Special Teams Gaffes. Buffalo Bills special teams are renowned for being very good. Good enough to win games. The special teams almost lost this game. Rian Lindell missed a 41-yard field goal in the third quarter, with the wind at his back and just outside his automatic range. Jon Corto's holding penalty negated Leodis McKelvin's would-be punt return touchdown, which would have iced the game considering the weather and the way the Lions were playing. Bruce DeHaven has got to tighten this area back up once again.
Killer Instinct. Buffalo had this game won way before the fourth quarter. McKelvin's punt return should have iced it. The drive where Lindell missed should have as well. This can be expected with a younger team that hasn't won (at all). They have to develop the sense of when a team is on the ropes, and end the game at that time. The Lions were on the ropes twice in the second half, and thelet them off the hook. This will come with time and more wins.
Chan Gailey's second half play-calling. I've been mostly impressed with the way Gailey has called games. Unlike some, I'm perfectly happy with the way Gailey retreated his play-calling into a running shell in the second half. It was ball-control and the right offense for the weather. Some calls, however, were a bit mind-boggling. Right before Lindell missed the field goal, Fred Jackson broke a 27-yard run to set up the Bills at the Detroit 32. After two straight runs, Buffalo faced a third and two. Gailey ran the fullback. Why not run the horse that got you there? Jackson isn't a great short-yardage runner, but he will make something out of nothing, and will gain yards if the blocking is there. Earlier in the quarter, when Buffalo should have been running to milk the clock, Gailey called two straight passes, and only ate 29 seconds off the clock. There were a lot of instances when Gailey should have been running more and passing less to eat up clock and limit Detroit's chances.
Team Defense. Hooray for the defense! The Lions are the 7th-best passing team and 10th-best scoring team in the league, and have put up a bunch of those numbers with Shaun Hill at quarterback. Granted, the Lions are ranked 30th in rushing and the weather was bad, but the defense looked good. Last week, I wondered if the players were finally getting it, or if the Bears made them look good. The question still stands, but now Buffalo's defense has played well for two weeks. Kyle Williams, a.k.a. Meatball, is having a Pro Bowl quality year. McKelvin is playing well. Donte Whitner was laying the lumber all day. And number 90, who are you and what did you do to Chris Kelsay?
Belief. For the first time all year, the Bills looked like they knew they could win. They were a step faster to the ball, and seemed to play a bit faster and were generally assignment sound. That's what happens when you think you can win. Buffalo has a bunch of red-chip types that give a lot of effort and have suddenly become disciplined. They have no real blue-chippers. With a franchise quarterback and some more belief, this team could be better sooner than anyone thinks. Maybe the worst to first comparisons with Miami were a season too early? Maybe.... we'll see.
Fred Jackson. 2010 is 2009 all over again. He started out 2009 faster than 2010, but ended up splitting carries with Marshawn Lynch before becoming the feature back midway through the season. Both times, Jackson carried the team. Gailey could afford to call run after run because Jackson was delivering. His subtle moves and cutback instincts make him hard to contain. Once you think you have him, he gives 100% of second effort and gets the extra yards he shouldn't. Gailey rode running backs in his Pittsburgh days. Hopefully this is the beginning of Jackson as his horse.
Short but sweet: Buffalo is still in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, and won't be among the worst teams in league history. And they won! Hooray!
Next up: November 21 in Cincinnati versus a Bengals team that's more hapless than the Bills, in a place where Buffalo has traditionally performed very well.