one that Bills fans know all too well to be true. Last week, after yet another excruciating loss, I wrote a column about how this franchise would be a loser until it proved otherwise — a column met with criticism from my own mother, who chastised me for being overly negative.
Well, a week and Sunday’s 24-23 comeback win over the Carolina Panthers later, I’ll gladly eat my words.
For once, the Bills were the team making winning plays. The defense was stingy, and while mistakes were made, the unit buckled down in the red zone, where it limited the Panthers to 13 points in four trips. Late in the fourth, with Carolina in the middle of an 11-play, clock-killing drive that sent fans to Ralph Wilson Stadium’s exits, Arthur Moats stepped up and stopped big running back Mike Tolbert 1 yard short of a first down that would’ve ended the game.
Offensively there were struggles, particularly with quarterback EJ Manuel, who looked the part of a rookie for most of the game. But with 1:38 remaining, he found veteran poise, taking what the Carolina defense gave him and driving down for the winning score.
“(Last week) we ended up with the defense out there and we didn’t take care of business,” said defensive end Mario Williams, who set a franchise record with 4.5 sacks. “The offense came out there and they stepped up with no timeouts and drove down the field. That shows the character of this team.”
Most impressive, though, was the relative nonchalance with which the team handled the win. As a rookie reporter, I’ve been in two post-game locker rooms — last week’s after a crushing defeat, and Sunday’s after an exhilarating win. Sure, players were much more enthusiastic to talk following the victory, but there was no huge celebration, at least not once the reporters rolled in.
Even the press conference with Manuel, head coach Doug Marrone and wide receiver Stevie Johnson seemed subdued. Sure, some of that had to do with Marrone dealing with the loss of long-time friend Rob Edson, a colleague from Marrone’s time at Syracuse who died suddenly Saturday, but the organization seemed to be focused more on improvement than celebrating the win.
“Anytime you win, it’s (going to be) a better week,” said left tackle Cordy Glenn, who helped pave the way to 149 rushing yards — the first time the Panthers gave up more than 70 in five games. “We’ve got to celebrate then forget about it.”
“It wasn’t a perfect game,” added running back CJ Spiller. “It wasn’t pretty out there on some of the plays, but it just goes to show that we’re not where we want to be.”
Nobody is going to call the Bills playoff contenders after one win, let alone Super Bowl-bound. But a win like Sunday’s for a young team can go a long way.
“We bust our butts in practice,” said defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, credited with 1/2 sack. “We do the best we can to try to turn this team around. The attitude is there, we just want to put the ‘Ws’ with it. Today was just the start.”
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