There you go. The Bills beat the Redskins on Sunday, 24-9. They’re 6-2 for the first time since 1993, the last of the Super Bowl years. The six wins are against teams with a combined record of 9-41. Hey, someone had to win the Dolphins-Jets game.
So in the victorious aftermath at New Era Field, veteran linebacker and team spokesman Lorenzo Alexander was asked if he and his teammates ever stop to wonder, ‘How good are we, really?”
“No,” Alexander replied. “I mean, we’re lining up against NFL players. One team might be better than another one, but we play the opponent that’s in front of us … whether it’s the Patriots or the worst team in the league, it doesn’t really matter to us.”
Safety Micah Hyde was more blunt about one of the weakest first-half schedules in recent NFL history: "I’m done apologizing for wins,” Hyde said. "We’re 6-2. This time last year, we were 2-6.”
True. A year ago, they were on a four-game losing streak in which they scored 33 total points. Now the Bills are tied for the second-best record in the AFC. They got to six wins before the 11th game for the first time since 2000, breaking a streak of 17 straight losses in such situations.
When you’ve endured two decades of persistent dysfunction, you learn to appreciate the high points. A win is a win. It doesn’t matter if it bears a faint resemblance to so many forgotten victories in the Tyrod Taylor and Trent Edwards eras.
But that doesn’t mean critics have to apologize for wondering if the Bills are more than an average team. We needn’t apologize for sitting through another desultory performance against an NFL bottom-feeder and asking if they’re as good as their record, or if they’re more than an average team.
Yes, they won. For the first time in five home games, they didn’t trail in the fourth quarter, or at any point. They didn’t allow a touchdown. Josh Allen didn’t throw an interception for the third game in a row and had one TD rushing and another passing.
Fine. But they let a bad team hang around, as they had done against the winless Bengals and Dolphins, and sputtered offensively for long stretches. Frank Gore was stopped three times in a row from the 1-yard line in the second quarter (Allen scored on a fourth-down sneak) and another fourth-and-1 later.
Most troubling of all, the run defense got run over again, at least in the first half. Adrian Peterson, resurrected under new coach Bill Callahan, rushed for 101 yards before halftime, all between the tackles. Peterson had four runs of 17-plus yards in the first half, more than he’d had in his previous 12 games.
A week earlier, the Eagles had rushed for 156 yards in the second half, and 218 in all. Over a stretch of four quarters, the Bills gave up 265 yards on the ground. That’s hardly worthy of being considered elite, as they were earlier in the season.
Allen admitted they had been punched in the mouth by the Eagles. They took one in the kisser again, but this time they were able to punch back against an awful team with a rookie quarterback (Dwayne Haskins) making his first NFL start.
So it’s hard for an objective observer to feel confident about their chances of making a playoff run. Their own management declared its own doubts, remember, by failing to make any moves at the trade deadline to bolster their chances.
Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane wouldn’t admit it. They’ll insist that not making a deal showed their faith in the team they have. But in reality, they know this team isn’t ready to make a title run and that next year, Year 4, is the real target.
If so, fans can be happy to know that the Bills have finally identified and liberated their back of the future. Rookie Devin Singletary was finally turned loose against Washington, granting the wishes of thousands of fans who were wondering why the heck they hadn’t given him more touches sooner.
Sure, Singletary missed three games after hurting his hamstring against the Giants. But they didn’t give him many touches in the opener and he didn’t carry the ball once in the first half in the loss to the Eagles.
But on Sunday, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll turned the kid loose, giving him a career-high 23 touches (his previous high was nine). Singletary responded with 95 yards rushing and another 45 receiving — 49 on one breathtaking catch and run.
In a game that featured the NFL’s two leading active rushers, Peterson and the Bills’ Frank Gore, it was Singletary who finished with the most yards from scrimmage and was the most dynamic player on the field.
“It was kind of the same approach,” said Singletary, who now has 370 yards on 52 touches. “Just stay ready, be ready. Whenever your number is called, be ready to make a play.”
Singletary has been saying that all along, that he would wait patiently for his number to be called. He has the look of a star. The only question is how long it’ll take, and whether they’ll go back to Gore as their preferred back. The Bills have seemed reluctant to turn Singletary loose, same as they have with Allen.
They have the feel of a franchise that doesn’t believe it’s quite ready, that their best is a year or two down the road. Why wouldn’t an outsider wonder how good they really are, when they don’t seem to know themselves?
Jerry Sullivan is a sports columnist with over 30 years experience in Western New York, as well as the host of The Jerry Sullivan Show from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. weekdays on 1270 AM The Fan. Follow him on Twitter @ByJerrySullivan or respond via email at email@example.com.