The Buffalo Bills went into Georgia and beat the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons, 23-17. The tank talk is officially dead. The process is being trusted. This is a Bills team that can compete with anybody.
First things first, let’s talk about the fumble. About four minutes into the third quarter, Jerry Hughes got to Matt Ryan on a third down pass rush and knocked the ball loose as Ryan was throwing. The ball skipped on the ground, and Tre’Davious White picked it up. Not hearing a whistle, he ran it right into the end zone for a touchdown that was eventually upheld on review. It didn’t look like a fumble, as Ryan seemed to have control as he was throwing it. Nonetheless, it was a heads-up play by the rookie corner to keep the play going sans whistle.
Secondly, the Bills were helped out in a big way by some huge injuries on the Falcons side. Wide receivers Julio Jones (3 catches, 30 yards) and Mohamed Sanu (1 catch for 3 yards, 1 rush for 4 yards) both missed the entire second half. The Falcons were forced to rely heavily on the running back duo of Devonta Freeman (18 for 58) and Tevin Coleman (9 for 79) to account for most of their yardage. Ryan (24/42, 242 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) also found Justin Hardy in the end zone to tie the game at 17 midway through the fourth quarter. It was the first passing touchdown the Bills allowed all year.
On the Bills side, they were helped immensely by LeSean McCoy and the offensive line finding themselves after two rough games on the ground. McCoy carried 20 times for 76 yards and also caught 3 passes for 32 yards. Through the air, they were led by the continuing resurgence of Charles Clay, who caught 5 passes for 112 yards. Among them was a 44-yarder that set up the game’s opening touchdown, a nine-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor to Jordan Matthews (who left the game in the second half with a thumb injury).
Turnovers won the day defensively. The Bills forced three, including the aforementioned fumble return. Micah Hyde intercepted two deep passes, giving him a league-leading three picks in 2017.
Stephen Hauschka hit two more long field goals in the fourth quarter to give the Bills the winning points. He hit from 56 to give the Bills a lead and from 55 to extend it after Hyde’s second interception. That gives him four field goals from outside of 50 on the year, only two shy of Dan Carpenter’s team record of six, set in 2014. He also hit from 24 early in the fourth.
The Falcons had a chance to take the lead late in the game, converting a fourth-and-4 before taking advantage of a few big defensive penalties from the Bills. On fourth-and-1 from the Bills’ 10, Ryan overthrew Taylor Gabriel on the outside and two knees from Taylor ended the game.
Taylor, as usual, looked a lot better than the stat line would suggest. He completed 12 of 20 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown, and the Bills did not turn the ball over for the third straight game. He ran seven times for 12 yards, which included several first down conversions.
Zay Jones continued his struggles after missing the potential game-winner against the Panthers in Week 2. He dropped several passes before catching an 18-yarder in the third quarter, and all-in-all it’s obvious that he and Taylor aren’t on the same page.
Speaking of the Panthers, they came away with a 33-30 win over the New England Patriots on Sunday. That puts the Bills alone in first place in the AFC East.
The Bills head into Cincinnati next week before their bye. At 3-1, coming off a win over one of the top two teams in the NFL, this is a team that we need to take seriously. Forget about compensatory picks and draft positioning, they’re looking to win in 2017 and doing a pretty good job of it.