The 2007 Buffalo Bills finished with 7 wins and 9 losses. That record was surprising given the incredible amount of injuries the team suffered (17 players on IR at season's end) and the fact that the team, ultimately, was starting rookies at both quarterback and running back. When your football team is as surprising as it was, regardless of statistical rankings et al, there are going to be positives to take away from the season.
So here they are. 7 highlights for 7 wins, all related to the 2007 season.
#1 - The rookie season of Marshawn Lynch.
The Bills featured only one consistent performer this season. No offensive or defensive player was as consistent in both production and value to the team as rookie running back Marshawn Lynch was this season. In just 13 games (he missed three with a high ankle sprain), Lynch amassed 1,299 total yards (1,115 of those on the ground) and took part in 8 of Buffalo's 20 total offensive touchdowns (7 rush, 1 pass). His rookie season was good enough to rank him #11 in the league in rushing, and he was tops in the league in rush attempts per game (21.5). Marshawn was literally the NFL's workhorse of 2007, and he didn't come close to disappointing. By far and away, Lynch is Buffalo's MVP.
#2 - The play of several key reserves.
If there was a plus side to all of the injuries the Bills endured, it was the emergence of several reserves as prominent starters or role players heading into 2008. I speak specifically of: QB Trent Edwards, RB Fred Jackson, CB Jabari Greer and FS George Wilson. Edwards' story is the biggest - the rookie quarterback had a promising 5-4 record as a rookie starter, and has a good chance at retaining the starting job for 2008. Jackson, too, became a mini-celebrity in Buffalo after rattling off 300 rushing yards behind Lynch in the season's final 5 games. He and Lynch as a combination could keep Buffalo's running back stable set for the forseeable future.
Defensively, you have to be impressed by the seasons that Greer and Wilson put together. Greer finished 7th on the Bills with 45 tackles, picked off 2 passes (including one that set up a game-winning score against the Jets), and brought stability to the cornerback position after injuries to Jason Webster and Ashton Youboty forced him into action. Wilson's season, if possible, was better - 36 tackles, 2 interceptions, a fumble recovery and two touchdowns isn't bad considering Wilson has been playing safety for less than a calendar year. He may give Ko Simpson a run for the starting free safety position at the 2008 training camp.
#3 - Monday Night Football at The Ralph.
Yes, the Bills lost their MNF game to Dallas 25-24, but that's not the point here. The Bills had not hosted a Monday Night game for 13 seasons; that night, our franchise proved to the world that the wait they endured was a mistake. Bills fans - due to the Bills' unexpected strong performance against the then-undefeated Cowboys - were loud the entire game. I had the pleasure of attending that game with my father; I haven't seen an atmosphere that electric at The Ralph in quite some time. Rest assured that after that fun-filled evening (until around midnight, that is), the Bills won't need to wait another decade for another MNF game.
#4 - Beating the Willis McGahee-led Ravens.
No Bills fan can get away with telling me that they weren't immensely satisfied when the Bills beat the Ravens in October. Nor can they tell me that they're not satisfied that Willis McGahee - who essentially forced a trade out of Buffalo for "greener pastures" - toiled in anonymity on a vastly underachieving Ravens team that finished 5-11. McGahee had a good statistical performance against Buffalo (114 yards and a score) and had a good season; it's just too bad his Ravens were so awful. Too bad indeed...
#5 - Winning three Come-From-Behind games.
The Bills only won seven games; it's impressive, however, that given the youth and inexperience of the team, three of those wins were of come-from-behind proportions. The Bills started the run, ironically, with two last-minute wins sparked by J.P. Losman; he followed two scoring drives to erase a 21-16 deficit versus Cincinnati by ending an inefficient day with game-tying and game-winning drives in Miami. It was Trent Edwards, however, who sparked five scoring drives in a 17-16 win over the now-playoff-bound Redskins. Buffalo is the last team to beat Washington, as they've rattled off four straight wins to make the post-season.
#6 - The Kevin Everett Story.
In a year filled with tragedy - including the untimely deaths of three players (Broncos Darrent Williams and Damien Nash, Redskins safety Sean Taylor) - one more tragedy turned into a heartwarming tale of human spirit. After Kevin Everett's spinal cord injury left him quadriplegic on the field turf of Ralph Wilson Stadium, the former Bills tight end is now walking. It's a triumphant story about a kid who gave it his all in Buffalo; it's also a triumphant story of a team of doctors and Buffalo hospitals that are, without a doubt, first-rate.
For all of the playing deficiencies that we witnessed this season, Everett's story brought us back to reality by infinity. Kudos, Kevin - you're the feel-good story of the National Football League. Keep up the hard work.
#7 - Playing meaningful football in December.
Notice that I didn't say "playing meaningful football well in December" - because that's about as far away from the truth as you can get. Dick Jauron's Bills finished out the 2006 season on a two-game losing streak; that stretched to three games in '07. But the fact of the matter is that despite astronomically long odds - specifically this past season - the Bills have been in the thick of the AFC Playoff chase through Week 15 two seasons in a row under Jauron's leadership.
Yes, the late-season collapse hurt - especially losing a winnable game in Cleveland, with playoff hopes on the line, and doing so by getting shut out for the first time since 2003. That was ugly. A three-interception second half to close out a Giants loss, and a very ugly offensive performance in Philadelphia, didn't make December football much fun for Buffalo. But the kids are young, and the games - at least for a while - meant something in December. That fact, in itself is a building block.
Want to talk season lowlights? Yeah, me either. We did 7 highlights for 7 wins; 9 lowlights for 9 losses are coming, with any luck, this evening.