On Sunday, the Buffalo Bills picked up one of their most impressive wins in many years, riding dominant efforts from their defense and special teams to a 21-13 win over the Green Bay Packers - a team many consider a bona fide Super Bowl contender. The Bills are now 8-6, assured of their first non-losing season in a decade, and head into a road trip with 2-12 Oakland with their playoff hopes still very much alive.
Here's what stood out most from yesterday's big win.
No. 1: How good has the Buffalo Bills' defense been at defending two of the league's best passing attacks, helmed by Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, over the last two weeks? It's easier to just show you. Here's how Manning and Rodgers have stacked up against Kyle Orton, who to put it mildly has been pretty brutal in those two games, as well.
To be sure, both of those quarterbacks missed some opportunities for big plays that could have not only affected that stat line above, but changed the complexion of the games entirely. That's especially true for Rodgers, who missed a handful of open receivers throughout the game and had a perfect throw glance off of a wide-open Jordy Nelson's hands. Still, let's not beat around the bush: the Bills' pass defense, and their secondary in particular, is performing at an elite level right now.
No. 2: I'll eat a bit of crow. After the Bills lost Duke Williams to injury, and he was replaced in the lineup by Bacarri Rambo, I told anyone that would listen that the guy didn't belong, that he was miserable in coverage, and that the Packers would undoubtedly test him through the air. They did, Rambo belongs, and he became the first player to genuinely pick off a Rodgers pass in 2014. It's a testament to how well the Bills' scheme is otherwise functioning that a street free agent can walk into the lineup with less than a month under his belt and make huge plays against the best quarterback in the game.
No. 3: Something to keep an eye on defensively: the run game. The past two weeks in particular, the Bills have been hyper-focused on stopping elite quarterbacks, and the threat of the pass has allowed Denver and Green Bay to rack up 291 rushing yards in those contests. It ultimately did not hurt the Bills against Green Bay (it certainly did a bit more against Denver), but with the way the pass defense is performing right now, it's not hard to envision Oakland, and especially New England, trying their hand at a ground-and-pound attack to soften the defense up a bit. Quietly, the Bills have allowed 125 or more rushing yards in six of their last eight games.
No. 4: In last week's game recap from the loss to Denver, Buffalo's special teams unit was taken to task for their worst performance of the season in a key spot. As bad as they were last week, they were equally good this week. The 75-yard punt return touchdown from Marcus Thigpen was the shot in the arm that the team needed after a very slow start offensively, Mario Williams blocked a field goal, Dan Carpenter made four crucial kicks on the flip side, Anthony Dixon very nearly picked up his third blocked punt of the season, the coverage units were excellent, and the punting from Colton Schmidt was on point - especially in the second half. Buffalo had a huge advantage in this phase of the game, and that was critical in ultimately securing the win.
No. 5: It's no secret that the Bills' offense is struggling right now, and that didn't change against Green Bay, with the unit producing just four field goals on the day. But some credit is owed to the Bills' running game, which has been the biggest point of regression on the team from year one to year two of the Doug Marrone era. Despite little to no balance thanks to Orton's poor day passing in tough conditions, Fred Jackson, Dixon, and Bryce Brown combined for 117 hard-earned yards on the ground, and they added another 72 through the air, as well. Jackson, in particular, was excellent, second-efforting most of his 71 yards on 20 carries, and adding 27 receiving yards. Buffalo did just enough to sustain drives and eat clock in the second half to complement what their defense was doing, and the results speak for themselves.
To buy tickets, visit the NFL Ticket Exchange.