After a crushing 25-24 defeat at the hands of New England on Monday Night Football, we asked the Buffalo Bills to avoid the letdown in their Week 2 home opener. For the third straight time after a loss on a national stage, the Bills rebounded with a victory, handing a 33-20 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while evening their record at 1-1.
This was not a perfect day for the Bills. Four players succumbed to injury, with two (RT Brad Butler and TE Derek Schouman's knee injuries) looking far more severe than the other two (TE Shawn Nelson's shoulder and CB Leodis McKelvin's ankle). The team committed another 7 penalties and turned the ball over twice. After a lightning quick 17-0 start, this game was far too close for far too long. While the Bills flirted with disaster, they also flirted with dominance - and strides were made in this victory.
Offense beginning to take shots, play with attitude
Trent Edwards had another strong day at quarterback, showing poise and toughness in completing 21 of 31 passes for 230 yards and two long scores - one each to each of his top receiving targets, Terrell Owens (43 yards) and Lee Evans (32 yards). Buffalo didn't get a lot of balls thrown in these two players' directions, but they made the most of those deep opportunities.
Edwards' solid start to the season continued. Through two games, he's thrown four touchdown passes - keep in mind he'd thrown just 18 in his career, and 11 in 2008, heading into this season - and is sporting a quarterback rating of 104.9. He continues to make plays with his legs, rushing for another 24 yards on Sunday, and though his one interception wasn't pretty, it came alongside big plays down the field.
Buffalo's offense is now responsible for 43 points through two games - 17 in New England, and 26 yesterday. They'll need to up their production a bit if they want to beat New Orleans in Week 3, but considering what the offense looked like in the pre-season, we'll take 22 points per game for the time being.
It's all about Fred "Action" Jackson
With Buffalo driving late in the second quarter with a 20-7 lead, Jackson fumbled the ball, which Bucs S Sabby Piscitelli promptly returned for 72 yards, with Byron Leftwich hitting Carnell Williams for a score on the next play to cut the lead to 20-14. That was a big blow and, at a minimum, a 10-point swing, but put that play out of your mind - fumbles happen. We're talking about one bad play from Jackson in a veritable treasure trove of great plays through two games.
As Buffalo's only productive running back, Jackson has been asked to carry the load, and to say he's handled it well is to put it mildly. Through two weeks, Jackson has accrued 328 total yards and a touchdown, and he is Buffalo's leading receiver - both in receptions and in yardage. Jackson rushed for 163 yards on 28 carries in the victory over Tampa, and considering how incredibly vital he has been to Buffalo's work-in-progress offensive attack, there's little doubt who the Bills' MVP is through two games.
It's helped, of course, that Buffalo's offensive line continues to exceed (admittedly low) expectations. Edwards was sacked twice more (that's six on the season) and took a few big hits, but the line did a stellar job giving Edwards time to throw for the most part, and they certainly did well opening up rushing lanes for Jackson. LT Demetrius Bell improved on a rough start in New England, taking only one penalty and playing with much more consistency. The loss of Butler, however, could be a huge blow; Jonathan Scott played admirably at right tackle in Butler's stead, but he isn't Butler. Scott limits what the Bills can do hitting the edges of a defense in the run game.
Defense still has some work to do
Helped out by a Bucs offense that struggled to find its rhythm, the Bills made significant improvements in several key areas, including third down defense (the Bucs converted just 4 of 16 opportunities) and in the run game (the Bills held an excellent Buccaneers ground game to just 57 yards on 19 carries). Perry Fewell dialed up blitzes early and often, and though he got mixed results, enough pressure was generated on Leftwich to fluster him. Leftwich finished the day completing 26 of 50 throws for 296 yards, three scores and two costly interceptions.
Many will point out that Leftwich's two picks were gifts, and they're partly right. Let's not pretend that these weren't very athletic plays, though. The touchdown itself was a gift in terms of Whitner's interception, but the catch itself was an outstanding athletic play. Whitner's running mate, Bryan Scott, got in on the action as well, scooping a bobbled throw off the turf and returning it for big yardage. Buffalo's opportunistic secondary will need to step up its play next week with Drew Brees coming into town.
But DT Kyle Williams - who enjoyed a second consecutive outstanding performance, by the way - said it best post-game: Buffalo's defense needs to be a bit more resilient in tough situations. Allowing a touchdown on the first play after Piscitelli's fumble return was ugly. So was the touchdown drive the Bucs put together after the Bills took a 30-14 lead on Owens' touchdown catch. Those are drives that the defense needs to avoid. Those drives kept the Bucs in it for far too long. That's an area that the Bills' defense in particular needs to work on - closing.
RB Fred Jackson - I said enough above, I believe, but I'll say this again: he's our MVP by miles through two weeks.
C Geoff Hangartner - Jonathan Scott gave Hangartner a ton of credit post-game for being the veteran leader and communicator on an impressive young offensive line. The rookies get all the talk, but Hangartner's the key player up front.
S Donte Whitner - I got on Whit's case pretty hard this off-season. Whitner has played like a man possessed in these first two games; aside from the pick-six, Whitner had a big stop on a fourth-and-one yesterday, and been all over the map in making 18 stops in those first two games. Yeah, he's been in on giving up some big throws as well, but for now, his move to free safety looks like it's paying big dividends. He is now playing the way you'd expect a first-round pick to play.
Buffalo (1-1) will meet the New Orleans Saints (2-0) next Sunday in Orchard Park. The Saints, behind Brees' 8 touchdown passes in two weeks, are the talk of the league right now, averaging 46.5 points per game. To say that this will be a tremendous challenge for our young Bills is putting it mildly.