The Buffalo Bills have reached their bye week with a record of 4-2. Just three teams in the AFC have a better record - and one of them, the 5-1 New England Patriots, are a team that the Bills have beaten. Three more conference teams are also 4-2. Here are five things Bills fans should be talking about as the team rests up and looks to continue its quest for the playoffs.
This team goes as Ryan Fitzpatrick goes. NFL teams take on the personality of the head coach and the quarterback. The Bills get their never-say-die attitude from Chan Gailey, but they have a tendency to perform as their quarterback performs. They're capable of some beautiful things, and they're capable of being frustratingly inconsistent. Fitzpatrick is a good football player, but he is a flawed and prone to the head-scratching play. The Bills are a good football team, but prone to losing in frustrating fashion. Get used to it. These are your Buffalo Bills.
Fred Jackson is awesome. Nothing has been more surprising this season than Jackson emerging from the doldrums of the oft-overlooked veteran to the NFL's elite at his position. He's already set a career high with six rushing touchdowns. He needs just 461 more rushing yards over the team's final 10 games to equal his career high, and 92 more receiving yards to do likewise. He is the NFL's second-leading rusher with 601 yards, and is the Bills' third-leading receiver with 279 yards. I'll say it again: in a league that doesn't (justifiably) favor quarterbacks in the MVP race, Jackson is a legitimate candidate for player of the year. Quite simply, he is awesome.
Buddy Nix was right about the offensive line. Before the season started, Buffalo's GM said that the team had a better offensive line than most people thought. He was right. The unit was not great, and sprung more than a few leaks in Week 6, but they're a consistent unit that Chan Gailey has successfully schemed with and around to maximize their talents. Good lines don't need to open up gaping rushing lanes and give their quarterback five-plus seconds to throw the ball; they need to be consistently good at what they're asked to do. Thus far, the line has done its job.
The team's apparent flaws remain apparent. I could write a big, lengthy paragraph about this, but Jerry Sullivan hit the nail on the head. We knew where the Bills were weak, and while those areas of weakness have proved to be problematic - save the offensive line, which I think I can safely generalize as saying that Bills fans thought would stink - the team has still found a way to win games despite those issues. The Bills are in year two of a massive organizational re-build. The progress they've made from year one to year two has been, frankly, astounding - even amidst the frustration of close losses that otherwise marred an excellent start to the year.
There is no reason not to be optimistic. At least, not to me. Perhaps my perspective is slightly different in that I've poked and prodded every aspect of this team and organization for over four years in writing this blog, but I haven't felt this good about the Bills since they were perennial playoff contenders in my impressionable teenaged youth. Call it a moral victory if you like - and I absolutely sympathize with the idea that it's OK to be upset in a game where wins and losses are the bottom line - but I've enjoyed every game this season thoroughly. Even the losses; those were character-building losses, folks. I came into this season with the idea that the team would make progress while chipping away at their flaws, and they've vastly exceeded my expectations. They're now a good football team that has the ability to compete with any team on any field. That's such a huge leap from the hopelessness of the Dick Jauron era, and even year one of the Nix and Gailey reign, that I've taken a sit-back-and-enjoy-the-progress stance on this season. The Bills are so obviously trending upward that it's been difficult for me to get frustrated by the details. I imagine that will come with time - perhaps even after the bye week is over - but for now, I'm taking the general view. The Bills are back. They are relevant. In time, they could even be one of the more feared teams in the league. They're not there yet, but I trust Nix and Gailey to get them there.