Adversity comes in many forms. This is especially true in football. The Buffalo Bills overcame numerous forms of adversity to win in Week 6, beating the Arizona Cardinals 19-16 in overtime to even their record at 3-3. Buffalo overcame themselves, perhaps their most challenging opponent. They overcame mistakes in play-calling, mistakes in execution, erratic quartebacking, and some ill-timed penalties. The Bills overcame their past, specifically the debacles against New England and San Francisco - and trends of that sort can be hard to break. They overcame the Cardinals, a 4-1 team playing at home. And for a change, the Bills overcame lady luck.
The Good. Buffalo's pass defense rebounded nicely. Sure, it was not all perfect - Kevin Kolb running wild comes to mind - but the defense played the way we all thought it would in the off-season. The pass rush terrorized Arizona quarterbacks, sacking Kolb and John Skelton five times, hitting them seven times, and accounting for numerous pressures not recorded on the score sheet. If not for Kolb's legs, Arizona may not have been able to pass, and I write that in all seriousness. While the Arizona offensive line leaves something to be desired, Buffalo's defense should therefore have made it difficult for the Cardinals to pass - and they did. Cardinals quarterbacks completed less than 50 percent of their passes, and only averaged 4.2 yards per completion. Larry Fitzgerald was "contained" as well as a team can. He was targeted 12 times, and caught six passes for less than 100 yards. The rest of the Cardinals combined for 10 receptions and 73 yards. Finally, I'd be remiss if I did not mention the hero of the game, Jairus Byrd, whose second interception, coming in overtime, set up the game-winning field goal. Very nice rebound game for the defense.
The Bad. I debated whether to broach this topic, being admittedly biased on the subject. But it's time. Ryan Fitzpatrick is holding the Buffalo offense back. When Chan Gailey decided to let his running backs drive the offense and limit the passing game, Buffalo generally gained yardage and moved the chains. Let's review the two touchdown drives: on the first, Buffalo went 51 yards for the touchdown; Gailey called six runs (which gained 27 yards) and four passes, one of which turned into a Fitzpatrick scramble for four yards. On the three other passes, Fitzpatrick went 2-of-3 for 18 yards. On Buffalo's other scoring drive, Gailey called four runs and one pass, gaining 80 yards. Fitzpatrick completed one pass, an easy slant to Stevie Johnson, who ran for the majority of the 23-yard completion. On all other drives, Fitzpatrick completed more than two passes during the drive only twice, and went 2-of-9 converting third downs through the air. When his team needed him the most, in overtime - when a team needs a franchise quarterback - Fitzpatrick went 0-for-5 passing. Receivers like Johnson and Scott Chandler are getting open and getting missed. Fitzpatrick missed a wide open Fred Jackson on an easy pass that would have converted a third down in overtime. Great quarterbacks make plays, and they make plays when their team needs them. It's time to ditch the hope of building an entire team to support an average quarterback.
Let's Not Overreact. Some of the play calling on offense and defense left me scratching my head. For the most part, I thought Gailey called a solid game, which would look better with some better execution. We all know where I'm going here: what was he thinking with the Brad Smith bomb? Why make that call? Before we call for his job, that play stands out as one bad call among a lot of good calls. Similarly, why didn't Buffalo put a spy on Kolb? Before the fan base renews calls for Dave Wannstedt's job, remember that he can't design a defense that defends everything, and his defense played well against the pass. Overall, following a disasterous game for the coaching staff in San Francisco, the coaches put together a solid game plan.
Outlook. Buffalo can have a winning record at the bye week. After the past two weeks, that seems unthinkable. Buffalo's defense looks back on track, C.J. Spiller and Jackson are getting healthier by the week, and the Bills appear to have avoided another injury disaster. More importantly, the Bills won a game that required them to play a full game and win at the very end. They even got lucky. Buffalo now heads home to face the Tennessee Titans with a chance to enter the bye week 4-3, and prove that they've shaken the illness they contracted in Weeks 4 and 5.