On a day tailor-made for old school football, the Buffalo Bills featured their running game en route to a 34-18 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars took very different approaches to a game played on a cold, rainy December day. Chan Gailey, with co-starting running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, decided to run the ball. Mike Mularkey, without star running back Maurice Jones-Drew and starting a backup quarterback, elected to run a more balanced offense tilted toward passing. The better team - with the better running backs and the better philosophy - won handily.
The Good. Buffalo played the Jaguars exactly the way they needed to. The Jaguars entered the game with the league's second-worst record, without their best player (Jones-Drew), starting retread quarterback Chad Henne, and without much established talent to speak of. Buffalo did not need to scheme much to win. Over-think the Jaguars, and it could have led to mistakes that kept the underdog in the game. Gailey mercifully kept it simple.
Consider the play calling for each team, until the score was 34-10: Mularkey called 13 runs and 16 passes in the first half. He followed that up with three runs and eight passes in the second half, until the 34-10 point. That's 16 runs and 24 passes, though Buffalo's defense was stuffing the run well.
Gailey called a more balanced game, and then unleashed his run game in the second half. He called 18 runs and 15 designed passes in the first half. With the weather working against him, Gailey called 14 runs and six passes from halftime until the game was 34-10. Gailey called nine runs and only two passes on Buffalo's last two drives prior to the 34-10 score.
Gailey also featured Jackson over Spiller. With Bills fans everywhere calling for more touches for Spiller, Gailey ran Jackson 25 times versus 14 carries for Spiller. Jackson's stats were good, gaining 109 yards, while Spiller gained 77 yards, including a highlight-reel 44-yard touchdown run in the second half. But Jackson was the right man to grind out the game. Up to Spiller's long touchdown, he ran 12 times for 31 yards. At that point, Jackson had 16 carries for 75 yards. On a dreary, old school football day, Gailey correctly gave more carries to his north-south runner.
The Bad. The young kids in the defensive backfield drew a lot of penalties, as six of Buffalo's 10 penalties were called on Bills cornerbacks. Stephon Gilmore negated a potential fumble recovery in the first half when he held fellow rookie Justin Blackmon, and was also called for pass interference later in the game. Crezdon Butler was called for a hold. Ron Brooks, however, led in infractions. He was called for pass interference, illegal contact on a receiver, and unnecessary roughness. Against a better team, Buffalo's young corners might have paid for their mistakes on the scoreboard. It's another learning point for the young secondary.
Let's Not Overreact. Folks, Jacksonville is the 2009 Bills: they are now tied for the worst record in the league, they're unsettled at nearly every position, have a muddled quarterback situation, and are riddled with injuries to key players. This win should happen the way it did. Sure, the run defense was impressive. The defense had a lot to do with Mularkey passing more. Mario Williams and the pass rush played well. All of this is good - and it all should have happened. I've been pointing out better Bills defense for a few weeks now. The defense is still improving, but the Jaguars aren't a measuring stick. They're a willow branch that should have been rolled over, and they were.
Outlook. Let's get our calculators out. First, Buffalo has to run the table for anything to be possible. Next, the Bills have the same record as Miami and New York again, but Buffalo controls their own destiny, sort of. Miami has another game with New England, and plays Buffalo. Assuming Buffalo wins out, Miami shouldn't be a threat. New York play the Jaguars, Tennessee and San Diego before coming to Buffalo in Week 17. If Buffalo and New York win out to that game, Buffalo can bypass New York with a win.
Pittsburgh and Cincinnati stand in the way of the potentially 9-7 Bills and the playoffs. Cincinnati plays Dallas, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Baltimore to close the season. Pittsburgh plays San Diego, Dallas, Cincinnati and Cleveland to close the season. Both team have to lose twice for Buffalo to pass them and enter the playoffs. And, of course, Buffalo has to win their next four games, starting next Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.