In terms of big wins during the playoff drought, you would be hard pressed to find one that is bigger than the victory the Buffalo Bills came away with on Sunday. With that big win, Buffalo sits at 3-1 and alone atop the AFC East. The win also provided us fans some insight into what this team is all about. Here are a few of those things that we learned following the 23-17 victory.
1.) These are not the same ole’ Bills
When the Bills kicked a field goal to go up by 6 with just over a minute left in the game, admit it: you thought “we are going to lose by 1.” I know I did. Seventeen years of heartache and “how did we lose that?” games will make a cynic of anyone.
Thankfully I don’t play for the Bills.
When the time came, Buffalo’s bend-but-don’t-break defense bent (a bit more than I would like) but held the Falcons out of the end zone, preserving the win. In year’s past, this franchise would find a way to lose games it had no right to lose (Dallas on Monday night, Jaguars opener in 2004, and Patriots season opener to just name a few). This Falcons game would have fallen under that large umbrella, as well. It had all of the makings of a classic Bills loss: Win the turnover battle, have multiple opportunities to close out the game, and lose in the last 45 seconds.
The Bills under McDermott, however, found a way to win. Whether it be timely turnovers, or Stephen Hauschka nailing kicks from the moon, this team has a different vibe than others from the drought. It all starts with the man in charge. He doesn’t allow the team to get too high or too low, which is a fantastic change after two years of the blustery Rex Ryan.
2.) Charles Clay is a top-tier tight end
For anyone who watches the All-22 film, you know that the past few years, Clay may not have been putting up numbers, but it wasn’t because he wasn’t open. Whether it be play design, lack of trust or lack of vision by Tyrod, Clay was not putting up the type of numbers that a contract of his size require. That has not been the case this year, and against the Falcons, Clay carried the passing attack. The veteran pass catcher finished with 5 catches for 112 yards. As a team, the Bills had 182 yards passing.
While the stats look nice on paper for Clay, the timing of his big plays were what puts him on this list. Clay had two big catches down field that led to points. With the uncertain status of Jordan Matthews heading forward, Clay will become even more of a focal point for the offense. As he has shown this season, he is ready for that type of workload.
3.) Hauschka is a weapon
Much like the mindset with the first point, kickers of the past 17 years have never warranted much faith when it comes to clutch kicks, especially with kicks from distance. Hauschka, however, proved in the last two weeks that he can put up points even when the offense stalls out inside the 40. The former Seahawk has now hit 4 field goals from longer than 50 yards in the last two weeks. It can be argued that had any of those four not split the uprights, the Bills could have dropped either game.
After earning AFC Special Teams player of the week for his prowess from distance against Denver, Hauschka will likely nab the honor again this week. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention McDermott here, because coaches in the past would have punted instead of taking the chance of having the kick missed. McDermott signed Hauschka in free agency and put his faith in his player and the player responded by making the kicks.