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I covered the freshman basketball team for the school newspaper at my college, a long time ago. The team was excellent – great talent, well coached. I think they finished the season 15-2.
After one early-season win blowout against an outclassed opponent, I wrote that the team’s win was “unimpressive.” The coach went ballistic and complained to the editor. To me, it simply had looked like a good college varsity against a bunch of high school kids. Why wouldn’t it be a blowout? What’s impressive about that?
So, I won’t call the Bills’ Sunday win over the Jets unimpressive but really, a win like that says more about how bad the Jets are than about how good the Bills are.
The league seems to have developed a formula for slowing down the Bills’ offense from a season ago. The formula seems to be to play cover 2 or something similar, but whatever it is you play, do not allow the Bills to throw deep. Do not play their deep threats one on one. Force them, one way or another to win with 6, 7, 8-yard chunks instead of 15, 20, 25-yard chunks.
The Jets seem to have missed the memo. Despite having the worst defense in the NFL, the Jets decided that one-on-one against the Bills deep threats was a good idea. Robert Saleh seems to be a good guy and I wish him plenty of success, but he needs to explain to his GM why a supposed defensive genius could expose his team that way. By way of comparison, Dick Jauron made bad Bills teams respectable by following the formula that Saleh ignored: Nothing deep, ever.
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For the Bills, it seems to be feast or famine. The Bills feasted on the Jets defense, but the win doesn’t establish that the Bills have solved their occasional famines. Josh Allen must have felt like an eight-year-old turned loose at a party at Chuckie Cheese. He could play whatever games he wanted, eat whatever he wanted, laugh and cheer and run around all afternoon. Only an ill-advised tipped-pass that was intercepted kept him from having a more or less perfect passing day. His comfort in the pocket and delivering the ball was obvious. Time after time he looked, found what he was looking for, and threw comfortably where the ball needed to go.
Brian Daboll understood that a creative running attack could attack the Jets on the edges, and the usually anemic Bills rushing attack went for a respectable 139 yards. Sanders and McKenzie struck the two big blows on back-to-back sprints around the right end for a touchdown to open the second half. When Sanders turned the corner with Gilliam ahead of him, they were looking at 15 yards of green, all of which was green turf and none of which was Jets green jerseys. Daboll knew something about the Jets’ run defense that the Jets didn’t know.
The Jets don’t have the offensive firepower to deal with the Bills defense, which coasted to an easy win, forcing punts and turnovers almost at will. Each of the five starting defensive backs had a takeaway. Klein filled in nicely for Edmunds, making a lot of tackles and ranging easily to the sidelines. The Bills went seriously bend-don’t-break in the fourth quarter, giving up a lot of yards and two TDs; before then, they were same stingy defense we’ve seen most of the season.
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I have a friend who often shares with me his tickets about three rows behind the Bills bench at MetLife. It’s great to watch the game from that perspective. A few things I saw:
1. There always seems to be conversation going on between a coach and a player or two. They’re looking at tablets and discussing something the Jets were doing and how to attack, why something didn’t work the last time on the field, something where the Bills will have an opportunity. Or players are talking among themselves about what just happened or should happen next time. Special teams, especially. It seemed like Taiwan Jones and Matakevich and McKenzie and others were talking about technique a lot.
2. In the fourth quarter, Webb kept warming up, and Bates, and Doyle kept loosening up, expecting to get into the game to mop up. It didn’t happen until two minutes were left. The Bills weren’t treating anything as mop-up time; with eight minutes left in the game, Allen trotted onto the field instead of Webb and dropped a 43-yard bomb to Diggs, leading to the Bills’ final TD.
3. My ten-year-old friend was completely consumed by the sights and sounds all around, and when nothing seemed to be happening, he watched the video screens. During one timeout, he watched as a Pepsi logo was hidden under one of three Jets’ helmets. Then the helmets changed places, up, down, back and forth in the familiar shell game. He watched intently as some fan guessed (wrong). Blissfully unaware that millions of people were watching commercials on TV, he turned to me and asked, “They stopped the game for THAT?”
4. Jets fans have given up. I’d guess there were something between 5,000 and 10,000 empty seats in the stadium when the game began. The Jets fan who has the seats beside us, a serious fan, wasn’t there. A lot of fans left at halftime, and more kept leaving throughout the third and fourth quarters. Even in the first half, the Jets fans didn’t make much noise, not even on third down. Allen was pretty much free to communicate orally at the line of scrimmage. After they get a first down, the Jets do that thing where the announcer says on the PA system “And that’s another Jets,” and all the fans are supposed to yell “FIRST DOWN!!!” It’s pretty cool, actually, when it works. Sunday, he'd say “And that’s another Jets,” and it was followed by silence. It was funny and pathetic; no one cared.
5. The game began with, I’d guess, 10,000 or more Bills fans in the stadium, a lot in the seats behind the Bills’ bench. By the end of the game the stadium was mostly empty seats and a lot of blue. Bills fans didn’t make much noise, either except when the Bills scored. As the game was winding down, the Bills fans found their way down to the seats behind the bench. They were trying to get the attention of any of the Bills players, chanting Josh’s name, yelling to other players, singing happy birthday to Dawson Knox. The players ignored the fans for the most part, only occasionally turning to smile and wave. Another cluster of Bills fans greeted the team as they entered the tunnel to the locker room.
© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
6. Diggs’s spectacular catch and run up the left sideline and White’s equally spectacular interception both happened right in front of us. The talent of these guys was on full display on those two plays: Allen’s recognition and effortless throw, dropping the ball right in Diggs’s hands. Diggs’ equally effortless catch. Although both seemed to be playing pitch and catch casually, their concentration and ability to relax under extreme pressure was obvious. White’s run, turn, and catch was even better. Just amazing athletes. White was ecstatic on the sideline.
7. Diggs really marches to a different drummer. During pre-game warmups, he was near the Bills’ bench, the stands were half-full, and a lot of fans were calling out to him. He pointed to some fan most of the way up the lower deck, 15 rows behind me, and threw a football to him. It was thirty-yard throw, minimum, and he hit the guy in the hands. The guy caught it and threw it back to him, short. All just for fun. Occasionally, both before and after the game, Diggs would turn and acknowledge the cheers from the crowd. After the pre-game was done and the entire team had left the field for the locker room, Diggs lingered behind. He walked along the bench, looking up into the stands. Then he seemed to be preparing his spot on the bench, so that he had a towel or something just where he wanted it. When everything seemed just right, still taking his time, he headed to the locker room. It reminded me of Diggs alone on the field after the AFC Championship game. It’s as though he has a personal relationship with the field and what happens there.
The Bills are 6-3 and have one of the best records in the AFC. Their playoff fortunes will depend on the team they become over the next eight games. It’s a process. They still need a better running game, and they need to be able to move the ball against defenses that are better than the Jets put on the field yesterday. The Colts come to Orchard Park next week, fighting for their playoff lives. They will be a better test for the Bills.
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