Sometimes streaks take some extra effort to break. The Buffalo Bills' road losing streak stood at eight entering yesterday's game against the Cleveland Browns. While Buffalo didn't struggle throughout, they staggered during the middle rounds after losing star running back C.J. Spiller to injury, then regained their balance to close out the win. Great offensive line play, a tough run defense and some Cleveland miscues allowed Buffalo to overcome the Spiller injury (and their own penalties) to get thier first road win in more than a year.
The Good. For years, Buffalo operated with pieced together lines, poor play, and management botches. The decade of futility was embodied by their terrible offensive line. That all seems like a distant nightmare now. GM Buddy Nix has built a talented group; maybe more importantly, head coach Chan Gailey and offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris left most of the group together to gel over the past two seasons. Their efforts are paying off.
On Sunday, the offense lost their star running back, but in the end, it didn't matter. Tashard Choice pounded away at Cleveland 20 times for 91 yards for a good 4.6 yards-per-carry average. Johnny White ran for 15 yards on two carries. Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn't rushed much all day, taking just one big shot (by Cleveland end Jabaal Sheard) on the day. Cleveland did register a "team sack" when Fitzpatrick fumbled in the second quarter, but no Brown was close enough to Fitzpatrick to even register a pressure on the play. It's nearly irrelevant, though. Buffalo's line carried the team on Sunday, and should continue to do so in the future. Buffalo showed on Sunday that they have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL (yes, read that again slowly).
The Bad. After Spiller went down, Fitzpatrick fumbled a chance to go ahead 17-0. But Fitzpatrick's fumble was survivable. Buffalo was still in command of the game at that point, but they nearly gave the game away. For the remainder of the second quarter, when Buffalo should have slammed the door shut on the Browns, they bumbled through penalties that let the Browns back in the game.
From the Fitzpatrick fumble to the end of Buffalo's opening drive in the third quarter, the Bills committed six penalties for 35 yards. Those penalties negated a Jairus Byrd interception - which allowed the Browns to continue the drive that led to their first touchdown - and a 20-yard completion to Donald Jones. While Buffalo recovered, they can't expect to win in spite of stretches with such undisciplined play. The Bills have far more lethal foes ahead. They can't shoot themselves in the foot like they almost did on Sunday.
Let's Not Overreact. Cleveland is a bad team. They've got a rookie quarterback, a rookie running back, a rookie at right tackle, average-at-best receivers, and a defense with no playmakers. Anything that Buffalo accomplished needs to consider the quality of their opponent. Buffalo stuffed Trent Richardson, but Cleveland's line, aside from Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, is young and still learning.
Cleveland's defensive front has no one that demands a double team. Buffalo dominated the line of scrimmage, but they should have. That's the point. Buffalo should have won this game in fairly convincing fashion. Buffalo's 10-point win (without Spiller) only means that Buffalo accomplished what it was expected to do. That's a different mindset than Buffalo fans are used to. Winning franchises don't get excited about beating the teams they should beat.
Outlook. Buffalo emerged from the opening of their schedule a respectable 2-1. They opened horribly against the Jets, but looked dominant versus the Chiefs and took care of business in Cleveland. Here comes the toughest part of the Buffalo schedule.
Everyone is going to learn exactly what kind of team the Bills are over the next six games. Buffalo starts and ends the six-pack against the New England Patriots, who come to Buffalo next week looking not only to avenge last season's loss in Ralph Wilson Stadium, but to also end their current two-game losing streak.