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Buffalo Bills Bounce Back Against the Chiefs

After their week one slaughter, another loss and things may have gotten ugly in Buffalo.
Fans in the Queen City were sold a bill of goods in the offseason, one that expressly stated that this new look Bills team in 2012 was going to be different that the floundering failures of the past. A whole nation of Buffalo locals and followers took the blue pill last spring, then galloped through the summer without a thought to the last decade plus of ineptitude their team displayed, even allowing that amnesia to gloss over a decidedly unspectacular preseason. It was to be a season of new beginnings, an erasure of history.
However, when it finally was opening day, one filled to bursting with the promises of expectation as the Bills went up against AFC East rival New York, who looked to be on a bullet train to last place in the division, things started to fall apart pretty quickly.
Turnovers, injuries, poor play choices, a pretty solid loss;  turned out the new look Bills looked mighty similar to the ones who played with Western New York’s emotions last season, starting 5-2 before losing eight of their last nine games. Sure, it was only one loss, but for a town who has lived buried in ineptitude for so long, it was a nasty punch to the gut, taking all the air out of their cheers and driving their high hopes out in one 48-28 slap in the face.
Thank the football gods for the Kansas City Chiefs.
By the end of Buffalo’s home opening 35-17 victory, the fans had begun to find that swagger again, were lifting their eyes up from the ground and looking hopeful about 2012 once more. Sure, star salaries like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mario Williams may not have been the forces their paychecks promised (they are the two most expensive contracts on the team), but they were better and the team as a whole  just looked like so much more than the shadow on display in New Jersey last week.
Buffalo was efficient, opportunistic, and physical on both sides of the ball Sunday, leading many to quickly rediscover their allegiances to the Bills after so quickly losing them after last week’s embarrassing start. Granted, it was a game they were supposed to win against a Chiefs’ team that doesn’t seem to know what they are, but that’s no knock against. If the Bills are to become a winning franchise again, they should be and have to be winning these easy ones, as there are quite a few on the schedule this season (next week at Cleveland, for example), though most aren’t until the last half of the season (that middle part is a beastly run for a few weeks, largely away from the Ralph).
It may not have been perfect, but it was promising, the kind of start fans wanted a week ago. In the end, last week turned out to be no harm, no foul though, as losses by the Jets and New England coupled with a Miami win have created a four-way tie in the AFC East, allowing Buffalo to start fresh again and move from here. Sure, they may be the only team with a losing divisional record to this point, but the clouds aren’t so dark this week, the day’s not so dreary, and the city of Buffalo found it still may have something in their Bills to shout about.
What a difference a week makes, huh?
Here’s a rundown on the improvements made in Buffalo in just one week.
Mario and Fitz got back on track
First, the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.
Okay, he didn’t set the world on fire with his performance Sunday, but you have to admire the chaotic assignment strategies Mario requires. The Chiefs had as many as three guys hitting Williams on just one play, meaning that all that shuffling is bound to free up lanes for others to get to the quarterback or the runner.
While Mario only had two tackles and a fumble recovery, his fellow linemates were the beneficiaries of all that attention he drew. Mark Anderson had three tackles after being downright invisible week one. Marcel Dareus, just days after losing his brother, found catharsis on the field with two tackles and a sack. Kyle Williams, though, is quickly proving to be the biggest force on the line, using Mario’s distraction to accrue two solo tackles, an assist, and a team high two sacks. It extended as far back as the second stringers, as Alex Carrington had both a sack and a forced fumble on his one tackle (Mario actually recovered that fumble).
In truth, it was the sack numbers that told the biggest tale of Super Mario’s impact, as holes to the QB resulted in five total sacks for a team that couldn’t even find the backfield week one. Add to that a stifling run defense that kept Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis under 70 yards rushing combined (after giving up 94 to Shonn Greene alone last week), as well as a passing defense that seemed to be on the road to improvement (they’re still giving up some big plays), and Buffalo’s defense may truly be showing the benefits of handing so much cash over to Mario, though maybe not in the way fans expected (he’s not getting the stats, but the benefit is visible in the play of those around him).
Then there’s the franchise arm, bearded wonder Ryan Fitzpatrick. After last week’s three interception debacle saw him forcing throws into coverage and missing easy targets with an arsenal of over- and under-throws, Fitz… well, he settled down in week two.
I mean, the Bills are still ranked near the bottom in passing yards (28th) and their first win was more due to rushing than passing (we’ll get to CJ in a second), but Ryan was a tidy 10-19 for 178 yards Sunday, scoring two TDs and, more importantly, throwing zero picks. It wasn’t Fitzmagic, but it was a solid comeback game for a quarterback who needs to play mistake-free if he wants to keep the fans’ loyalties.
Buffalo has already doled out a pretty penny to Fitzpatrick in the time since he signed his extension last October, paying him $15 million in bonuses in addition to his 2012 salary. For that kind of money, he should be at least leading the team on the field if he’s not going to be the leader in scoring (which, based on his ability and past stats, isn’t likely).  He was that leader Sunday, calling plays with authority, getting the Bills in position to succeed, and even running for the first himself on occasions (he finished with four rushes for 34, second on the team behind Spiller). No mistakes, no mental miscues, so no Bills loss; it’s what Ryan was kept for, to lead this team to victory, not to lead in the stats department. Again, a step in the right direction.
Injuries may not ruin the season
When both running back Fred Jackson and wide receiver David Nelson went down last week, many figured that the offense would start to crumble soon after.
Sure, Spiller had a great game last week, getting 194 total yards and a rushing touchdown, but there were questions about whether he could keep that up this week. As for Nelson, his 658 yards and five touchdowns out of the slot in 2011 were key to the Bills’ success in the passing game, so wondering how the Buffalo passing game would fare in his absence was justified as well.
Turns out, neither of those losses made much difference against the Chiefs.
First and most important, Spiller, currently the leading rusher in the NFL, is quickly becoming the star of the Buffalo offense in Jackson’s absence (just like last season).  Even with Coach Chan Gailey pretty much putting the team on his shoulders against Kansas City, CJ handled it with amazing skill and looks to be the complete back he hinted at being to end 2011. It was a facet of the offense no one really predicted, as CJ continued l
ooking like the first round pick that so many in Buffalo thought he would never become the last two years.
Against the Chiefs, Spiller ran for 123 yards on 15 carries (8.2 per carry), got another 47 yards off of three receptions, and his two rushing touchdowns were a single game career best for him. That makes for a two game total of 292 yards rushing and 72 yards receiving. Even if you take just his six best runs of 2012 (all for 10+ yards), you have a mind-blowing 194 yards… on just six of the 29 carries he’s had so far.
Not only is Spiller looking like greased lightning in a Bills’ uniform (and the engine that could make this offense run in 2012 and beyond), but the Buffalo offensive lines is making it that much easier by creating some big time holes in the defense. Even rookie Cordy Glenn looked dominant on Sunday, taking two-time Pro Bowler Tamba Hali out of the pass rushing equation entirely. As a whole, the offensive line has gone two games without giving up a sack and have helped make the Bills the number one rush offense in the NFL to this point, averaging 198 yards per game.
As for Nelson’s loss to the receiving corps, Donald Jones may have stepped into the slot position for a disappointing result (one catch for -1 yards), but there were still two 50+ yard receivers on the day (Stevie Johnson and tight end Scott Chandler, both with TDs), while Spiller’s 47 yards and Brad Smith’s 16 yard catch were more than enough otherwise.
I’m not saying having Nelson and Jackson wouldn’t be nice, but it’s now clear they aren’t esential to the Bills’ success or failure as an offense.

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The pass defense saw a huge improvement
It wasn’t perfect and the backfield starting giving up some big pass plays in the second half, but you have to admire how much more physical and cohesive the pass defense was.
Last week, the Bills were giving Jet’s receivers far too much room and were generally abused for it, giving up big plays drive after drive. They defended a total of zero passes last week, as opposed to seven just a week later when they effectively shut down the Chiefs’ passing game until garbage time lapses.
The Bills defenders got up close and personal with the Chiefs receivers this week, bumping, harassing, and containing them until the score got to the point when it didn’t matter anymore. Stephon Gilmore, who had a quiet, unimpressive start to his NFL career in game one, looked like the physical, shutdown cornerback he was billed as, owning the left side of the field and getting seven tackles along with three pass deflections on the day.
Justin Rogers played strong, if unspectacular replacing Leodis McKelvin as the nickel corner getting just one tackle, but also not letting Chiefs receivers run free like McKelvin the week prior. Meanwhile, McKelvin made up for his disastrous play last week by returning a punt 88 yards for a score, so we’ll call that a positive move overall.
Again, the Chiefs made some plays late, resulting in some skewed numbers on the statline, but Dwayne Bowe’s 102 yards and two TDs along with Matt Cassel’s 301 passing yards were largely from second half, saving face time and the score was already 21-0 at the half.
Even Aaron Williams made some plays this week, while the safeties, Jarius Byrd and George Wilson, combined for 12 tackles, two pass deflections, and the only interception on the day (by Byrd in the endzone to end the game). Top to bottom, it was a good day for the Bills pass defense, one matched by their fine showing up front defending the run, so if this type of play continues, maybe the Bills’ defense truly can start to live up to some of that offseason hype.
In the end, you have to chalk this one up to the coaches, who took their lumps last week and used it to become more like the team they expected to be in their week two showing. It was a fine show of adaptability, both assuaging the fears of their fans and showing their team that they have the ability to win games decidedly when they can play as a whole.
This team needs to win these easy games if they hope to make a play for a Wildcard spot come January and it was nice to see them rise to the challenge after such a drubbing last week. With this kind of physicality and passion to win, the playoffs might not seem quite so far-fetched as they did at the end of the last game.
We’ll just have to see what happens in Cleveland now, as a 2-1 start is almost essential if this season has a chance to succeed.
Because, come week four, things start to get tough.
Joshua Bauer is a writer with Football Nation
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