Let's just say, for the sake of argument (and this post), that you're a fan of moral victories. The Buffalo Bills had better be; if they're not, their 25-24 loss to New England on Monday night would be pretty worthless, would it not?
In said loss - during a game which most NFL fans did not perceive Buffalo to be a competitive threat to New England - the Bills proved, at a minimum, that they can perform well and compete in hostile environments. The end result, however, is the same as if they'd been blown out. The Bills need to prove that their strong showing for 58 minutes was not a fluke; skepticism will reign supreme if the Bills come out flat in their home opener on Sunday against Tampa Bay.
Luckily, we have a bit of a historical sample with which to judge how the Bills rebound from crushing defeats on Monday Night Football. The Bills have endured those types of defeats in each of the past two seasons; in both cases, Buffalo responded with a victory in their following game. This time around, however, we're looking for something slightly different. We'll explain after the jump.
Bills 2-0 in MNF rebound games under Jauron
As I'm sure you all remember with acute agony, the Bills lost a 25-24 prime time game to Dallas on October 8, 2007. After a bye week, Buffalo took the field at home on October 21, 2007 and beat the Baltimore Ravens, 19-14, in Trent Edwards' third career start.
The following season, the Bills missed a field goal as time expired to drop a 29-27 decision in prime time to Cleveland on November 17. Again, Buffalo was able to pull out a win six days later, dropping 54 points on Kansas City in a 23-point win.
The two cases are slightly different. The 2007 Dallas Cowboys eventually finished the season 13-3, and Buffalo's ability to hang with them in prime time was shocking (nor was their ability to find a way to lose that game). The Ravens team that Buffalo beat in their next game finished 5-11. Last season, however, the Browns were an abysmal 4-12, and the prime time loss was easily the Bills' most embarrassing on the season. The Chiefs team the Bills throttled the following week was a miserable 2-14.
In each case, the Bills beat bad teams - teams worse than them, in fact. Last season, the Bills simply went on the road and beat a team they should have beaten. The same is true in 2007, but there's a slight difference: they didn't prove that their competing with Dallas wasn't a fluke. They hung on by the skin of their teeth to beat a bad Ravens team. That, folks, is exactly what the Bills need to avoid this season - even if the jury is still out on the young Buccaneers.
Can the Bills repeat their MNF effort?
The Dallas game is the most pertinent to this discussion, so feel free to drop the Cleveland loss from your mind now (or for the rest of your lives, if you wish). In that loss to Dallas, the Bills put up a herculean effort against a far superior team, making plays along the way that they simply don't make in any other games (such as Chris Kelsay's tipped pass pick-six, or George Wilson's pick-six, or Terrence McGee's kickoff return for a score, or, in the case of this most recent game, Aaron Schobel's pick-six). In short, the Bills didn't match their effort from the Dallas game to the Baltimore game, despite the victory. That can't happen again this Sunday.
Let's say, for instance, that the Bills were to repeat their effort from two seasons ago, and they go out and beat Tampa Bay by a final of 19-14 on Sunday. The game unfolds precisely as it did two years ago. Great! A win is a win. We're 1-1, and we're not experiencing a hangover from the big loss. Is that type of victory really enough?
Buffalo went 6-5 after the loss to Dallas in 2007, and they closed 2-4 after the loss to Cleveland a season ago. If one looks closely at their post-prime time performances, those seriously mediocre finishes were quite predictable. They're out to prove that they're better than mediocre this season. No one is sure exactly what to make of the Buccaneers this season, but the general consensus is that they're not serious playoff contenders. If that, indeed, is the case, this is a game the Bills should not just win, but control with ease - if they're to prove that their loss in New England wasn't a fluke, that is.
It's going to take effort - lots of it. The Bills always play hard for Dick Jauron, but their hard play in the season opener was a level rarely replicated by his teams. They need the same (or more) effort in preparation, and their play needs to be equal or better to what we saw on Monday - regression, as we saw against Baltimore, is not acceptable. They need to play with the same desperation. Their young leaders need to step up (and, for the record, I think having a motivated individual like Terrell Owens on the team will give those young leaders a massive assist). They absolutely cannot rest on their laurels - that performance was step one in a long season. Improvement, not a mere victory, is sought. Nothing but improvement is a let-down. The pressure is on for these thus-far surprising Bills.